Silkworms, which are really caterpillars, are fed mulberry leaves, mulberry leaves, and only mulberry leaves. They never stop eating. That means feedings every four hours.


In this page

  1. Growth
  2. Harvesting
  3. Properties & Uses
  4. Review

Growth

According to Chinese legend, around 2700 B.C. Empress Hsi Ling Shi [Sigh-Ling-She] sat under a mulberry tree drinking tea. She began playing with a silkworm cocoon and discovered it was made of a delicate thread. The Empress learned to spin the silk and to make luxurious fabric.

Archeological evidence indicates that silk production may have begun as early as 5000BC – that’s more than seven thousand years ago. Sericulture is the raising of silkworms and the production of silk. The ancient Chinese kept the details of sericulture a secret – a secret coveted by the rest of the world. Today silk is produced mostly in China, India, and Japan.

Silkworms, which are really caterpillars, are fed mulberry leaves, mulberry leaves, and only mulberry leaves. They never stop eating. That means feedings every four hours.



Harvesting

After 35 days of eating, the silkworm spins a cocoon of silk. It creates nearly a mile of filament! One can by hand, boil the cocoons, pick out the end of a silk filament, and thread it onto a reel. This work may also be done in a manufacturing plant. Several filaments are combined and wrapped on a reel creating a yarn.

Properties & Uses

The length of the silk is important in creating high quality fabric. Long fibers make long, smooth surfaces, which is why silk reflects light and has that special luster we value. But, short fibers and broken fibers may also be spun to create lower quality fabrics.

For all its delicacy, silk is as strong as wire of equal thickness. However, it deteriorates over time. As silk ages, it becomes dry and brittle and will literally fall to pieces in one’s hands. Much like shattered glass, silk will develop fissures, crumble, and fall off in chunks. Feeding all those hungry caterpillars is expensive – so silk fabric is expensive and used primarily in high-end apparel and furnishings.

Characteristics of Silk Fibers and Products

  • A protein fiber
  • Very long filament (up to a mile long)
  • Spun by a caterpillar called a silkworm (but not actually a worm).
  • Cultivated silk is from silkworms fed only mulberry leaves.
  • Most valued for its "silky" feel
  • Stronger than cotton or linen
  • Damaged by chlorine bleach
  • Sunlight can turn white silk yellow and weaken fibers
  • Absorbs moisture
  • Is resilient and elastic
  • Does build up static electricity
  • Dries quickly
  • Perspiration can deteriorate and discolor dyes
  • Requires delicate handling in cleaning
  • Expensive

Review

  • Silk is a protein fiber made by silkworms.
  • Silk may be harvested either by hand or machine.
  • This fabric is prized for its beauty and richness and is for special apparel.