Silk is a natural fiber known for its luster, water absorbency, tensile strength, and heat resistance. Silk was and still is the epitome of luxury wear. Majority of silk produced across the world is from cocoons spun by domesticated mulberry silkworms also known as Bombyx Mori L.
History of Silk
Silk is popularly believed to have originated from China in 27th BC when a silk cocoon fell into empress Leizu’s teacup and hot tea helped her unravel the silk as she tried to pull it out of the teacup.
But recently resurfaced evidence suggests that silk was in Indus civilization dating back to 2450-2000 BC. This new evidence challenges the notion of silk being exclusively a Chinese invention.
How is Silk Made?
Egg to Spinning Cocoons
- Process of silk production is called Sericulture
- It starts with rearing of Chawki (hatched larvae)
- Then it’s bought by a silk farmer and who then rears the silkworms (despite their name, they aren’t really worms but larvae)
- Farmer domesticates the silkworms over the period of 21 days by feeding Mulberry leaves (sole source of nutrients for Bombyx Mori L) Read our one stop source for all you need to know about Mulberry farming
- Then larvae spin cocoons over the period of 2 days. Cocoons are made of silk fibers consisting of two fibroin brins and sericin binder that acts as an adhesive
- In a span of 2-3 days, silkworm spins a mile worth of silk filament around itself
- Cocoons are then soaked in hot water and silk strands are unraveled with the help of Reeling units
- Unraveled silk strands are automatically attached to make one continuous strand
- Then the strands are twisted to make yarn
- Yarn is then rolled to make it more uniform
- Yarn is ready to be woven into a saree or any other type of garment
- Silk wears are mainly weaved either by handlooms or power looms
Types of Silk
Silk type is categorized based on the source from which it originated. Silk is generally obtained from insects but some rare silks are extracted from lotus as well.
Here are some of the common types of silk.
It constitutes about 90% of the total silk production of the world. Mulberry silk comes from silkworms, Bombyx Mori L. These larvae’s sole food is Mulberry leaves. They are completely domesticated and reared indoors.
It is also considered to be the silk of the highest quality for its durability, lightweight, outstanding strength, and allergy-free nature being a few of its most useful features.
Tussar are wild silkworms, there are many varieties. Chinese tussar silkworm Antheraea pernyi guerin produces most of the non-mulberry silk in the world. Next in line is the Indian Tussar silkworm Antheraea mylitte dury followed by the Japanese tussar silkworm which stands out for its green silk thread.
Tussar is more textured than Mulberry silk but the shorter threads make it less durable. Tussar silk is also expensive because of the difficulty in procuring. As it is collected from forests.
Extracted from cocoons of 2 kinds of species namely Samia ricini and Philosamia ricini. P.ricini are domesticated on castor oil plants so they are also called “castor oil silkworms”. Filaments of these cocoons are not consistent and continuous so domesticators allow the moths to emerge and leave the cocoons and then they are reeled. Eri silk is also commonly known as “peace silk or Ahimsa silk” as the worms are not killed during the process of reeling filaments from cocoons.
Eri Silk is generally white or brick-red in color. These kinds of silkworms are generally found in the northeastern part of India.
Stand out feature of Muga silk is its golden-yellow thread, it is not only alluring but also very strong in nature. To add to that, the fabric is said to gain more luster with each wash. As they are found only in Assam, India, Muga silk is one of the costliest silk in the world.
Muga silkworms (Antheraea assamensis) belong to the same genus as Tussar silkworms. They mainly feed on Persea bombycina and Litsaea monopetalous leaves. Muga silkworms are not domesticated, so the production is unregulated and low. It is largely used to make traditional dresses in Assam.
Produced by silkworms of the genus Anaphe. A. panda Boisduval mainly. These African wild silk moths spin cocoons in communes ranging from 200-2000 moths separated by a thin layer of silk. This has been a source of income for many rural communities mainly in Nigeria. They collect these cocoons from the forest and spin the fluff into raw silk.
Special features of Anaphe silk are its tensile strength and elasticity which is higher than that of Mulberry silk. It is commonly used in making velvet, plushes, and light seat covers. In the 20th century, this business was over-exploited coupled with deforestation, Anaphe silk is a rarity now and it is commonly substituted by cotton called Kugu dyed to resemble Anaphe silk.
Also known as Mussel silk because these filaments are used by Mussel to attach themselves to the sea bed. Sea silk is exceptionally rare, valuable, and of fine quality. When this silk is washed with lemon juice, it turns into a golden color that never fades.
It is estimated to be around since ancient Roman times, i.e, 8th Century BC. However, mussel silk was first produced in the 20th century.
Production of this silk is now constricted only to Taranto, Italy. Sea silk is the most expensive silk in the world lending to its rarity. Pollution of oceans is deteriorating the current availability as well.
Coan silk is made from Pachypasa Atus, They are generally found in Greece, Turkey, and Italy. They feed on Pine, Ash Cypress, Oak, and Juniper trees. The white cocoons spun by these worms are about 9 cm x 8 cm. It was commonly worn by Roman nobles, mainly crimson-dyed clothes. This silk is no longer produced as it is hard to manufacture in a cost-effective manner considering cheaper and better quality silk is abundantly available in the market.
Obtained from cocoons of Attacus atlas L, a large silk moth. The cocoons are about 6 cm long and are light brown in color. Moths are found in Indo-Australian regions like Sudan and China. They mostly feed on Mango, Avocado, Camphor, Guava, and other rainforest trees.
We all know spiders and their webs. The threads produced by spiders to build webs are silk. Considering how less silk they produce to actually make yarn, spider silk is a rare commodity. Most spider silk is made from Madagascan species since they can make enough silk to produce yarn. Cost of production is also very high as people have to go fetch spiders, extract them and make this fine silk. The pricing is not just practical for this to be an industry of its own. The most durable type of this silk is used for optical illusions, wear-resistant clothing, telescopes, and bulletproof vests.
Silk has been the ‘queen of textiles’ for over 4000 years. The ultimate fabric to wear. India, being the colorful country it is, is naturally the highest consumer of silk. Not everyone may know why they love wearing silk but it definitely makes one feel good.
Here’s why silk fabric is worth all its demand, hype, and price.
- Fine and soft fiber structure making the wearer feel warm and fuzzy.
- Unique sheen due to the prism-shaped filaments that produce beautiful shine when reflecting light. This is one of the most stand-out features of silk.
- Because of its protein structure, silk is the most hypoallergenic of all the natural fibers. Meaning it is less likely to cause allergic reactions. Making it a most wearer-friendly natural fabric.
- One more feature lending to its wearer-friendly credentials is how silk regulates body temperature in its own way. Silk can be worn as a second layer under your clothes without being bulky, thanks to its thin fiber. It can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture while being extremely breathable. Silk is worn by many athletes for the same reason.
- Knowing the fact that silk was adorned by ancient royal families connects us to history. The way silk enhances the beautiful designs and motifs of several clusters of weavers with their own history just adds to the traditional values India is known for.
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