The finest and most sought after of all natural fibres and the only one to be available in a natural, continuous filament. in the ancient world there were two sources of silk; the chief of these, producing the finest quality filament, was obtained from the cocoon of the silk moth, the bombyx mori. The grubs of the moth feed on mulberry leaves and they spin their cocoons, at the appropriate time in their life cycle, by exuding a viscous substance in a fine filament, one from each of two glands on either side of the body. The larva fastens one end of the filaments to a twig or branch and spins a cocoon round itself which is composed of a continuous thread 800-1200 yards in length. In the natural process the moth emerges by pushing the threads aside in order to make an opening. Such short or damaged threads can be made into spun or raw silk. Under scriculture the chrysalis is killed by suffocation with steam or hot air and the continuous cocoon thread can be unravelled. The second method was to scrape threads from the cocoons of wild silkworms which feed on the leaves of a number of different trees. This wild or tussah moth produces a coarser, less luxurious fibre. The cultivation of silk originated in China in remote times, believed by some sources to be as far back in the past as 8000 years ago. The Empress Hsi Ling Shih is said to have developed a technique for rearing silkworms (2640 Be) and unravelling the long filaments from the cocoons and an orchard of mulberry trees was cultivated in the palace grounds under her personal supervision. The lady is also credited by the Chinese with the invention of the loom. The Chinese guarded their secret of the manufacture of silk for hundreds of years, retaining their monopoly and exporting silk as yarn, raw silk and finished, woven fabric to a world which prized this beautiful material and would pay exorbitantly for it. By about 1000 Be, or possibly earlier, silkworm culture and silk manufacture was established in India in the valley of the Brahmaputra river and, later, across the delta, in that of the Ganges. Knowledge of the process is thought to have spread overland from China and tradition recounts that some eggs of the moth and some seeds of the mulberry tree were carried to India by a Chinese princess, hidden in the folds of her head-dress. From the Ganges valley scriculture was slowly carried westward, to Persia and Central Asia. The Japanese acquired knowledge of the culture via Korea in the third century AD and silk manufacture became an important Japanese industry. The first mention in western literature was by Aristotle who described a great, horned worm which changed into a caterpillar, then a bombylius and after that a chrysalis. He described the spinning of the
thread and the unreeling of the cocoon and said that this was first done by Pamphile, daughter of Plates on the island of Cos. His account is vague and not very accurate but certainly raw silk was imported into Cos before Aristotle's time and woven into fabric. Pliny gave similarly vague descriptions of the process and referred to worms which 'weave webs like spiders producing a luxurious material, for women's dresses called silk (bombycina).' Certainly silks were finding their way to Rome by the first century AD and were exorbitantly expensive. The Romans acquired knowledge and experience of the fabric but were uninformed about its source and means of production. Despite attempts to ban its use and astronomic price levels, silk continued to be a prized material under the Roman Empire. The Emperor Justinian in the sixth century AD tried, in vain, to divert the silk trade from its route from Persia into eastern Europe but soon afterwards, two Persian monks who had worked as missionaries in China and, while there, had studied sericulture and silk weaving, came to Justinian and offered him their knowledge and some silkworm eggs in exchange for a large monetary reward. Justinian accepted. The monks returned to China and, with eggs concealed in a hollow bamboo tube, brought them to Justinian in 550. From these eggs have been produced the strains and varieties used in western Europe since that time, The silkworms flourished in Constantinople. The Byzantine emperors, like the Chinese before them, kept secret the process and monopolized the silk industry in Europe. The factories there turned out some of the most magnificent silks ever produced, woven with gold and silver threads in coloured, figured and plain fabrics. Branch factories were set up outside Constantinople at Athens, Thebes and Corinth but the Imperial capital retained the silkworms. Inevitably knowledge of scriculture and silk manufacture percolated to western Europe but it took many centuries before the secrets escaped from Constantinople. The Saracens learnt the process and took their knowledge eastwards and westwards. Trade and manufacture were established