According to Chinese tradition, the history of silk begins in the 27thcentury BCE. Its use was confined to China until the Silk Road opened atsome point during the latter half of the first millennium BCE. Chinamaintained its virtual monopoly over silk for another thousand years. Notconfined to clothing, silk was also used for a number of other applications,including writing, and the colour of silk worn was an important indicator ofsocial class during the Tang Dynasty.Silk cultivation spread to Japan in around 300 CE, and by 522 theByzantines managed to obtain silkworm eggs and were able to beginsilkworm cultivation. The Arabs also began to manufacture silk during thissame time. As a result of the spread of sericulture, Chinese silk exportsbecame less important, although they still maintained dominance over theluxury silk market. The Crusades brought silk production to WesternEurope, in particular to many Italian states, which saw an economic boomexporting silk to the rest of Europe. Changes in manufacturing techniquesalso began to take place during the Middle Ages, with devices such as thespinning wheel first appearing. During the 16th century France joined Italyin developing a successful silk trade, though the efforts of most other
The eggs develop into the silkworm lava, grub orcaterpillar. They eat for 20-30 days, consuming largeamounts of mulberry leaves The caterpillar moultsthrough four changes of skinThe silkworm spins a cocoon for protection, to permitthe development of the pupa or chrysalis. The cocoontakes about three days to be fully complete and is asimilar size to a peanut shell.The chrysalis emerges from the cocoon as a moth. Incultivated silk, the grub is terminated while still insidethe cocoon so that the long filaments are maintained.
The moths mate and the female lays more than 350 eggs.The moths then dieIn the wild this cycle occurs once a year, but underscientific breeding it can occur up to three times in a year.It is slow and difficult process to produce silk fiber. Thereare many factors which can influence the quality andamount of the end product. Around 12 x kilos of cocoonswill only produce about 1 x kilo of reliable silk (long fibers)and 1 x kilo of unreliable spinning silk (short fibers).
These are just some of the more common forms of silkRaw silk - Silk in its natural form is covered with a gum called Sericin. Raw silk still hasall the gum which is dull & stiff and can be in many colours. Various processes can beused to remove the sericin to reveal the lustrous fibre beneath.Wild Silk - This is usually not white and is from the tannins from eating plants otherthan the mulberry tree. It can be courser than cultivated silk, making it better for highwear items. It is cheaper. Wild silk cocoons are usually gathered after the moth hasemerged, therefore the staples or fibres will have been cut, making it only suitable forspinning. It is also known as Tussah SilkTussah Silk - Courser than cultivated silk and correspondingly, more robust. It usuallyhas small black flecks throughout. See also Wild SilkCultivated Silk - This has become a highly technical and controlled industry where silkworms are raised and fed mainly on mulberry leaves to produce a near white colouredsilk. Often the chrysalis or grub is destroyed before it has a chance to eat its way out ofthe cocoon, so that the fibre can be reeled off in one long fibre. See also Reeled Silk &Thrown Silk
Thrown Silk - Made from the long filaments of silk up to 1500 mts long, and isnearly always made from cultivated silk. It is more expensive due to the extrawork required in reeling off the single filaments. It requires very little twist soretains more illustriousness, and can be woven into fabric that are almosttransparent. Also called Reeled silk. Some types of thrown silk fabrics include:voile, georgette, organza and crepe.Dupion Silk - This is silk which retains the lumps where two threads join. It is acharacteristic which is admired and should not be considered a flaw.Noil Silk - Made from very short staple and contains little tangle balls of fiberReeled Silk - See also Thrown Silk and Cultivated SilkSpun Silk - Shorter staples can be carded and woven, much the same way ascotton or wool. Includes varieties such as Shantung, Mutka and Noil.Cut Silk - See Spun Silk
Silks absorbency makes it comfortable to wear in warm weather and whileactive. Its low conductivity keeps warm air close to the skin during coldweather. It is often used for clothing such as shirts, ties, blouses, formaldresses, high fashion clothes, lingerie, pajamas, robes, dress suits, sun dressesand Eastern folk costumes. Silks attractive lustre and drape makes it suitablefor many furnishing applications. It is used for upholstery, wall coverings,window treatments (if blended with another fiber), rugs, bedding and wallhangings. While on the decline now, due to artificial fibers, silk has had manyindustrial and commercial uses, such as in parachutes, bicycle tires, comforterfilling and artillery gunpowder bags.This process has also recently led to the introduction of specialist silkunderclothing for children and adults with eczema where it can significantlyreduce it. New uses and manufacturing techniques have been found for silk formaking everything from disposable cups to drug delivery systems andholograms. To produce 1 kg of silk, 104 kg of mulberry leaves must be eaten by3000 silkworms. It takes about 5000 silkworms to make a pure silk kimono. Theconstruction of silk is called sericulture. The major silk producers are China(54%) and India (14%).