How is Silk Made

Silk is a textile fiber and is considered to be the QUEEN of textile. It is a natural protein fiber, which comes from the cocoons of the silk worm. It comes from the cocoon of the silk worm and requires a great deal of handling and processing, which makes it one of the most expensive fibers also. Today China is the leading silk producer of the world. Other major silk producing countries include Japan, India and Italy.

The production of silk is known as SERICULTURE. The process of making silk is however really hard. Silk and silk production have a rich history dating back several thousand years. It is a process invented and perfected by the Chinese, and a secret they were able to keep from the rest of the world for several thousand years.

It is an exacting and demanding process. The most prized silk is obtained from a special type of silkworm, one that comes from the Bombyx mori moth. It lays about 500 eggs over a period of four to six days and then dies. The eggs are very tiny, like little pinpoints. All five hundred eggs together only weigh about 5 grams or a little under 2 ounces. It takes approximately 30,000 worms to produce twelve pounds of raw silk. Those 30,000 worms will eat about 2,000 pounds of chopped mulberry leaves from birth to the time they weave their cocoons which is about a month after they are born. Unlike the silk that comes from wild moths who eat whatever food is available to them, the silk thread filament the Bombyx mori moth produces is a much higher quality. It is finer, smoother and rounder than the silk from the wild moths. Also, silk produced from wild moths is not uniform in length, color or shape which produces silk that is less smooth. It may not sound like it is all that difficult to hatch the eggs of the Bombyx mori moth, grow the worms, and harvest the cocoons but it is.

First of all the eggs need to be kept at 65 degrees Fahrenheit and slowly increased to 77 degrees so the eggs hatch properly. The baby worms need to be fed chopped mulberry leaves every half hour around the clock while care is taken to maintain an environment that is stable, with a fixed temperature as well as making sure they are not subjected to loud noises, strong smells such as those from fish, or even the smell of human sweat. Once the worms happily eat their way to 10,000 times their weight at hatching time, which only takes them about a month, they have enough energy to spin their cocoon. That takes them three to four days. The cocoon looks like a little white fluffy ball. The cocoons are kept in a warm place for about 8 days. Then the cocoons are steamed or heated to a higher temperature to kill the worms inside them.

Great care is taken to ensure the worm does not hatch into a moth because then the long silk thread filament that the worms have made its cocoon out of will get broken. After the cocoons are heated or steamed, they are placed in water to loosen the silk thread filament. Then the filaments from between four and eight cocoons are twisted together to make one silk thread that can be as long as 1,600 yards which I think is an amazing fact. It’s hard to believe that the cocoon from one silkworm can be one continuous filament that long, but it can be. Finally, there is one strand of silk thread.

 Is it any wonder that silk is expensive? The process of making it is painstaking yet amazing. So the next time you run your fingers on silk do remember what makes it so smooth.