Silk Worms

When you first think of silk worms, the first thing that comes to mind is the stunning cloth woven from silk. But when was silk first discovered? And did you know that silk worms aren’t really worms at all?

Chinese tradition claims that the young bride of an Emperor first discovered the making of silk, which then fast became a treasured commodity. The original silk worm, known as the Bombyx mori species produced the first known silk, around the year 2700 BC. In 139 BC the world’s longest trade route expanded from Eastern China all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and became known as the Silk Road.

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Silk production became popular in Japan and India around the year 300 AD and eventually made its way to Europe and America. But what about the silk worm itself? Silk producing larvae, also known as the silk worm is not actually a worm. These moth species are really just caterpillars. Though there are several types of silk worms used in the production of silk, Bombyx mori is the type used most often. This particular silk worm is native to China and cultivated in other parts of the world. In the year 1870, a disease called Pebrine ran rapidly through the silk industry. This small parasite almost caused the end of the silk business. To avoid this problem today, silk companies harvest their own silk worms, providing a controlled environment free from disease.

Current silk worm cultivation is known to help with silk worm reproduction. Females will lay approximately 400 eggs at once. This means that 100 moths will provide 40,000 eggs, which will in turn provide plenty of silk. It has been discovered that larvae that feed on mulberry leaves will produce the finest silk. Silk is produced when the silk worm secretes fibroin from its salivary glands. To obtain the silk it will need to be spun off the cocoon quickly before hardening. Gathering large amounts of silk for clothing and other uses is quite a tedious job. This may be why silk is one of the most expensive and sought after materials in the world today.

Today silk fabrication has doubled in the past 30 years and is still one of the most sought after materials in the world. Though many manmade fibers are trying to compete with the quality and strength of silk, silk is still the most popular material used in fine clothing, curtains, accessories, and is often found as the lining in purses. From the looks of it, silk is here to stay.

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Recommended Reading (click on the picture for details):
All About Silk: A Fabric Dictionary & Swatchbook (Fabric Reference Series, Volume 1)

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