Most of the silk that is used for weaving into textiles comes from cocoons made by larvae of the Bombyx mori, or mulberry silkworm that is raised in captivity. This fabric has its lustrous appearance because of a prism-like structure of the fibers that refracts incoming light at several angles. Silk fabric was first made in China from as long ago as 3,500 BCE. Only kings could wear and give silk in ancient China, but use of the fabric eventually spread throughout Asia.
Approximately 1,000 years B.C.E. the silk trade stretched into the Middle East, North Africa, India and Europe. It had already become an international trading item at this time. The trade routes running from Europe to Asia were known collectively as the Silk Road. Though Chinese emperors tried to keep knowledge of the production of silk secret, the techniques nonetheless spread to Korea by 200 B.C.E., and by 300 C. E., silk was produced in India.
China is the largest producer of silk today with India coming in second. However India is the largest user of silk today. Brides traditionally wear silk saris during marriage ceremonies in some parts of India, and silk is commonly worn to festive occasions in India.
This comfortable and useful fabric was known throughout the Roman Empire. Though the emperor Tiberius passed laws forbidding men to wear silk garments (because it was simply too luxurious and sophisticated), this did little to stop the wearing of silk.
Venice was a center of trade, and because of this many growers settled in Italy. By the 1200s C.E. Italian silk had a reputation as truly luxurious fabric. Silk made in the province of Como became the most valuable in the world, and by the late 19th century, Italy was the third largest producer in the world, bested only by China and Japan.
Silk production came to the Americas as early as the 1600s when American colonists tried their hand at producing silk, as did Shakers living in what is now Kentucky and some New England residents. In the 19th century, European workers in Paterson, New Jersey brought silk production there, making Paterson a center of U.S. production of silk.
Silk is strong because of the amount of the amino acid called glycine in it, which allows the fibers to pack tightly and strongly. Silk’s tensile strength is because of interceded hydrogen bonds, which resist even most acids. Sulfuric acid, however, will dissolve silk. Because of its wonderful properties, silk used to be used for making blanket filling, parachutes, and even bicycle tires.
The cultivation of silk involves silk moths laying eggs on special paper. When the eggs hatch, the larvae are given mulberry leaves to eat. After about five weeks, the larvae are ready to begin spinning their co coon, which they do on a straw frame placed over the tray where the larvae live. The silk is coated in a substance called seracin, and it solidifies as soon as it comes in contact with air. Silkworm larva can spin a mile of filament into a cocoon in two or three days time. The cocoon totally encases the larva and when the cocoon is finished the larva are killed in heated water and the silk is collected.
This is the story of how fine silk comes about. Silk is one of the finest fabrics you can buy. Bedding and sleepwear made of silk is an affordable luxury that will give you one of the little pleasures of life.