Silk is considered the queen of fabrics. Silk is type of an animal fibre produced by the silkworm.
Discovery of silk: Chinese legend has it that empress Si-lung-Chi was worried about the damaged mulberry leaves in her garden. Emperor Huang-ti found out that the white worms were eating up the mulberry leaves and spinning shiny cocoons. A cocoon accidentally dropped into the empress’s cup of hot tea, and the delicate tangle of threads separated from the cocoon, thus leading to the discovery of silk.
Properties of Silk: Silk is an elastic, lustrous protein fibre. The soft silk thread is as strong as a comparable steel thread.
Types of Silk: Different types of silk moths yield different types of silk yarn, such as mulberry silk, tassar silk, eri silk and moonga silk.The most common silk moth is the mulberry silk moth. It’s Latin name is Bombyx mori.
Life Cycle – Silk Moth: Actually silkworms are not worms, but the larvae or caterpillars hatched from the eggs of the silk moth. The life history of a silk moth starts when a female silk moth lays eggs.
The larvae or caterpillars hatched from the eggs of the silk moth. These silkworms feed on fresh mulberry leaves the silkworm grows in size and then becomes a pupa.
In the pupa stage, it weaves a net to hold itself. It then swings its head from side to side, secreting a fibre that hardens on contact with air. This fibre is made of a protein and becomes the silk fibre.
The caterpillar covers itself completely with silk fibre and turns into a pupa, this covering is known as the cocoon. The moth continues to develop within the cocoon. The silk thread or yarn is obtained from the silk moth’s cocoon.
Sericulture: Sericulture, or silk farming, is the rearing of silkworms for the production of raw silk.
Processing Silk: Extracting silk from the cocoon is called processing silk.
The processing of silk from cocoons follows - separating the silk fibre from the cocoon by exposing to warmth, reeling the silk or unwinding the fibre from the cocoon, bleaching and dyeing silk fibre, spinning into silk thread and finally weaving into silk cloth.