History of Silk
Silk production is believed to have originated in China sometime prior to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. The Chinese jealously guarded their silkworms and silk cloth production methods for many centuries. Legend has it that the penalty for disclosing the secrets of silk production was a slow death by torture. Sometime in the 1st millennium BC they began trading silk cloth abroad. Soon caravans were regularly carrying silk to India and Persia . As the legend goes, sometime between 200 and 100 BC, sericulture (the domestic cultivation of silkworms) spread to India. A few hundred years later India began to ship silk cloth to Persia .
Excavations of archaeological sites in northeastern Thailand have led some archeologists to believe that sericulture existed there some 4,000 years ago. A huge burial site in Thailand shows evidence of a complex civilization dating back to 2,000 BC. Among the articles unearthed were clusters of silk thread.
The most popular legend has it that the Roman Emperor Justinian persuaded two monks to journey to China around 550 AD and smuggle some silk worm eggs back to him at his capitol of Constantinople . The monks returned two years later with the silkworm eggs. This is a plausible theory, as silkworm eggs can remain dormant for as long as 10 months in cooler temperatures. In the warmer, tropical climates, silkworm eggs can hatch in as little as 10 days. It is believed that all the silk produced in the west for several centuries thereafter was from the direct descendants of the silkworms brought to Emperor Justinian.
During the 13th century AD, the Venetian explorer Marco Polo returned to Italy and brought with him beautiful silks and advanced sericulture knowledge. The Italian silk industry was born. In the 15th century AD silk production began to flourish in France as well, but in 1854 a plague almost totally wiped out the silkworms of Europe . In 1865 Louis Pasteur developed a means of control over the silkworm plague. Eventually the Italian silk industry recovered, but that of France never did.
In the 1600’s, silk arrived in the Americas with the first colonists, and therefore had, for all intents and purposes, circled the globe.
Prior to World War II, the more industrialized nations of Japan and Italy were the primary suppliers of silk worldwide, but with the outbreak of war and the introduction of man-made fibers like nylon and polyester, the world’s demand for silk was greatly reduced.
Today however, just as it was thousands of years ago, silk remains a beautiful luxury material. Silk is one of the primary export products of Thailand.
The Making of Silk
Firstly, we have the silkworms, well they’re not really worms but a type of caterpillar. These ‘worms’ are fed a diet of tender mulberry leaves.
The silkworms eat almost non-stop and then migrate into cut mulberry branches or specially made wicker cocoon holders where they spin their silk cocoons.
A few of the cocoons are allowed to develop into moths for breeding stock.
Each female silkworm moth will lay 300 to 500 pinhead-sized eggs.
The cocoons are then harvested from the mulberry branches to keep them safe from predators.
Next the cocoons are simmered to loosen the the thread and allow it to be spun onto a spool.
The thread is then dyed to the required colour.
The thread dying process gets quite complicated for the cross thread from which the woven designs are derived.
The thread is tie-dyed, and then afterwards the ties are cut off.
After several tie-dyes, a multi-coloured thread is formed.
The single colored thread is wound into lengths ranging from 4 to 25 yards.