in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Asia Minor and Sicily. From here it spread to the north Italian cities and, in 1480, Louis XI began silk weaving at Tours while, in 1520, Francis 1 brought silkworm eggs from Milan and reared them in the Rh6ne valley. In England silk manufacture was introduced in the fifteenth century but serious manufacture only began in 1585 when Flemish weavers emigrated there because of their struggles with Spain. But it was the revocation of the Edict of Nantes which brought the French Huguenots flooding into Spitalficids in London to set up their silk looms there as well as in Germany and Switzerland. Named silk terms include: Armozeen, Armazine, Armoisin a heavy silk, generally black, used chiefly for clerical gowns and mourning scarves and bands. Art an abbreviation for artificial silk (see Synthetic and Man-made fibres). Atlas a silk satin made in the East. Derives from the Arabic word for smooth. Caledonian from the early nineteenth century, a silk patterned in a small cheek on a white ground. Cappadine a silk flock or waste left from the cocoon after the silk filament has been unravelled. Cendal, Sendal a sheer, rich silk used in the Middle Ages. China a soft light silk used mainly for linings. Ducape a plain, heavy silk widely used from the mid-seventeenth century, especially for dresses and outer wear. Faille a silk or rayon with horizontally ribbed surface. .Foulard a light, twilled silk used chiefly for ties and scarves. Foulard can also be made of cotton, rayon or worsted. Gauze a sheer, transparent silk first made in Gaza. Can also be made of cotton, linen or rayon. Gossamer a soft, fine silk used for veils. Grenadine an open gauze of silk or cotton used in the nineteenth century especially for dresses. Grosgrain a heavy, closely-woven, corded
silk. Can now also be made from cotton or rayon. Varieties include gros de Londres, gros de Naples, gros de Suez and gros de Tours. Kinkob an Indian silk interwoven with gold or silver thread. Levantine a strong, twilled silk first made in the Levant. Lisse a fine silk gauze. Lutestring, Lustring a glossy silk fabric or ribbon. Macclesfield a quality, handwoven silk from the Cheshire town of that name. Mogador A Moroccan silk named after the seaport of that name (now Essaouira). Peau dange a French silk of the early twentieth century. Peau de Soie a firm, double-faced, twilled silk with a dull finish to both sides. Pekin -a dress silk made originally in China, with alternate stripes warp-wise of satin and velvet finish. Pongee a soft, unbleached Chinese silk made from the cocoon filaments of wild silkworms. Derives from a Chinese word, meaning 'home-made on one's own loom'. Raw a term for silk made from short fibres or waste, also called wild silk. A number of such silks are called after the place where they are made, for example, Habutal in Japan and Honan and Shantung in China. Samite a rich, medieval silk usually interwoven with threads of gold and silver. Sarsenet, Sareenet a fine, soft silk used chiefly for linings. The medieval silk possibly derived from Saracen make. Shantung a pongee-type material made from wild silk. Shot a colour effect produced by using warp threads of one colour with weft threads of another. Spun silk made from yarn spun from short fibres taken from broken cocoons or waste. Surah a soft, twilled, lightweight silk named after Surat in India, its town of origin. A similar fabric in a heavier weight is called silk serge and one with a glossy finish, satin surah. Tabby a striped or watered silk taffeta named after Attabiy, a district in Bagdad where such material was first made. Taffeta in early times, a plainly-woven, glossy material, the name derived from the Persian taftan, meaning to shine, also to spin. Known in England from the fourteenth century and soon began to refer to a thin silk with gleaming lustre. There are several varieties of taffeta, such as a moir6-patterned fabric or a cross-ribbed, faille taffeta. Today, taffeta can be made of a number of different fabrics, not only silk. Tufttaffeta, used especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was a taffeta with a tufted pile. Thai a wild silk from Thailand, often patterned by tie and dye techniques or by weaving. Tusser, Tussah, Tussore from the Hind! and Urda word tasar, meaning shuttle but probably referring to the shape of the cocoon. A natural silk woven from the short fibres of the wild silkworm of India. Silver cloth or tissue As with gold cloth (see Gold cloth), this costly material was made in past centuries by using a silver metal warp and a silk weft. Today, aluminium and plastic are used. In one method a laminate is made of two layers of plastic enclosing one of aluminium foil and the laminate is shredded. In another, a plastic film is plated with aluminium by a process undertaken in a vacuum. These methods are used in Lurex fabrics (an American trade name).