A look at the early history of silk production from its first discovery and advances and the parts of the world where this is most common including China, Japan and Thailand.
Silk may be just another fabric to most of us. But the truth is, silk is a very unique fabric that has many activists up in arms. We’re going to take a look at a brief history and some facts about silk in order to give you a little education on the subject.
The actual discovery of silk, from the silkworm species Bombyx mori happened around 2700 BC. Yes, silk has been around a long time. According to Chinese tradition, and you have to take this with a grain of salt, it was a 14 year old girl by the name of Hsi Ling Shi who discovered the invention of the first silk reel. Silk became a very valuable commodity and was sought after by many other countries. But it wasn’t until 139 BC that the world’s longest trade route was opened from China to The Mediterranean Sea. This route was named the Silk Road for obvious reasons. By 300 AD the production of silk had also reached India and Japan.
The manufacture of silk gradually made its way to Europe and America. During the 18th and 19th centuries, around the time of the Industrial Revolution, Europeans had made some great advances in the production of silk. In the 18th century, England became the leading manufacturer of silk because of the advancements in technology the country was responsible for. Some of the inventions were improved silk-weaving looms, power looms and roller printing. In 1870, however, there was a major setback in silk production. There was an epidemic called Pebrine disease, which was caused by a small parasite. This epidemic spread like wildfire through the industry, almost completely wiping out silk production. However, it is because of this epidemic that much research was done on the silkworm that ultimately led to more advances and more modern techniques. Today’s silk production is actually a combination of old and new techniques.
The silkworm itself is actually a common name for the silk producing larvae of many different types of moths. The larvae is not actually a worm. It is technically a caterpillar. There are many species of silkworm that are used in silk production but the most common of these is Bombyx mori. This silkworm is native to China and was brought to Europe and Western Asia around 600 AD. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it was brought to America.
The silk industry is the main industry in Thailand, Japan and China. Most of the silk products you’ll find in stores, especially in the United States, most likely come from one of these three countries. There are basically two methods of producing the silk. One is by hand reeling, which is mostly done in Thailand, and machine reeling, which is done in Japan and China.
The cost of silk products from these countries is very high because of the technology involved, the difficulty of producing silk products due to dealing with living creatures and the import taxes invoked on these items. That is one of the reasons why silk is such a valued commodity, especially in the United States.
In the next instalment in this series on silk we’ll pick up with a more detailed look at silk production in the three main silk producing countries.