The art of silk culture began in China. Legend has it that about 4500 years ago the Chinese Empress Xi Ling Chi was in her garden when her eye was caught by a worm spinning a gossamer web to protect itself. “How lovely it must feel to cocoon oneself in thread like that,” she mused. The idea of this thin fibre was so appealing that she and her ladies-in-waiting set about examining a cocoon, succeeded in unravelling the thread and used it to weave fabric.
Apart from China, other major silk-producing countries are Thailand, Korea, India and Japan. Silk fabric is also woven in Italy and France.
What is silk?
Silk is the fibre of insect larvae or silk worms living in mulberry trees. The larva weaves itself a cocoon to protect it while it is transforming into a moth. This cocoon consists of a single strand of fibre 2000-4000 metres long.
The cocoons are gathered and placed in hot air, steam or a very cold temperature in order to kill the worm. The thread can then be unwound. One cocoon produces 1-3 kilometres of silk thread.
Types of silk fabric
Silk can be used to weave many different kinds of fabric. Terms such as ‘twill’ and ‘satin’ thus tell us how the fabric was woven. The following are some of the most common types.
A shiny silk fabric woven so as to produce a pattern of diagonal parallel ribs.
A smooth fabric with a glossy face and a dull back.
CDC (Crepe de Chine)
A smooth fabric with a dull glow.
A dull, transparent fabric of twisted threads.
A fabric with an intricate pattern of alternating glossy and dull weaves. In woven ties, for example, the pattern is woven with dyed thread.
Source: International Silk Association I.S.A.
Washing instructions for silk
Dry-cleaning is recommended for silk scarves.
If you wish to wash your silk garments by hand, follow these instructions:
- Wash silk garments separately
- Always use a special detergent meant for natural silk, or Marseilles soap
- Wash quickly in a large quantity of water
- Stretch garment into its original shape
- Do not tumble dry
- Iron on the reverse side when still damp
- Allow to dry in a cool place
- Stains can be removed with trichroloethylene, available from pharmacies. Woollen scarves and silk ties should be dry-cleaned only.