Assam silk is an umbrella term used for the three types of indigenous silks produced in Assam - Paat/mulberry, Eri and Muga silks. All three have completely different look & feel and qualities. Like Paat silk is white/off-white, Muga is honey hued, while Eri is cream/off-white. There is a rare red variety of Eri silk as well, which is found in the Kokrajhar district of Assam.
Allow us to walk you through the different varieties in detail.
Muga is the pride of Assam, more so because it is endemic to Assam. The worm or caterpillar is a wild variety and feeds predominantly on the Som tree in Upper Assam, where most of the rearing is done, and the Suala tree in Lower Assam, although there are some other secondary varieties of trees on which the worm can be grown. The colour of the silk produced depends on the host tree and the season during which the silkworm is reared.
The silk produced is known for its glossy fine texture and durability. Very often the silk outlives its owner. My grandmother handed me some of her exquisite Muga silks that were part of her wedding trousseau. Though they are a little frayed from years of rough handling and home washing (there was no dry cleaning back in the day), they still look just as good. Heirloom pieces.
The texture and colour of Muga is sensitive to changing atmospheric conditions. Meaning, it has been observed that the yarn reeled in the summers differ in colour and texture from the yarn produced in the winters. It was previously reported that Muga silk cannot be dyed or bleached due to low porosity, but this apparently is incorrect; Muga can take dye like any other silk once it is bleached. However, we love our honey-hued Muga as is, and won't be dyeing them anytime soon. Read about the history of Muga silk here.
Eri silk, also known as Endi or Errandi silk, is one of the most underrated silks. The manufacturing process of Eri allows the pupae to develop into adults and only the open ended coocons are used for turning into silk yarns, it is also popularly known as Ahimsa or non-violent silk.
While the production of Eri silk is more labour and cost intensive, it is more sustainable and cruelty-free compared to conventional silk. 100% of the cocoon can be used to make yarns and, in turn, fabrics. It is in fact nature’s very way of teaching us upcycling.
Besides, Eri silk has a magical quality: it is isothermal - cool in summer and warm in winter. It is also a strong, durable fabric, combining the elegance of silk with the comfort of cotton and warmth of wool. The more it is worn, the softer it gets and is a great textile to be worn all year round. Read - The Story of Eri.
Paat silk is a variety of domestic mulberry silk produced in Assam. The larvae that feeds on indigeneous bogori (jujube) plant leaves are called Nuni, hence it is also referred to as Nuni Paat. The silk has a natural white/off-white shade and is known for its softness, durability and glossy texture.
The raw version of Paat silk is called Kesa Paat, a delicate fibre which is diaphanous. Kesa Paat contains sericin. The gummy substance, affording protection during processing, is usually retained until the yarn stage and is removed by boiling the silk in soap and water, leaving it soft and lustrous, with weight reduced by as much as 30 percent. This is the reason why Kesa Paat is wispy & light as a feather, and gives a dreamy look to the garment.