Silk fabric is made by unwinding the threads of the cocoons spun by the Bombyx mori, also known as the mulberry silk moth. Individuals then spin the threads into cloth or yarn. Archeological evidence indicates that the Chinese began the practice beginning sometime around 4,000 B.C. Silk making passed to the Japanese around 300 B.C. and eventually spread to many other nations.
Sericulture refers to raising the larvae of mulberry moths for the purpose of obtaining cocoons. Shortly after emerging from cocoons, male and female moths mate. The female lays up to 400 eggs and dies. After ten days, the larvae emerge and continuously feed while undergoing five growth stages until ready for their transformation. At approximately six weeks of age, the larvae begin spinning cocoons. For around eight days, the larvae excrete one continuous protein filament from their mouths. The cocoon forms as the larvae move in a figure eight motion hundreds of thousands of times. Other glands secrete a gummy fluid known as sericin that binds the filament together.
Reeling the Filament
Unless requiring the moths for the egg laying process, silk making begins with boiling or steaming the moth-filled cocoon, which dissolves the sericin and releases the end of the filament. Silk makers then gather multiple threads and wrap them around metal or wooden reels. Rotating the reel unwraps the entire cocoon until only a disposable transparent casing containing the moth remains. Silk makers then twist filaments forming a thicker thread. They also weave the threads end to end. Threads are then woven into cloth.
Silk makers might also stretch a cocoon until creating a thick cotton-like strand. The strand contains many filaments. Spinning this filament-filled strand creates silk yarn commonly used for knitting or weaving. Approximately 2,500 cocoons make one pound of silk.
“Reeling Silk.” wormspit.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Sept. 2012. http://www.wormspit.com/silkreeling.htm .
“Silk Making and Silk Production.” Texeresilk. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Sept. 2012. https://texeresilk.com//main/cms/silk_making_how_to_make_silk