Friday, October 10, 2008

Fiber Facts: Silk

According to Chinese legend, silk culture began as long ago as 2640 B.C., when a Chinese Empress (variously called Si-Ling-Chi or Lei-tzu) figured out how to reel the silk from silkworms and weave it into fabric. The Chinese monopolized silk production for 3,000 years, before the technique spread to Korea, japan, India, and eventually Europe.

Silkworms generally feed on mulberry leaves, shown below, although wild silk is produced when silkworms feed on oak leaves.

They can produce up to a mile of filament in two or three days, which it uses to create a cocoon before transforming into a moth. In order to harvest silk, workers boil the cocoon, killing the larvae (poor baby moths!). The filaments are then reeled and then spun into yarn.

What makes silk so luxurious? Silk possesses many qualities not found in other fabrics:

  • It has a "dry hand," meaning that it feels dry to the touch

  • It is naturally shiny and lustrous

  • It tends to absorb moisture well

  • It is supple and drapes easily

  • It is very strong

Despite the fact that silk filaments are very fine, the fiber is long, and smooth (as shown below), which helps to give silk its softness, shine, and strength.

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