Saturday, April 21, 2018

Seeing silk at the source

I love wearing silk. Made of strands of protein, a layer of this queen of natural fibres provides warmth in winter, and maintains coolness in summer. Light in weight, silk, especially when knitted, is flexible and easy to care for. Using complex looms, it can also be woven into light or heavy fabrics from raw silk to the most intricately designed and colourful brocades.

On a recent visit to China, I learned a lot more about silk. Production begins by feeding silkworms on the leaves of a special type of mulberry.

Cocoons are then produced on frames made of plastic or straw. Once complete, they are heated with water and to kill the worms and make the silk easy to harvest, then graded for quality. The most symmetrical white ones are destined to become yarn, while the less perfect ones are formed into silk batting for clothing and blankets. A single silk thread is made by simultaneously unwinding together several unbroken strands of thread. To accomplish this, the cocoons float in water while unreeling under the watchful eyes of factory employees, who introduce a new strand to replace each one that runs out.

Once the thread is formed, it is re-reeled into skeins as seen above. This re-reeling helps to dry the thread while ensuring consistent elongation, strength and elasticity. Below we see silk brocade being woven on special looms, and a picture embroidered on silk with silk thread.

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