China at Harewood

Silk

Silk is a natural protein fibre which can be woven into textiles. The best known type of silk is obtained from cocoons made by the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity. When the silk worms are cultivated in a controlled environment it is described as 'sericulture'.


Silk fabric was first developed in ancient China, possibly as early as 3,000BC and definitely by 1,300BC. Silks were originally reserved for the Emperors of China for their own use and gifts to others, but spread gradually through Chinese cultures both geographically and socially.


Silk fibres have a triangular cross section with rounded corners. This means that the light is able to hit it at many different angles which gives the fabric its shiny appearance.

 

Silk Production

Silk moths lay eggs on specially prepared paper. The eggs then hatch and the silk worms are fed fresh mulberry leaves. After about 35 days, the silk worms are 10,000 times heavier than when they hatched and are now ready to start spinning a cocoon.

A straw frame is placed over a tray of the silk worms and each worm begins to spin its cocoon by moving its head in a 'figure 8' pattern. Two glands produce liquid silk and force it through openings in the head called spinnerets. Within two to three days the worm will produce about one mile of silk and will be completely encased in its cocoon.


The silkworms are then killed by dipping them in hot water or by piercing them with a needle; this allows the silk to be unraveled into a long continuous thread.




 
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