Landscape of quick water from high mountain by Zhao Zuo, 1611 AD, Ming Dynasty. Hand scroll, ink and colour on silk.
Silk fabric was first developed in ancient China, possibly as early as 6000 BC and definitely by 3000 BC. Legend gives credit to a Chinese empress, Xi Ling-Shi (Hsi-Ling-Shih, Lei-Tus). Silks were originally reserved for the kings of China for their own use and gifts to others, but spread gradually through Chinese culture both geographically and socially, and then to many regions of Asia. Silk rapidly became a popular luxury fabric in the many areas accessible to Chinese merchants because of its texture and luster. Silk was in great demand, and became a staple of pre-industrial international trade. In July of 2007, archeologists have discovered intricately weaved and dyed silk textiles in a tomb of Jiangxi province that are dated to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, roughly 2,500 years ago. Although historians have suspected a long history of a formative textile industry in ancient China, this find of silk textiles employing “complicated techniques” of weaving and dyeing provides direct and concrete evidence for silks dating before the Mawangdui-discovery and other silks dating to the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD).
The first evidence of the silk trade is the finding of silk in the hair of an Egyptian mummy of the 21st dynasty, c.1070 BC. Ultimately the silk trade reached as far as the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa. This trade was so extensive that the major set of trade routes between Europe and Asia has become known as the Silk Road.
The Emperors of China strove to keep knowledge of sericulture secret to maintain the Chinese monopoly. Nonetheless sericulture reached Korea around 200 BC, about the first half of the 1st century AD in ancient Khotan (Hill 2003, Appendix A), and by AD 300 the practice had been established in India.
Silk is produced in Thailand‘s favorable climate by two types of silkworms, the cultured Bombycidae and wild Saturniidae, all the year round, mostly after the rice harvest by villagers from the central and northeast parts of the country. Women traditionally weave silk on hand looms, and pass the skill on to their daughters as weaving is considered to be a sign of maturity and eligibility for marriage. Thai silk textiles often use complicated patterns in various colors and styles. Most regions of Thailand have their own typical silks, of which Mud-Mee, Tin Chok and Phrae Wa are among the best.
Silk, known as Pattu or Reshmi in southern parts of India and Resham in Hindi, has a long history in India and is widely produced today. Historically silk was used by the upper classes, while cotton was used by the poorer classes. Today silk is mainly used in Bhoodhan Pochampally (also known as Silk City), Kanchipuram, Dharmavaram, Mysore, etc. in South India and Banaras in the North for manufacturing garments and Sarees. “Murshidabad silk”, famous from historical times, is mainly produced in Malda and Murshidabad district of West Bengal and woven with hand looms in Birbhum and Murshidabad district. Another place famous for production of silk is Bhagalpur. The silk from Kanchi is particularly well-known for its classic designs and enduring quality. The silk is traditionally hand-woven and hand-dyed and usually also has silver threads woven into the cloth. Most of this silk is used to make saris. The saris usually are very expensive and vibrant in color. Garments made from silk form an integral part of Indian weddings and other celebrations. In the northeastern state of Assam, three different types of silk are produced, collectively called Assam silk: Muga, Eri and Pat silk. Muga, the golden silk, and Eri are produced by silkworms that are native only to Assam. The heritage of silk rearing and weaving is very old and continues today especially with the production of Muga and Pat riha and mekhela chador, the three-piece silk saris woven with traditional motifs. Mysore Silk Sarees, which are known for their soft texture and expensive class last easily as long as 25 to 30 years, if maintained well.
In Islamic teachings, Muslim men are forbidden to wear silk. Many religious jurists believe the reasoning behind the prohibition lies in avoiding clothing for men that can be considered feminine or extravagant and luxurious. Despite injunctions against silk for men, silk has retained its popularity in the Islamic world because of its permissibility for women. The Muslim Moors brought silk with them to Spain during their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.
Major Fiber Properties
Silk has a triangular shaped cross section whose corners are rounded.
Due to the triangular shape (allowing light to hit it at many different angles), silk is a bright fiber meaning it has a natural shine to it
Silk fibers have poor covering power. This is caused by their thin filament form.
When held silk has a smooth, soft texture that, unlike many synthetic fibers, is not slippery
4.5 g/d (dry) ; 2.8-4.0 g/d (wet)
Silk is the strongest of all the natural fibers; however it does lose up to 20% of its strength when wet.
Silk has moderate to poor elasticity. If elongated even a small amount the fibers will remain stretched.
Silk has moderate wrinkle resistance
Silk has a good moisture regain of 11%.
Silk is a poor conductor of electricity making it comfortable to wear in cool weather. This also means however, that silk is susceptible to static cling.
Silk can become weakened if exposed to too much sunlight. Silk may also be attacked by insects, especially if left dirty.
Silk is resistant to mineral acids. It is yellowed by perspiration and will dissolve in sulphuric acid.
Silk does not generally shrink due to the fact that its molecular structure is not easily distorted.
Silk is excellent for use in warm weather and active clothing. The silk’s good absorbency makes it comfortable to wear in such conditions. Silk is also excellent in the cold because its low conductivity keeps the wearer warm.
- High fashion and discount clothing
Silk’s elegant, soft luster and beautiful drape makes it perfect for many furnishing applications.
- Wall Coverings
- Window Treatments (if blended with another fiber)
- Wall Hangings
As the process of harvesting the silk from the cocoon kills the larvae, silk-culture has been criticized in the early 21st century by animal rights activists on the grounds that silk production kills silkworms, and that artificial silks are available. Others point out that silkworms depend upon humans for their survival, and would become extinct without humans to care for the worms and harvest the silk. .
Mahatma Gandhi was critical of silk production based on the Ahimsa philosophy. Ahimsa is part of the three millennial Jain philosophy of India “not to hurt any living thing,” which led to development of a cotton spinning machine he distributed. Such a machine can be seen in the Gandhi Institute.
Ahimsa Silk, made from the cocoons of wild and semi-wild silk moths, is being promoted in parts of Southern India, for those who prefer not to wear silk produced which involves the death of silkworms.
Mongols used silk as part of the under-armor garments (see Mongolian armor). Silk is so tough that it was actually used as very light armor, although its special use was to stop arrow penetration into the body. The silk would stop an arrow from penetrating far enough into the body to be lethal, and the arrow could be pulled out of the wound by tugging on the unbroken silk.The head of an arrow pulled out this way would not contact the body, reducing the likelihood of infection.
In addition to clothing manufacture and other handicrafts, silk is also used for items like parachutes, bicycle tires, comforter filling and artillery gunpowder bags. Early bulletproof vests were also made from silk in the era of blackpowder weapons until roughly World War I. Silk undergoes a special manufacturing process to make it suitable for use as non-absorbable surgical sutures. Chinese doctors have also used it to make prosthetic arteries. Silk cloth is also used as a material to write on.