Don’t get ripped off buying fake or imitation Thai silk on your vacation to Thailand. Educate yourself! Read Thai Silk: A Buyer’s Guide.
There are two worthless tests for determining the authenticity of Thai silk: The “wedding ring” test and the “burn” test. Both are equally absurd.
These “tests” are usually offered by hawkers (silk sharks) at tourist markets trying to sell a novice silk buyer either outright fake or at best very low quality Thai silk. These tests are also hyped on the internet by people who seem to have a very shallow knowledge about Thai silk.
Legitimate silk shops will not offer you these silly tests.
In my quest to make you an educated buyer of Thai silk I wrote “Thai Silk: A Buyer’s Guide.” I strongly recommend you read that if you’re contemplating buying Thai silk; and please also see my post “Thai Sericulture: Making Silk” where I discuss in detail how silk yarns are made and their different attributes.
I’ve decided not to include this discussion about fake silk tests in my basic Thai silk tutorial for two reasons. First, the tutorial is detailed enough already and I don’t want to make it any longer. Secondly, this blog post affords me yet another opportunity to stress again how not to get ripped off buying Thai silk. A point that can’t be made enough.
So let’s get started.
The “Wedding Ring” Test
The Wedding Ring Test is unfortunately found in many corners of the internet including Wikipedia, wiki-How, youtube and a slew of commercial sites trying to get you to buy their “silk”. (I’m not selling you anything.)
Here’s what Wikipedia claims in their article about Thai silk:
“A simple way to identify authentic [Thai] silk is the “wedding ring” test. When pulling silk fabric through a ring, it will easily pass through. Imitation fabrics will bunch up and be difficult or impossible to pull through the ring.” -Wikipedia
Another internet silk seller (I won’t mention names or websites) claims something similar that I’ll quote in sections below in order to deconstruct the false information.
“A simple way to identify authentic Thai silk is the “wedding ring” test. When you attempt to pull Thai silk fabric through a wedding ring, it will ease through and will show you just how smooth and flexible it is as a fabric.”
False. Authentic Thai silk is NOT a smooth “flexible” fabric! It is often a rough, scratchy, stiff, heavy weight fabric. A prime determinant for authentic Thai silk is that it is NOT smooth and flexible. Our pseudo Thai silk expert continues on:
“However, the same cannot be said for imitation fabrics as they will crunch up and be very difficult or even impossible to pull through a wedding ring.”
False. Polyester fabrics or polished cottons blends (fabrics commonly used in fake silk scams) are the very fabrics that are soft, lightweight, smooth and “flexible”. Polyester fabrics especially are the ones that will pass through a wedding ring easily (whatever that means).
In other words, the “Wedding Ring” test has reality turned upside down. It’s the polyester fabrics that will pass through easily and the authentic Thai silk which will have a problem getting through.
But wait! There’s even more reasons why the “Wedding Ring” test is silly at best and at worst, often part of a rip-off scheme:
1. The amount of resistance through a wedding ring has more to do with the amount of fabric you’re trying to pull through than it’s fiber composition. And besides, how are you going to pull a bolt of Thai Silk through the tiny hole of a wedding ring? You can’t. Even authentic silk scarves are often too much fabric to pull through the eye of a wedding ring.
2. What exactly does “easily” mean? “Easily” is a subjective term that’s all but meaningless. Your “easy” might be my “hard”. And even assuming this fake test is real, how many times have you pulled authentic Thai silk and polyester through a wedding ring so that you’d know the difference?” Answer: Almost never if not never ever.
The “Wedding Ring” test is actually a counter indicator. The fabric (if you could do so) that pulls easily through would be the fake polyester and the difficult one would be the authentic Thai silk. Maybe that’s why rip-off artists always urge their novice buyers to pull that polyester scarf through a wedding ring.
The “Burn” Test
The quickest way to get thrown out of an authentic Thai silk shop or get run out of a silk weaving village is to brandish a lighter and try this dandy of a “test”.
On its face, it’s a fairly simple test. Light the fabric in question on fire (or try to do so) and interpret the results. The theory: Silk is difficult to keep lit and burning (at least with a small lighter), while polyester ignites quickly and burns with a black smoke and drips like the plastic it is.
That’s all true enough, but it’s also useless information because no one is going to allow you to burn the sufficient amount of silk fabric needed to accomplish such a test for any degree of certainty.
The minimum amount of fabric you’d need to get meaningful results would be approximately 4 square centimeters (preferably you’d want 8 sq. cents.) There is no weaver or legitimate silk seller that’s going to let you start cutting up the fabric so you can perform a test that you’re probably not even competent to preform in the first place.
When confronted with the fact that a sizable swatch is needed, the burn test enthusiasts then claim that you can do the test with a single thread. Oh really? They claim that you can study the ashes of a single thread and discern fiber composition. Oh rrreally? They claim that you can smell authentic Thai silk from a split second burn of a single thread. Oh rrrrreally?
First, a snippet of silk thread whether 2-ply or 4-ply is a teeny-tiny sample to work with. Is there any real discernible ash left after burning a snippet (an inch or two) of thread? Did you burn it on a surface that you can even see the ash? Are you an expert at silk ash as compared to other fibers? Have you ever even seen silk ash? What’s the difference between silk ash and the ash of polished cotton-a common fake silk textile?
