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All about Silk

Kids Learning October 7, 2013

All about Silk

Natural silk has its own irresistible charm. We know that silk comes from the silkworm. Read on to find out more.

Have you ever dreamed of wearing those beautiful silk sarees in mummy’s cupboard? Whenever mummy wears them, doesn’t she look beautiful and elegant? There are so many varieties of man made fibers, yet none can compare with the dignified look of natural silk.

How was silk discovered?

According to legend, one day when Chinese empress Hsi-Ling-Shih was sitting under a mulberry tree in her palace garden, sipping tea, a cocoon fell into her cup. As she watched, a thread emerged. This was silk.

Though there is no written text, there is ample proof that silk originated in China long, long ago (around 2700 BC). For years, the Chinese kept the art of producing silk a closely guarded secret. The use of silk was restricted to the elite-i.e. kings and nobles. Eventually, the knowledge spread to Korea and then to the western world. Later on, it flourished all over the world and developed into an industry. It came within the reach of the common man.

How is silk produced?

Silk is produced by silk moths. There are a number of commercially used species of silkworms but Bombyx mori is the most widely used.

Silk moths lay several eggs (almost 500). From these emerge silk worms. The eggs are very tiny and so are the worms. But once out, these worms feed day and night on mulberry leaves and grow fatter and bigger. They change color and shed their whitish-gray skin several times. After about 35 days, they are ready to build their cocoon. At this stage a jelly like substance forms within their silk glands. Each worm has two silk glands. They build their cocoon by secreting the silk from these glands which hardens on coming in contact with air thus forming filaments. Along with it, they also secrete a gum called sericin which binds the silk filaments and keeps them tightly packed.

How do we collect the silk?

Silkworms spend three or four days spinning a cocoon around themselves until they look like puffy, white balls. They are then put into hot water. The hot water kills the worms inside the cocoons and also loosens the hold of the gum – sericin – on the filaments. If worms are not killed, they will secrete a fluid that will dissolve all the silk.

The filaments are then collected on a spool. These strands are very fine, so five to eight of them are twisted together to get a silk thread. This is called raw silk. Several threads are combined together to get yarn. The yarn is then woven into silk cloth.

The commercial process of producing silk is called sericulture.

Interesting facts

A silk moth lays 500 or more eggs in four to six days and dies soon after. The eggs are like pinpoints – one hundred of them weigh only one gram.

One ounce of eggs produces about 30,000 worms, which eat one ton of mulberry leaves and produce twelve pounds raw silk.

The newly hatched silkworm multiplies its weight 10,000 times within a month.

The silkworm spins approximately 1 mile of filament and completely encloses itself in a cocoon in about two or three days. However, not all of this silk is of use to us.

5500 silkworms are required to produce 1 kg of silk.

Although silk is produced worldwide, China and Japan together produce almost 50 % of the world’s silk.

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