Silk is sumptuous, royal, and heavenly. It is exotic, erotic, and sensual. Most of all, it is simply sheer beauty. The qualities of Silk are unrivalled by any other fiber or fabric.
Silk, withstood many daunting challenges from other natural and artificial fibers and yet, remained the undisputed Queen of Textiles since centuries.
History of Silk
The history of Silk can be traced back to China in the third millennium before the Christian era, where there is evidence of a written symbol for Silk as early as 2600 BC. Fragments of Chinese Silk fabrics have been found back to around 1500 BC. The oldest known writings on Silk are of a more recent period and are found in the Indian epic, the Ramayana, which was composed in 300 BC.
Silk was introduced to the West only during the reign of the Chinese emperor Wu-ti in 140-86 BC, when the construction of the famed 6,500 kilometer Silk Road started. The Silk Road or Silk Route refers to a historical network of interlinking trade routes of about 4,000 miles or 6,500 km across Asia, Europe and Africa that connected East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world, as well as parts of North and East Africa.
What is Silk
Silk is a protein fiber, similar to Wool or Human Hair. The finest Silk fibers and most of what we use today, are produced by cultivated Silkworms grown in a controlled environment. These Silkworms feed on the selected food plants and leaves and spin cocoons as a protective shell. These worms can increase their body size up to 10,000 times in their short life span.
Before hatching of Silkworm into Moth, the cocoons are soaked in hot water to produce filaments that can be up to a mile long. These filaments are then spun to form Silk fibers, which are then processed to remove the sericin - the natural "gum" that protects the fibers and causes them to stick to each other.
This processed fiber or yarn can be woven or knit into a variety of Silk Fabrics. Silk Fabric has a wonderful feel and an almost iridescent sheen that makes us think of luxury.
Types of Silk
There are four major types of Silk obtained from different species of Silkworms. India has the unique distinction of producing all these four commercial varieties of Silk.
1.Mulberry: The bulk of the commercial Silk produced in the world comes from this variety and often Silk generally refers to Mulberry Silk. Mulberry Silk comes from the silkworm, Bombyx mori L. that feeds on the leaves of mulberry plant. These silkworms are completely domesticated and reared indoors.
2.Tasar or Tussah: This Silk is coarse and copperish in color. It is mainly used for furnishings and interiors. It is less lustrous than Mulberry Silk, but has its own feel and appeal. Tasar Silk comes from the silkworm, Antheraea mylitta that feeds on Asan and Arjun plants. These silkworms are reared in open on the trees. Finer variety of Tasar Silk is produced by the silkworm Antheraea proyeli J. which feeds on natural oak wood plant.
3.Muga: This golden yellow color Silk is produced only in India and is the pride of Assam state. Muga Silk comes from the silkworm, Antheraea assamensis that feeds on the aromatic leaves of Som and Soalu plants. These silkworms are semi-domesticated and are reared indoor as well as outdoor.
4.Eri: Also known as Endi or Errandi, Eri Silk is spun from open-ended cocoons, unlike other varieties of Silk. Eri Silk comes from the silkworm, Philosamia ricini that feeds mainly on castor leaves. These silkworms are domesticated and reared indoors.
From these four basic categories of Silk the other Silk fabrics are made, which include: Chiffon Silk, China Silk, Georgette Silk, Jauquard Silk, Noil Silk, Raw Silk, Organza Silk, Cotton Silk, Crepe Silk, Brocade Silk, Taffeta Silk, Thai Silk, Satin Silk, Blended Silk etc.
Properties of Silk
Silk fabric has the natural luster and softness. Associated with luxury and style, Silk fabric has its own style statement. Not only in past but today also Silk is the symbol of richness, wealth, style and success. ??It is also one of the strongest natural fabric, and it has been proved that if we take steel filament of the same diameter as that of Silk fabric, steel filament will break early. Its isothermal properties make it cool in summer and warm in winter. Its quality of absorbency enables it to soak up dyestuffs, making possible infinity of shades, designs and finishes. It is even resilient and quickly recovers its former state after being deformed.
Use of Silk
Silk fabric is one of the most desired fabric. It is soft, and fluid; no other fabric drapes or falls on the body in the same way as Silk fabric. Silk can be pleated, folded, or swirled in a bias-cut from the body’s axis, to delight the most demanding and particular wearer. As Silk is a natural fiber, it breathes, and conducts moisture away from the body.
Silk is used in various ways – in Clothing, Tapestry, Carpets, Embroideries, Furnishings, etc. Silk has been used as a ground material for painting. Silk has been a form of currency, worth its weight in gold, and armies, taxes and ransoms have been paid in the fabric. Silk is even used in repair of human body with fine stitches, for as Silk is pure protein, the risk of irritation or rejection by physical tissue is minimized. Due to its quality of absorbency, Silk has been atomized for use in cosmetic powders and makeup.
Production of Silk
Geographically, Asia is the main producer of Silk in the world and produces over 95 % of the total global output. Though there are over 40 countries on the world map of Silk, but bulk of the Silk is produced in China (80-82%) and India (15-17%), followed by Brazil, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea and Japan.
India is the second largest producer of Silk and is also the largest consumer of Silk in the world.
Silk fabrics are produced either on Handlooms or on Powerlooms. The bulk of the Silk woven in China, Korea and Brazil comes from Powerlooms, whereas in India and Thailand weaving is done largely on Handlooms. Because of the special characteristics of Handloom Silk fabrics, slight variations in color shades, unevenness of the weave do occur.
Silk and India
The story of India and Silk is different from that of other countries. India has a number of indigenous Silk moths, many of whose cocoons are suitable for weaving.
India has ancient textile skills, practiced in the cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa some four thousand years ago. India’s textile history is complex and rich, Silk ruled, but climate and the customs of cremation of the dead have combined to destroy fabrics and dress.
Thread of mixed wild Silk and Cotton, dated to the second half of the second millennium BC, has been found at Nevasa and Chandoi. Apart from such fragments, the oldest surviving Indian textiles appear to be fifteenth-century Jain Silk embroideries. Paintings in the Ajanta caves of the sixth to seventh centuries AD show figures dressed in resist-dyed and Ikat patterned textiles. A contemporary text, the Harshacharita, is rich with descriptions of woven hangings. A Buddhist monk or missionary is credited with bringing the eggs as well as the Chinese reeling technique of the Bombyx mori silkworm, to India during the Gupta period (AD 400-600).
In Assam, the Bodo tribe who originally migrated from Central Asia are said to have brought the art of Silk reeling with them.
Silk was deemed by Hindus to be a pure substance, so pure that it was not considered necessary to wash it before ceremonial use. Gold thread runs through the history of Indian textiles. The Rig Veda mentions the cloth of gold worn by the gods in their resplendent chariots, and in the Sanskrit epic the Ramayana, Ravana the demon king wears a golden fabric. These golden Silks were embroidered or else plain-woven with decorative borders. Benares tradition credits the introduction of brocade weaving and drawloom techniques to skilled Persian brocade weavers who came with the Moghul conquerors.
The unique art of draping cloth, exemplified in the Silk sari, by Hindu females has epitomized India internationally.
India is unique among Silk producing countries as it is alone, which produces all the four commercially known varieties of Silk- Mulberry, Tasar, Muga and Eri.