I can assure you from experience that a single strand of polyester is too small to drip like plastic and will give off only a negligent amount of smoke-not enough to make any realistic determination as to fiber content. The actual burn time will only be a split second.
Secondly, just where are you going to get this silk thread specimen? (It has to be from the fabric you’re buying to be relevant.) Many fabrics and garments are hemmed and don’t have loose threads. And the fabrics that do, are you going to start unraveling the weave to get your specimen? Will the weaver/seller allow this? Are you going to snip something off the fabric?
The smell? The “burn” test proponents assure us that burnt silk smells like burnt hair. Does burnt silk really smell like human hair or just similar? Or maybe not at all? How much odor is produced by a small snippet of thread? Answer: Almost none. And even if silk had a peculiar odor when burned, how often have you smelled it? Answer: Probably never. Could you even recognize the smell (assuming there is even a smell after burning a tiny piece of thread? Answer: No.
The truth is the “burn” test, unless you use decent sized swatches of silk and you’re experienced at burning not only Thai silk, but also cotton and polyester, is a useless test that’s always offered to novice buyers by “silk” sharks. Beware.
My Experience With Burning Fabrics
I actually have significant experience with test burning fabrics. My experience comes from my import business of selling Thai kapok mattresses in the United States. In the U.S. if you sell sleeping mattresses or futons, they must pass state and federal flammability standards.
Therefore we began testing our Thai mattresses for flammability. This primarily involves doing very controlled burn tests on the fabrics we used as covers. We tested silk, cotton, hemp, wool, polyester, and cotton/polyester blends.
I can assure you that burning a snippet of thread will yield no valid results about anything. It’s too tiny and will be consumed by a flame in a split second. There’s nothing to observe or learn from such a small sample.
The Bottom Line
If a seller encourages silk shoppers to either burn fabric or take off their wedding ring to to authenticate Thai silk, they either know little about this fabric, or they’re engaging in a fraud…or probably both.
Rules for Buying Thai Silk
For the past 20 years I have bought tens of thousands of dollars of Thai silk for both personal and commercial purposes from all over Thailand. I’ve made apparel and Thai pillows from it and sold it in the U.S.
I purchase most of my silk in the silk weaving villages of Esaan, although I’ve also gotten it from Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Bangkok. Never once has any weaver or silk shop owner ever offered me the “wedding ring” or the “burn” tests. That’s not how Thai silk is bought and sold.
Here’s a few recommendations for buying Thai silk especially if you’re a novice. These are some guideposts that all experienced silk buyers follow:
- The Golden Rule! Know your silk source. You won’t personally know them, but you can size-up their business. Do they have a legitimate business (a brick & mortar shop) and a store full of silk inventory? If outside of Bangkok, is the store located in a silk weaving region such as Korat, Chonobot, Kon Gan, Esaan Region, Chiang Mai, or Lamphun? Is the owner knowledgeble and enthusiastic about Thai silk or do they just want your money? Again, Rule #1 is to know your source!
- Never buy purported Thai silk at a tourist market! Quality Thai silk is not sold at tourist markets. The only exception to this I’ve ever seen is that very cheap, low quality “noi” silk (aka raw silk) is sometimes sold there. This is the lowest quality Thai silk-that’s why it’s so cheap.
- Don’t buy Thai silk from any of the beach cities. That’s not where Thai silk is woven and you’ll either way overpay, or get ripped off with a fake.
- There are no bargains in Thai silk, only fair deals. Get it out of your head that you can find Thai silk at bargain prices. You can’t. The weaver knows the value of her fabric; the shop owner knows the value; People like me know the value. Why would someone sell you a bolt of authentic Thai silk for one-third its value? They’re not. You get what you pay for.
- Buy only from silk shops that specialize in Thai silk and have a large inventory. Don’t buy from shops that sell a mish-mash of tourist goods.
- Never buy from a seller that is willing to bargain the price down. Very rarely do legitimate silk sellers or weavers engage in bargaining. If you start to walk away and the seller begins to lower the price-RUN! How can you trust a seller who initially wanted to sell you something for $100 but now is offering it to you for half the price? Run! Fast!
- Educate yourself about this legendary fabric. The more you know the better consumer you’ll be. In my tutorial “Thai Silk: A Buyer’s Guide” I go into great detail about the attributes of authentic Thai silk. Read it.
Epilogue: Wedding Rings & Thai Silk
When I married my Thai wife, Waranya, of course she wore a traditional wedding gown made from a beautifully brocaded Thai silk woven in Lamphun.
Prior to the wedding, We also went out and chose her engagement and our wedding rings. We went to an established brick & mortar jeweler that had been in business for years.
The jeweler was showing us lots of engagement rings and I was questioning him about quality. He handed me his loop and encouraged me to study the diamond of the ring my soon-to-be wife liked.
I put the loop against my eyeglasses and squinted. He gently told me to take off my glasses and then turned the loop around because I was looking through it the wrong way. The second time, I could make out something through the loop, but it was all meaningless to me. It could have been a perfect diamond or a chunk of plastic. The loop did me no good at all. But I trusted the jeweler and bought the diamond engagement ring and our wedding bands.
My wife looked beautiful in her Thai silk wedding gown and I happily slipped on her wedding ring. Perfect!
So yes! Wedding rings and Thai silk do go together. But not in the way silk sharks falsely claim.