Silk, sometimes affectionately referred to as the “queen of fibers,” is the strongest natural fiber in the world, and it is used to make expensive cloth. There’s more to silk, though, than being great to make fine garments. Did you know that a thread of silk can be stronger than some kinds of steel? Probably not. We hope to give you more insight into the wonders of silk in our report.
THE DISCOVERY OF SILK
One of the only – if not the only – documentation on the discovery of silk is an ancient Chinese legend. According to this legend, silk was discovered in the garden of Emperor Huangdi around 2700 B.C.E. The mulberry trees in his garden were being destroyed, and he ordered his wife, Xilingshi, to go out there and see what was the cause of the damage done to his trees.
When Xilingshi went out to examine the trees, she found white worms eating the leaves of the mulberry leaves and spinning shiny cocoons. She then accidentally dropped one of the cocoons into some hot water. And when she started playing with the cocoon in the water, long white strings disentangled themselves from the cocoon. It is said that this was how silk was discovered.
Xilingshi then went to Emperor Huangdi to ask him to give her a grove of mulberry trees, in order for her to breed thousands of worms that would spin these beautiful cocoons. The king then obliged.
Some accounts claim that she was the person who invented the silk reel, which is a device used to join fine silk filaments into a thread thick enough to be used for weaving. Others also credit her for being the maker of the first silk loom.
How true these stories are still remain uncertain with historians. One thing they are sure about, though, is that silk was first used in China. The Chinese were very protective with the “secret of the silkworm.” They demanded that nobody mention silk to anybody who wasn’t from China. Anybody who would betray China by revealing their knowledge of silk would face disgrace and death. As a result, for hundreds of years, only the Chinese knew how to make silk.
HISTORY OF SILK
Though the Chinese tried their best to keep the secret of the silk under wraps, the inevitable happened. Other countries came to know about the secrets of sericulture. The art of silk making spread when Chinese immigrants arrived in Korea during AD 200. Around AD 300, silk making reached India as well. In AD 440, a Chinese princess fell in love with the prince of Khotan and she smuggled out silkworms in her hairpiece. Khotan kept the secret of the silk too, not wanting to ruin a good market. Later, in AD 550, silk industries were established in the Middle East after two Nestorian monks smuggled out silkworm eggs to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian’s Court. When the sixth century came along, the Persians started weaving silk and Europe began producing silk in the thirteenth century when two thousand silk weavers from Constantinople came to Italy.
THE MAKING OF SILK
Raw silk is primarily...