Fabric Guide: What Is Silk?
Friday, October 23, 2020

Fabric Guide: What Is Silk?

What Is Silk?

Silk is a natural fiber produced by insects and the raw material for insect nests and cocoons. There are several insects that produce silk, including silkworms (the most common silk), beetles, bees, bumblebees, wasps, and weaver ants. Silk is mainly made of a protein called fibrin, which is known for its luster and softness.

What Is the History of Silk Production?

The earliest example of silk comes from China, when it was used to wrap the body in children's graves. For many years, China has dominated the silk industry. Initially, this material was used by the emperor. The Chinese use silk as a currency, and the cost is measured by the length of the silk. The Silk Road is a popular trade route that links East and West industries, named after this material, and that region of the world is still in use today.

Eventually, silk production moved to Korea, Thailand, India and Europe. The material finally entered the United States in the 17th century. King James I introduced silk to the colony, but many early settlers in the country could not afford it. Paterson, New Jersey and Manchester, Connecticut both became the centers of American silk production, until the trade and production was disrupted by World War II, which led to the emergence of synthetic fibers such as nylon.

How Is Silk Made?

The process of making silk is called sericulture and involves harvesting silkworms as the material.

Ÿ   Feed mulberry leaves to the larvae.

Ÿ   After they have moulted several times, they spin a cocoon. The silk solidifies after contact with air. This process takes about 2 to 3 days.

Ÿ   After forming the cocoon, pour it into a pot of boiling water effectively killing the pupae.

Ÿ   Silk filament is extracted by brushing the cocoon.

Ÿ   Raw silk is woven or knitted into fabric or spun into yarn.

Please note that it takes approximately 2500 silkworms to spin a pound of raw silk. Each cocoon contains about a mile of silk filament, and one silk thread consists of 48 silk filaments. Different weaving processes produce different types of fabrics, including crepe (a light, thin fabric with a wrinkled surface), organza (a thin, transparent fabric) and chiffon (a lightweight plain weave fabric with slight stretch).

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