The History of Silk and its use in the Textile Industry

Silk is known as a type of fiber and some forms of it can be made into textiles.  It is mostly made up of fibroin and created by specific insect larvae to make cocoons.  The most common type of silk comes from the cocoons of the larvae of a silkworm called Bombyx mori which is created in captivity.  The fascination with silk is that it is very shimmery because of the prism like make of the fibers.  This lets the cloth refract light that is coming in at various angles and it then makes various colors appear.

Silk is also created by other insects as well but for the most part, the moth caterpillars are the only ones that are used in the textile industry.  Silk production occurs in other insects such as fleas, beetles and flies.  Other types of critters that make silk include spiders.

The history of silk can be traced back to the 27th century BCE.  It was used back then just inChina but then when theSilk Road opened during the first millennium BCE. China also held on to the fact that they control the silk industry.  Clothing is not the only thing that is made from silk.  The silk industry trickled intoJapan around 300 CE and by the year 522, the group known as Byzantines somehow got their hands on silkworm eggs and started cultivation of silkworm.  During this period, the Arabs were also creating silk at this time.

In 2006, the General Assembly of the United Nations stated that 2009 was to be the International Year of Natural Fibers.  This raised the awareness of silk.  The cost of producing silk is extremely high since the fiber itself is expensive.  Japanas well as Chinaeach makes about 1/3rd of all the silk in the world.  Other producers of silk includeIndia,North Korea,Russia andSouth Korea. China is known for exporting raw silk in addition to silk fabrics.  The largest importer of raw silk is theUnited States with New England having several facilities that make silk.

The process of cultivation of silk is an interesting process.  Silk moths will lay eggs on special paper.  Once the eggs hatch, the silkworms are given mulberry leaves.  After 35 days or so, the caterpillars weigh about 10,000 times more now than they did when they hatched and at this point they are prepared to spin their cocoon.  A frame is made over the trays of caterpillars with straw and after 3 days, the caterpillar would have spun about a mile of filament and is now surrounded by the cocoon.  The caterpillars are destroyed by heat and the cocoons are harvester in water.  Between 3-10 strands of thread is utilized to make one silk thread by spinning them together.