January 12, 2009

How Silk is Made

Interesting Facts About Silk

silk-worm-photoYou ever wondered where silk comes from? You might know that silk has been around for several thousand years, but did you know that not much has changes in the way silk is made? The exact history of silk dates back to to the 27th century BC in China. That means that silk is over 5,000 years old, making it one of the oldest fabrics, with linen and wool, that is still in popular use today. Below are some interesting facts about silk such as history, how it is made, and what it is used for besides making fine neckwear.

A brief History on Silk
The history of silk can be traced back to the 27th century BC in China. The tale of silk is described in the writing of Confucius. According to him silk was discovered by the empress Leizu. She was having tea when a cocoon of a silk worm (see picture of an actual silk worm’s cocoon) fell into her cup. The hot water caused the silk thread of the cocoon to unwind. Amazed by this delicate thread the empress thought about using it to weave fabric. Her husband, the Yellow Emperor, encouraged her to study the silk worm. Silk thread was collected and eventually the art of spinning and weaving this thread into fabric was mastered. Silk was a luxury good in China. The production of it was kept a strict secret and not until over a thousand years later did this secret leak to Japanese, Byzantines, Arabs and the Western Europe.

How Silk is Made
Silk today is still made the exact same way as 5,000 years ago. Although the process has been refined and made more efficient, silk is still won from the cocoons of the silk worm. Silk worms are farmed in the millions. After eating through piles of mulberry leaves, the worms roll themselves into their silk yarn to make a cocoon. The cocoon is then selected, and the worms are separated from the cocoons. Then the cocoons (see picture below) are being un-spun using steam. The silk yarns is then bleached and dyed before spun into a thicker silk thread. Eventually thousands of silk threads are woven into fabric that is used to make luxury pieces of clothing for men and women around the world.

If you ever wondered how much silk a worm produces, then you will probably be surprised to find out that a single cocoon is made up from 1,000 to 3,000 feet of silk yarn. What is even more astonishing is that over 2,000 cocoons are needed to make one pound of silk. This translates to about 150 per necktie! It is nice to find out that an Oregon company developed a method to make silk that does not require to kill the worms!

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