From Silk Worm to Silk Scarf – A 5,000-Year-Old Journey

Written by Helen McGlade  

Sumptuous silks in a Multitude of Colours

Dearest reader, let me welcome you into the enchanting world of silk production! Silk is one of the earliest fabrics made in history; it was first production over 5,000 years ago! Bet you didn’t know that this gorgeous material has also been instrumental in politics, uniting continents and countries through international trade along the Silk Roads. Wars have broken out over who dominates the silk market and many a heart has been stolen by the fluttering of a silk scarf. All in all, an influential fabric! 

Map of the Ancient Silk Road

Fun Facts about silk!  

  • Silk, although lustrous and lightweight, is actually incredibly strong: a silk filament is stronger than a filament of steel of the same diameter!  
  • Did you know that China is the world’s largest producer of silk? Each year, China produces 150,000 metric tons, accounting for 78% of the world’s produce!  
  • This tantalising textile has not just been used for clothing. Along the Silk Road in Central Asia, silk was actually used as a form of currency between 300-400AD. Try telling that to the shopkeeper next time you’re out buying milk! 
Bombyx Mori Silk Worms Eating Mulberry Leaves

Step 1 – Sericulture  

The first important step in the process of silk production is known as sericulture. This term is used to describe the gathering of silk worms (Bombyx Mori to use their scientific name) and harvesting their cocoons. Silk moths lay eggs, which then hatch into silk worms. These worms eat a huge amount of mulberry leaves: to produce 1 kg of silk, 104 kg of mulberry leaves must be eaten by 3000 silkworms! Once the worms have grown enough (they must be roughly 10,000 times heavier than when they hatch), they raise their heads and begin to spin their cocoons – a process that takes 2 to 3 days. These cocoons are next harvested and boiled to loosen the silk filaments. Look away animal rights activists; the silk worms are killed in the boiling process, but do not go to waste as they are usually roasted and eaten as a tasty snack! The silk threads are incredibly fine, so between 3 to 10 strands are wound together ready for the dying process. 

Rainbow Silks

Step 2 – Dyeing  

This part is great fun! The silk thread is now dyed in a multitude of glorious colours. Traditionally, dyes come from fruit or indigo plants, but in the modern silk industry, many dyes are synthetic, allowing for a greater variety of colours to be produced.  

A Traditional Spinning Wheel – Don’t Prick Your Finger!

Step 3 + 4 – Spinning & Weaving 

The rainbow threads then undergo the spinning process. A spinning wheel evokes fairy tales such as ‘Sleeping Beauty’ for me – are there spinning wheels in your culture’s folklore? Spinning unwinds the dyed threads and rewinds them onto a bobbin ready for… can you guess?… the weaving process! A loom is used to bind two threads together, interlocking and forming a strong, uniform piece of fabric. The finish of the silk depends on the type of weaving, such as satin weave, plain weave or open weave. 

A Hand-Painted Silk Fan

Step 5 – Printing  

The next step, lovely reader, is incredibly versatile and really gives piece of silk its own individual personality.  The silk is now printed; in the modern day, this is often done digitally, though more traditionally, screen printing is used. Screen printing is where a design is sketched on a fine mesh screen, laid over the silk and dye is applied according to the design. If the design includes multiple colours, each colour must be applied individually and then left to dry before the next is added. Other methods of decorating silk include hand painting. In Vietnam, silk is often used as a canvas for beautiful pieces of art, traditionally showcasing landscapes or scenes from daily life.  

Vietnamese Silk Painting

Step 6 – Finishing  

Finally, our gorgeous silk has almost completed its long journey. The final step is ‘finishing’ the silk, where different chemical treatments are applied to give the fabric the glimmering sheen silk is known for. This step can also add important properties such as resistance to creases or fire! 

An Array of Silk Scarves

And there you have it! From a silk worm to a silk scarf, you now know how silk is produced and made into the fabulously versatile fabric we know today. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the silk process, leave a comment and let me know what you think! Be sure to check out our other blog on silk brocade while you’re here too! 

About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.

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