Ah, Silk

October 29th, 2011

I forgot how delicious it is to sew with real silk. I’ve been banished to cotton for so long, with only an occasional foray into linen. And I don’t know that I’ve ever hand-sewn silk before.

Silk Worms
Silkworms: caterpillar, chrysalis, and moth. Animal Kingdom Illustrated Vol 2, 1859

It’s hard to imagine how something so luscious and lustrous as silk could come from a worm. Silkworms have been cultivated for thousands of years in the east, and in Europe for centuries. The most common strain of silkworm prefers to live on the leaves of the mulberry tree. After they are hatched, the caterpillars feed voraciously on leaves until they are ready to spin their cocoons. Once finished, the cocoons are exposed to sunlight, or heat, or gas, to kill the creatures living within. Then they are submerged in water to soften the silk for “reeling” or unwinding of the delicate strands that make up the case.

Obviously some of the cocoons are allowed to hatch, providing moths for breeding stock. But most are slaughtered.

There were many excellent books and articles on silk culture written in the 19th century. I planned to share one with you, but find that they are all so detailed as to be practically useless for quick quoting. So get thee to Google Books and satisfy your curiosity on your own.

And the next time you put on that slinky silk blouse, think about how many innocent caterpillars had to die so that you could enjoy the luxury of their cocoons.