Silk - Queen of Fibres
We all may have heard the Chinese legend of how silk was discovered by a Chinese Queen – when a a small cocoon fell from a mulberry tree into her cup of hot tea. This cocoon unravelled into fibre which was then converted into a garment for the King. And this is how the Silk story started.
Silk became a very important commodity in China and merchants started trading this commodity for other commodities of distant nations giving rise to the Silk Route.
Let’s get to know a bit about the fabric which gets treasured for generations.
What is Silk and how is it made?
Sericulture is the process of cultivation of silk. The Silkworm’s larvae feeding on mulberry leaves release a secretion when they spin their cocoons. Once the silkworms finish spinning, they enclose themselves inside it. These cocoons are then dissolved in boiling water. Long fibres are extracted which are then spun into yarn and then converted into fabric.
While there are a number of insects who produce a silk like secretion, most of the production happens from the larvae that are found on Mulberry leaves.
China produces around 54% and India produces around 14% of the world’s total silk. But India is the highest consumer of Silk. Mulberry Silk is the most commonly produced silk in the world. Other types of silk are Eri Silk, Tassar Silk, Muga Silk, etc.
Silk is the strongest natural fabric in the world i.e. it has a high tensile strength. Silk is very soft to touch. It is also very lightweight.
Silk is durable and highly breathable. It also has high moisture wicking abilities. It has a great lustre and drape making it look luxurious.
Silk takes well to dyes.
Silk lacks elasticity. It is labour intensive to manufacture silk and hence becomes expensive.
Silk is mainly used in garments and also accessories like scarves and ties. It is also used in home linen like cushion covers, etc.
Silk is biodegradable so the negative environmental impact of silk is in its cultivation phase. Silkworms are killed painfully by boiling them in hot water in order to harvest the silk from their cocoons. Otherwise, mulberry trees do not require fertilizers and pesticides to grow and hence there is negligible environmental impact due to this.
Eri Silk/ Peace/ Ahimsa Silk
This form of silk is produced only in the state of Assam. The manufacturing of this silk allows the pupae to develop into adults and the residual cocoon is only turned it into silk. Silkworms aren’t killed in the cultivation of this silk and hence it’s know as Non-Violent or Peace or Ahimsa Silk.
One has to be very wary since lot of conventional silk manufacturers market their silk as Eri Silk.
Silk is prized for its lustre and soft feel making it look luxurious but the main drawback of silk remains the huge number of silkworms that get killed to make this fabric. Opting for alternatives like Ahimsa Silk would be a better choice.