The Magic of Silk
It was the flowing drape and the luxurious sound of the word ‘Silk’ that first sparked my desire to create a long and billowing silk jacket. In my second year of university, I began pattern cutting with a length of silk, carefully slicing through the delicate fabric and loving how it held print so crisply. From that day, love affair was born, synthetic crepe just does not compare. So, after several years of owning a textile business, producing garments from exclusively (Just about) one fabric, I thought I would dive a bit deeper in to the history and the composition of the most luxurious of fabrics and it’s rich far eastern history.
Where it began:
The origin of silk production and weaving is ancient and clouded in legend but according to native record, it existed from sometime before the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE.
As the Chinese legend goes, Empress His Ling Shi was first person to discover silk in the 27th century BC. Whilst sipping her tea under a mulberry tree, a cocoon fell into her cup and began to unravel. She was fascinated by what she saw, it was made of one long, light reflecting strand. The Empress immediately became fascinated with the threads so shiny and resistant, suspecting that they could be woven into beautiful textiles.
After creating the first silk loom and began to teach skills to the her court and the techniques were soon spread across the country and then traded across Asia.
Women in the Silk Industry:
Sericulture (Silk farming) and silk craftsmanship have played a very important role for women in China, especially supporting the economy of rural regions. Techniques were handed down within families through apprenticeships and often shared within local groups.
Empress His Ling Shi is still a popular object of worship in modern China, with the title of 'Silkworm Mother' Near the beginning of the lunar year, the Chinese New Year, silkworm farmers invite artisans into their homes to perform the story of the Goddess of the Silkworm, to ward off evil and ensure a bountiful harvest. Then, every April, female silkworm farmers adorn themselves with colorful flowers made of silk or paper and make harvest offerings as part of the Silkworm Flower festival.
The Silk Road:
China eventually started to trade silk outside of Asia through a network of trade routes known as the Silk Road, running for more than 14,000 miles in length, from eastern China to the Mediterranean. The path followed the Great Wall of China, climbing the Taklamakan desert, climbing the Pamir mountain range, crossing modern Afghanistan and from here the goods were shipped across the Mediterranean Sea. For the next 3000 years the Chinese retained the global monopoly on silk, today being the lead experts and producers of the fabric.
What makes silk so lustrous?
Silk is a natural protein fibre produced by mulberry silkworm which has a triangular prism-like structure which refracts incoming light at different angles and with that to produce different colours and a shimmering appearance. Several such filaments are then twisted together to make a thread thick enough to be used to weave material.
Silk still remains regarded as one of the most lustrous materials ever produced although luckily for us, it's no longer exclusively for the noble. Occasion wear such as wedding dresses, red carpet gowns and men's ties and pocket squares are predominantly made of silk. The softness is also perfect for nightwear too, it’s breathability and absorbency makes it comfortable to wear in warm weather and its low conductivity keeps warm air close to the skin during cold weather. And whether 'woven in Italy' or 'produced in the UK' nearly of the world's silk will begin it's life in China, the birth place of silk.
- Silk rope is stronger than an equally thick metal wire.
- To produce 1 kg of silk, 104 kg of mulberry leaves must be eaten by 3000 silkworms.
- A single silkworm can produce up to 15 metres of filament in a minute.
- Silk is inherently fire retardant so if burnt it will curl away from the flame and extinguish itself.
- One cocoon can be unwound into 1,000 meters long silk thread.