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Silk Embroidery on display in China

Considered a symbol of wealth and status across many world populations, this luxurious fabric was China's best kept secret for many years. After many years of reigning supreme in trade exchange value on the silk road, silk was adopted into neighboring cultures that could afford to cultivate and grow the silkworms needed for it. Now it is branded and sold across the world in differing textures, qualities, and colors, long having left china silk fabric characteristics to itself in the silk business.

Sericulture began in 3000 B.C Tussar silk is a darker shade and coarserwikimedia

Sericulture began in 3000 B.C., when a mulberry worm fell into the tea of Empress Leizu (Si Ling Chi, in some translations) one afternoon. The curious empress found the object in her tea unravelling. She pulled at a thread and discovered that it stretched up to the entire length of her garden. She collected more of these strange objects and found that these fibers could be spun, and trusted to hold their shape for a long time. Empress Leizu set up the first sericulture unit, and created a fabric that has survived to this day.

silkworms Bombyx mori silkworms which eat only mulberry leaves and produce white silk Image source: wikimediawikimedia

Silk became a trade currency during the Han dynasty, and was even used in making strings for instruments and bowstrings. Within China it became a household tradition, and women and children were taught to spin their own versions of it. Special colors and designs were reserved for the emperor. This exclusive trade was kept a national secret for nearly five thousand years, until pilgrims and scholars who travelled to other countries, smuggled moth eggs under their clothes. Prior to this, if anyone was found exchanging the secret on the trade routes, they were executed for treason.

Silk spun Silk spun directly from the cocoon of the B.mori silkworms Image source: wikimediawikimedia

The neighboring countries that managed to learn of silk, like parts of Assam, evolved their own type of silk. The climate of the place plays a huge role in the viability of growing silkworms, and depending on the type of leaves available, the color of the silk differs. Tussar, Muga, and Eri silk are products of this evolution. They are coarser and browner. Eri cannot take on dyes due to its dark shade, but can be bleached.

Asian trade route where fabrics and export items were often exchanged as currency, commonly known as Silk Road due to the prominence of silk trade. Image source: wikimediawikimedia

In countries where the climate is not suitable to rear silkworms, silk is imported and therefore bears a higher significance in terms of being a symbol of wealth. Some civilizations, like the Greeks, have been harvesting byssus fibers to make silk. This is extracted from a particular species of mussels that stick to rocks and create fibers that are a golden hue. Novelists have made reference to this type of silk as 'seasilk' in many texts. It is very rare in the modern world, especially these days when the mussels are endangered, due to growth of parasites and bacteria from pollutants.

Seasilk Seasilk , fine dark threads produced by byssus mussels Image source: wikimediawikimedia

Silk today, is being commercialized and developed in many ways to improve its quality, and suitability. It has even been adopted into other cultures in their dressing styles, and some silks are specifically used for certain religious and traditional garments. Genome testing and genetic modification is being done to ensure that silkworms can be cultivated in countries where they don't usually grow as well.

Keywords: Silk, History, china, Sericulture, silkworms, seasilk, china silk, china silk fabric characteristics.



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