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The history of silk

 

Silk – it is the most beautiful of all the textile fibers, and has been deemed the queen of all fabrics in the world. Today China is the leading silk producer in the world and has been the leader for several years now. Today the amount of silk China has produced comes up to 80% of the silk produced all over the world.

 
Insight in the history
Silk is one of the most ancient materials known to men. It was discovered in China 5000 years ago. The history of its acquisition is long and colorful, and many a legends and secrecy entwine it.

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"Silk Road"

 

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According to the Chinese legend the discoverer of silk was the wife of the Yellow emperor, who was ruling around the year 3000th BC, named Xi Ling Shi. Legend has it that she had been sitting in the garden under a silk tree performing the tea ceremony, when a silkworm cocoon fell inside her teacup. She noticed that the cocoon started unfolding in the hot liquid and that a long thin thread appeared. She was so delighted by its beauty, softness and strength, that the young woman decided to make a costume for her husband, the emperor, out of it. For a long time only the emperor’s family bore the rights to wear clothes made out of silk.

 

This tiny silk cocoon, accidentally falling inside a teacup, presented the world with silk, but the emperor’s wife was highly valued for the discovery. Nobody can tell if this story holds a grain of truth, but that hardly matters. It is clear that it was the Chinese who developed the culture of cultivating silk to a very high level, and already on the year 1400 BC various silk fabrics were among the more valuable commerce products China had.

 

 

It is clear that they kept the technology of producing silk secret by any costs. Anyone who even said a word about it was to fear death penalty. The rulers of China managed to keep this secret for 3000 years. Europeans only found out about the production technology of silk around the year 550 AC, when silk was starting to be produced in Byzantium, to which silkworms and the seeds of silk trees, necessary for in the production of silk, were brought by the Christian missionaries. Thanks to the value of silk, the “Silk Road” was created, which ensured close trading channels. The beginning of the trading road was in China and it linked the ancient emperies – China, India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Roman Empire.

 
 
The acquisition of silk

The acquisition of silk fiber is a very long process, which requires great attention and precision, and this is partly what makes it one of the most expensive fibers. Silk is acquired from the cocoons of the silk moth larvae. In order to produce high quality silk two conditions have to be taken into account – one must know the exact time when the cocoon is ready and when it is time to harvest the silk fiber, and it is also crucial to carry out a precise and regular feeding throughout the hole process of their development.

 

There are many species of silk moths in the world. One of the most valuable of them is Bombyx mori, of which the highest quality silk - Mullberry is produced. These are not wild silk moths, but are specifically bread – they cannot see and fly, and their only duty is to lay eggs, meaning – to produce silk.

 

These silk moths can lay up to 500 eggs in a period of 5-6 days, and afterwards the moth dies. The eggs are very tiny, and all 500 of them altogether weigh only 5 grams or less. From these eggs larvae hatch 10-12 days later. These larvae are also called silk spinners. In order to produce 1 kilogram of silk 6000 silkworms are needed. The larvae are insatiable and they constantly feed on the leaves of the silk tree. 6000 thousand of them eat approximately 200 kilograms of the silk tree leaves, which are organically grown and taken great care of.

 

The development cycle last almost a month, and 40% of the mass of the larvae is taken up by a modified salivary gland, in which the silk mass for the cocoon develops – that is why this is called the silk gland. The mass developing in the silk gland is shiny, pale yellow and made out of proteins – fibroin, sericin and 18 microelements.

 

Upon pupation the larvae stop eating and start creating a strong threat, which it wraps around itself. The cocoon is created in three days. When the cocoon of the silkworm is ready it consists of one wrapped thread, which is 1000-1500 meters long, strong, tender, thin and shiny, bet when straightened the thread is 600-900 meters long because the outer and the inner layer cannot be unfolded.

The ready cocoons are being gathered, processed with hot steam, watered, washed and unwrapped by special technologies, which wrap some of the threads together, as they are very thin. The amount of threads wrapped together depends largely on what type of fabric the silk is meant to be used for. This is how raw silk is being acquired. Besides, the larvae killed with the hot steam treatment are not wasted – those are later on eaten, as they are a popular snack in the Chinese cuisine!

 

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The growing of silk moths and acquisition of silk is a hobby of many a wealthy inhabitants of China and Japan. This hobby of the rich so far away might have been of no interest of us, if it wasn’t for the clean and soft skin of the hands of the women occupying themselves with this interest. The silk protein in nowadays widely used in cosmetics – it is added to many skincare and hair products. The specialists have worked hard on finding a way to efficiently add the silkworm products to the make-up. The first soap where the silk moth oil was used was created in 1936. But the European market saw the first make-up products with silk added to them approximately 25 years ago in the specialty make-up stores. Silk is also being used in art, silk painting.