Silk is a beautiful fabric often associated with luxury and elegance. It holds a deep and rich history dating back thousands of years to Neolithic China. Today, silk is worn and loved by many who desire a graceful touch to their wardrobe. However, how is this ancient fabric produced? In this article, we will guide you through how silk is made step by step, discussing everything from its origin to the final product. It is most definitely a fascinating process, matching the beauty of the fabric itself.
Where is Silk Made?
As previously mentioned, silk production began in China during the Neolithic period. This dates back roughly 12,000 to 6,000 years ago. In short, silk has been around for a very long time. While originating in ancient China, it has expanded its horizons to various countries across the globe. In modern-day silk production, China is still widely known as the fabric’s lead producer. However, nations such as India, Uzbekistan, and Brazil are heavy contributors to this industry.
However, regardless of the country in which it is made, a silk garment cannot be produced without a little insect known as the silkworm.
The Silkworm: Where it All Begins
Believe it or not, silk comes from bugs. It is cultivated from the larvae of many types of insects but is predominantly harvested from the cocoons of the Bombyx mori, also known as the Mulberry Silkworm. These silkworms are named after their sole diet of mulberry leaves and are responsible for around 95 percent of all silk production. Due to their ability to create such a high-quality material, silkworms have been domesticated for sericulture also known as silk farming.
A Brief Lifecycle
A silkworm’s life begins inside an egg, as every insect’s does. A female silkworm can lay up to 500 eggs at a time, which will then take an average of 14 days to hatch into larvae. The larvae will continuously eat throughout this stage of their lives. In addition to eating, they will molt up to four times before preparing for the pupal phase of their lifecycle.
Once entering the pupal stage, silkworm larvae will wrap themselves in cocoons made up of raw silk. It takes an average of 12 days for this phase to complete itself, resulting in a fully-grown moth emerging from the cocoon. The lifespan of a silk moth is typically very short, only lasting a mere five to ten days.
Within the practice of sericulture, larvae will never make it past the pupal phase of their lifecycle. The rupturing of the cocoon breaks down its silk fibers, greatly reducing their value. The cocoons are instead boiled to preserve the silk they are made of. This will unfortunately kill the larvae inside.
How Do Silkworms Make Silk?
From digested mulberry leaves, silkworm larvae produce liquid silk inside their bodies. Once they are ready to pupate, they expel the liquid through salivary glands located on their jaw. The liquid transforms into a solid silk thread upon contact with the air. Simultaneously, the glands produce a substance called sericin, which acts as a glue to hold the silk threads together. The threads are continuously released from the larvae’s salivary glands, spinning a cocoon that will foster its growth. It takes an average of three days for a silkworm to complete the building of its cocoon.
Harvesting and Producing Silk
Sericulture is a process that requires dedication and great attention to detail. Silkworm eggs are kept in captivity, ensuring an uninterrupted growth cycle as they hatch into larvae and prepare for the pupal phase. Once they have finally spun their cocoons, the harvesting process begins.
Harvesting the Cocoons
Around 7-8 days after the silkworms start spinning their cocoons, harvesters will collect them to begin extracting the silk threads. The cocoons are sorted by characteristics such as size and color, which can vary from a white to a yellow hue. As we have briefly discussed, the cocoons are then boiled in water to halt the larvae’s growth, as well as to loosen the silk threads from the sericin.
Extracting the Threads
Once the silk is loosened, farmers then begin the extraction process, which is known as reeling. Through this process, the silk threads are wound onto a wheel, unraveling the cocoons simultaneously. The larvae inside the cocoons are a delicacy in many Asian countries, often eaten as meals or just snacks.
Once extracted, silk from multiple cocoons is bound together in bundles of yarn, now prepared for the dyeing and manufacturing stage of sericulture.
Dyeing the Silk
Silk yarn is washed and dried at manufacturing plants to rid the material of any remaining sericin. This step can take place before or after the dyeing stage. Depending on the color of the original silk thread, such as yellow, it may need to be bleached before being dyed. Modern-day manufacturers will then immerse silk yarn into dye baths to fully soak up the desired color. Due to the structure of the proteins that make up silk, it absorbs dye quite easily. This results in vibrant and beautiful hues.
Weaving Into Fabrics
The final step of silk production consists of weaving it into fabrics and preparing it to be fashioned into garments. Silk can be weaved in multiple different ways, depending on the desired texture once completed. Examples of silk finishes include satin (the most popular), twill, chiffon, and so on. Each type of weave incorporates a specific pattern in which the silk threads are layered, thus creating a different look and feel of the finished fabric.
Once weaved into a fabric, silk can take any form desired by the creator. Scarves, robes, bandanas, lingerie, and so much more are sold worldwide in delicate and beautiful silk variations. The true finale of this long process lies in a product that is cherished by its owner.
Silk, a captivating material all on its own, involves an even more fascinating process of creation. From the silkworm to the hands of the consumer, it goes through a journey that requires artistry and talent. As a result, fashion lovers around the world can get their hands on a product that is easy on the eyes and smooth on the skin.
At House Twenty Two, we pride ourselves on our 100% authentic and top-quality Turkish silk. Feel free to browse our collections for new stylish additions to your wardrobe.