The Discovery of Silk
Silk is believed to have been first discovered in 2640 B.C.E. after a silk cocoon dropped into a Chinese princess's tea and she reeled the fine thread around her finger. From that legendary point forward, the Chinese mastered silk production and created fine silk textiles. China managed to keep its silk secrets safe for thousands of years, monopolizing its production and ensuring its value as a commodity and currency. By about the 3rd Century B.C.E., silk fabrics were traded throughout Asia. Eventually, the West discovered the secret to silk production, a process called sericulture, and new silk industries were created.
How Silk is Produced
Silk is the product of a moth, Bombyx mori, which is blind and cannot fly. This particular moth lays about 500 eggs and then dies soon thereafter. These tiny eggs hold the secret to silk: tiny worms that produce the thin filaments of silk. The eggs are so small that a single ounce of eggs hatches approximately 30,000 worms. The hatched worms then feed on mulberry leaves, fattening up until they are ready to enter the cocoon stage.
In order to make their cocoons, the worms excrete a substance which hardens when it comes in contact with the air. This substance is excreted as a long strand which is then wound around the worm to form the cocoon. The cocoons are ultimately dried and baked (to kill the pupas inside) before being dipped in hot water to loosen the silk strands. Remember the Chinese princess and the cocoon that fell into her hot tea? Like the princess, today's silk harvesters unwind the cocoon's silk filaments onto a spool.
A single worm creates a filament that measures from 650 to nearly 1,000 yards long. Five to eight filaments are then twisted to form a silk thread. Once the silk threads have been created, they can be woven into silk fabric.
The Benefits of Silk
The Chinese knew that they had discovered something special when they discovered silk. Not only is this natural fiber soft and beautiful beyond compare, silk also has numerous beneficial properties:
- Durable and Strong – Though silk is often considered delicate, it is surprisingly durable and resistant to wrinkles, odors, soiling, and tears. It also dries quickly. In fact, silk is one of the strongest natural fibers and nearly as strong as steel yarn.
- Usable – Silk is extremely usable, both at the production and consumer levels. From a production standpoint, silk takes colors well, mixes with other natural fibers to create blends, and is easy to spin, weave, sew, and knit. From a consumer's standpoint, silk is easy to wash and care for.
- Insulation / Temperature Regulation – Silk is a year-round fabric with the ability to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Silk long underwear warms those in cold climates while silk clothes cool those in warmer climates. The same silk robe can be cozy and warm when it's cold and light and cool when it's hot.
- Absorbent – Silk can absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in water without feeling wet. This absorbency and wicking action absorbs perspiration while also allowing air to circulate.
- Hypoallergenic – As a natural protein that holds up extremely well and a fiber created using few, if any chemicals, silk is one of the most hypoallergenic fabrics in existence.
- Versatile and Luxurious – There's no denying the pure luxury of silk. This fabric is by far the most beautiful and soft fabric ever spun. Silk is used in clothing of all types from silk dresses, suits, shirts, ties, and scarves to silk robes, pajamas, boxer shorts, long underwear, and stockings. No matter how you wear silk, you may just feel like royalty wearing it!
No wonder the Chinese fell in love with silk and wanted to keep it as a royal secret. Fortunately, silk is widely available and as luxurious as ever. Browse our selection of beautiful, Eastern-inspired silk robes and experience the wonders of silk for yourself.