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Fabrics for Ties: Neckties from Silk, Poplin, Wool, and Other Fabrics

Quality ties are always made of pure silk.

Silk was first produced in China as early as 2640 BC. From there silk made its way to Persia around 400 BC, and 200 years later to Minor Asia and Egypt. Silk did not reach Europe until the last pre-Christian century, when the Romans discovered silk in Egypt. For the Romans silk quickly became a luxury good. Nothing changed the materials exclusiveness – not even when the Moors introduced their own silk production in Spain in the 8th century AD. Soon after, during the 10th century, their silk making technique spread from Sicily all over Italy.

By the Middle Ages, silk was produced, traded, or manufactured almost everywhere, although Florence established itself as the Mecca for silk manufacturing in Europe in the 17th century. Silk became especially popular in France, who also adopted their own silk manufacturing. The silk industry in Europe matured during the 18th century, the time when cotton and wool fabrics became more popular and stared competing with silk for formal attire. Nevertheless, silk did not vanish but instead was used for vests, morning robes and stockings as well as for lining and edging.

The stylish tied necktie worn by dandies in the 19th century was not made of silk, but white linen or lace. It was not until the late 1880s that silk became the predominant fabric for neckties. This was the result of a proceeding industrialization that provided undreamed-of possibilities to produce the once rare silk fabric as a bulk good. With new weaving techniques, more patterns could be produces with the thin and delicate silk yarn. With the possibility to produce a wider range of patterns, men soon developed a liking of ties with all-over patterns from the classic Macclesfield design to the oriental design Paisleys. The paisley design is from Indian origin, but got its name from the Scottish city Paisley, where silk threads from the British colonies have been spun into this Indian-style pattern ever since the 18th century. Even today Paisley design neckties are just like regimental striped ties a classic necktie design. In the last 10 years necktie designer Robert Talbott made the Paisley design necktie once again a fashionable tie for men.

Silk extraction is almost the same than it had been hundreds of years ago. It still is a time and work consuming procedure. As soon as the silk worm has wrapped itself completely into a cocoon, the so-called pupa will be held into hot air or steam to kill the worm. The cocoon will then be soaked into water to get rid of the outer layer of gum which agglutinated the cocoon threads before. These threads are brushed off and have a length of about 1.86 miles (3,000m), but eventually only 330 to 880 yards (300 to 800m) can be used to produce high-quality floss. Before spinning and weaving the floss, it has to be cooked up in soapy water to remove possible residues of gum. The expert also calls it “degumming”.

China is still the largest supplier of high-quality floss. The “hub of the silk manufacturing world” however is Como in Northern Italy. In Como you will find everything from the design of patterns to the final goods – the companies in Como offer the complete bandwidth. The silk will either be screen printed, or yarn of different colors will be woven to Jacquards. Screen prints are especially suitable for images or floral motifs since with this particular method almost every motif can be printed onto the fabric as a perfect copy of real objects. Thus, woven silk mainly shows geometrical or consistent patterns since these are the easiest to be done with warp and weft.

To judge the quality of a silk fabric is even for experts not an easy task. Synthetic fabrics, such as microfiber, have made large advances, and they are often times indistinguishable from silk just by looking at it. Thus, it is better to rely on your sense of touch. The most noticeable difference between both is that the artificial product is made of smoother yarn and this way the final good will also is much smoother. The trick is to run the tie through your fingers. Real silk will get stuck on rough skin or the edge of a fingernail (be careful when doing this test since it can full individual silk threads out of the fabric). The synthetic replica on the other hand will just slide over it.

Another trick would be to press your finger into the fabric or to crease it. Quality ties will not crumble, but you might want to be careful with this method if you are not the rightful owner at that point. Tests such as scorching the fabrics is not something the potential customer can do, thus he has to rely on the promise the tie-brand makes. As a rule of thumb: A good reputation stands for good quality, whereas the price also serves as a good guideline since a high-quality tie will only be available at a certain price.

Other Fabrics for Ties Besides Silk

Even though silk is the most popular fabric for men’s ties, there are plenty other fabric used. Knitted neckties are made from wool or cotton for example. Also common are fabric blends mixing different natural and/or synthetic fibers. Two of such fabrics are poplin and Mogador which mix fine cotton in the warp with delicate silk in the weft. Man-made fabrics have gained much popularity mainly due to the lower costs. Ties to stay away from are the ones made from polyester. Poly ties not just cheap but they also look cheap.

Tie-Knots.org – a site about tie knots, dress codes, and more. This page is about the history of silk and covers popular fabrics used for making men’s ties. Tie-knots.org is a site made by a necktie aficionado for fellow tie wearers. Learn anything there is to know from how to tie a necktie, how to fold a pocket square, matching ties, mens dress codes, fashion tips, and much more.