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 InteractChina.com, 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 ChineseFashionStyle.com, 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.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

The Modernization of Traditional Chinese Hanfu and Qipao

It is difficult to define traditional Chinese clothing as one specific style since there are so many different types of clothing and styles depending on the time and dynasty, they appeared in. However, if we were to highlight two very distinct traditional garments as the most well-known and influential, these would be the Hanfu, which literally means “Han Dynasty clothing” in Chinese, and the qipao, which translates as “the Qi people gown”. Although, these are both some of the oldest traditional clothing, they still have a great influence in modern Chinese fashion, referred to as the modern qipao or “New” Hanfu and qipao.

Let’s look at the history behind these two traditional garments and their evolution to their modernized version in today’s Chinese fashion.

The Hanfu:

Hanfu is a traditional Chinese outfit which has been prevalent for a long time in Chinese history as it appeared firstly in the Qin Dynasty, 200 B.C, until the Ming Dynasty, around the year 1600. As mentioned before, Hanfu refers to the Han people clothing, thus it was created for the Han people and distinguishes itself from the clothing of other ethnic minority groups. In the Western Zhou Dynasty, hanfu was used to indicate a person’s social status as it was a time of strict hierarchical set up. Can you believe that the differences in the length of a skirt or the wideness of a sleeve were an indication of a person’s rank in society?

A traditional Hanfu is a long gown, with long sleeves and a sash used to secure the garment around the waist instead of buttons. It is characterized by colorful embroidery and a crossed collar with a right lapel (the left collar crosses over the right one). The two main designs a Hanfu can have is either as a one-piece dress or as a two-piece skirt or trouser combo which includes underwear, an inner layer and an overcoat. To complete the traditional costume accessories such as a jade belt and jewelry as well as a shawl are added.

On the other hand, the “new Hanfu” has more influence from the Western style of clothing and thus, integrates these aforementioned traditional characteristics of the traditional Hanfu with a more functional and stylish touch. The goal of the new Hanfu was to bring back wearing it in everyday life since it had become a garment used only for special occasions or formal events. This was because the traditional Hanfu gained a reputation for being inconvenient and difficult to wear compared to alternative modern clothing. By making the modern Hanfu comfortable and more varied in style it became popular to wear everyday especially for young people, children and teachers. The main elements of Hanfu are still maintained like the cross-collar, silk embroidery and retro patterns but designers have focused on making the shape of the Hanfu more fitted and unique to each body. Designers are willing to adapt Hanfu to the needs of today, which keep changing and shifting, and bring its own flair and style to present life.

Qipao

Qipao was a garment which appeared in the 1920s inspired by the long gown type garments worn in the Qing Dynasty by the Manchu people. It evolved to become the qipao which was named “national dress” up until the 1950s. Traditionally, it was a long, loose dress which had no slits or very short slits in the side. It is usually made of silk and is embroidered with different kinds of flowers, with thick laces trimmed at the collar, sleeves and edges. Qipao was initially designed for upper class women as it tried to convey their elegance and modesty and so it was not meant to be very displaying!

This meant that, originally, the dress covered the whole body almost completely and very loosely. This was hardly considered fashionable or stylish even at that time! That’s why in the 1930s, the traditional qipao was redesigned, adding western patterns to exalt the beauty and curves of a woman’s body. Today, qipao has regained its popularity and is mostly worn for special or formal occasions and has a much more westernized influence and appeal. The main differences which characterize the modern qipao are its fitted cut, right side knot buttons and two wide openings at both sides of the hips. With this regained popularity, factory made qipaos has become widely sold in Chinese shops, but it is hard to find good quality tailor made ones. If you are looking for an excellent quality qipao, Interact China is the right place to buy it! We partner with professional tailors to provide you with a handmade craftsmanship with delicate details and quality materials. Below are some examples of the qipaos we sell, which are divided into Deluxe velvet, premium silk and vintage cocktail qipaos.

Despite the distinctive characteristics which draw the Hanfu and qipao apart, they both have a deep cultural meaning which is kept alive through the transformation to more modern versions of the original garment. So, which one do you prefer? We would love to know your thoughts in the comments and hope you have learnt a bit more about the culture and history of traditional Chinese clothing!

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 InteractChina.com, 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 ChineseFashionStyle.com, 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.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!