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A silk scarf


Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from cocoon made by the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity (sericulture). The shimmering appearance of silk is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fiber which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles thus producing different colors.

Silks are produced by several other insects, but only the silk of moth caterpillars has been used for textile manufacture. There has been some research into other silks, which differ at the molecular level. Silks are mainly produced by the larvae of insects that complete metamorphosis, but also by some adult insects such as webspinners. Silk production is especially common in the Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, and ants), and is sometimes used in nest construction. Other types of arthropod produce silk, most notably various arachnids such as spiders (see spider silk).

History



Wild silk

A variety of wild silks, produced by caterpillars other than the mulberry silkworm have been known and used in Chinamarker, South Asia, and Europe since ancient times. However, the scale of production was always far smaller than that of cultivated silks. They differ from the domesticated varieties in color and texture, and cocoons gathered in the wild usually have been damaged by the emerging moth before the cocoons are gathered, so the silk thread that makes up the cocoon has been torn into shorter lengths. Commercially reared silkworm pupae are killed by dipping them in boiling water before the adult moths emerge, or by piercing them with a needle, allowing the whole cocoon to be unraveled as one continuous thread. This permits a much stronger cloth to be woven from the silk. Wild silks also tend to be more difficult to dye than silk from the cultivated silkworm.

China



Silk fabric was first developed in ancient Chinamarker, possibly as early as 6000 BC and definitely by 3000 BC. Legend gives credit for developing silk to a Chinese empress, Lei Zu (Hsi-Ling-Shih, Lei-Tzu). Silks were originally reserved for the Kings of China for their own use and gifts to others, but spread gradually through Chinese culture and trade both geographically and socially, and then to many regions of Asia. Silk rapidly became a popular luxury fabric in the many areas accessible to Chinese merchants because of its texture and luster. Silk was in great demand, and became a staple of pre-industrial international trade. In July 2007, archeologists discovered intricately woven and dyed silk textiles in a tomb in Jiangximarker province, are dated to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, roughly 2,500 years ago. Although historians have suspected a long history of a formative textile industry in ancient China, this find of silk textiles employing "complicated techniques" of weaving and dyeing provides direct and concrete evidence for silks dating before the Mawangdui-discovery and other silks dating to the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD).

The first evidence of the silk trade is the finding of silk in the hair of an Egyptianmarker mummy of the 21st dynasty, c.1070 BC [8236]. Ultimately the silk trade reached as far as the Indianmarker subcontinent, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa. This trade was so extensive that the major set of trade routes between Europe and Asia has become known as the Silk Road.

The Emperors of China strove to keep knowledge of sericulture secret to maintain the Chinese monopoly. Nonetheless sericulture reached Koreamarker around 200 BC, about the first half of the 1st century AD had reached ancient Khotanmarker, and by AD 300 the practice had been established in India.

Thailand

Silk is produced, year round, in Thailand by two types of silkworms, the cultured Bombycidae and wild Saturniidae. Most production is after the rice harvest in the southern and northeast parts of the country. Women traditionally weave silk on hand looms, and pass the skill on to their daughters as weaving is considered to be a sign of maturity and eligibility for marriage. Thai silk textiles often use complicated patterns in various colors and styles. Most regions of Thailand have their own typical silks. A single thread filament is too thin to use on its own so women combine many threads to produce a thicker, usable fiber. They do this by hand-reeling the threads onto a wooden spindle to produce a uniform strand of raw silk. The process takes around 40 hours to produce a half kilogram of Thai silk.


Many local operations use a reeling machine for this task, but there are silk threads that are still hand-reeled. The difference is that hand-reeled threads produce three grades of silk: two fine grades that are ideal for lightweight fabrics and a thick grade for heavier material.

The silk fabric is soaked in hot water and bleached before dyeing in order to remove the natural yellow coloring of Thai silk yarn. To do this, skeins of silk thread are immersed in large tubs of hydrogen peroxide. Once washed and dried, the silk is then woven using a traditional hand operated loom.

India

Silk, known as Pattu in southern parts of Indiamarker and Resham in Hindi/Urdu (from Persian), has a long history in India. Recent archaeological discoveries in Harappamarker and Chanhu-daro suggest that sericulture, employing wild silk threads from native silkworm species, existed in South Asia during the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, roughly contemporaneous with the earliest known silk use in China. Silk is widely produced today. India is the second largest producer of Silk after China. A majority of the silk in India is produced in Karnatakamarker State, particularly in Mysoremarker and the North Bangalore regions of Muddenahalli, Kanivenarayanapura, and Doddaballapurmarker. India is also the largest consumer of silk in the world. The tradition of wearing silk sarees in marriages by the brides is followed in southern parts of India. Silk is worn by people as a symbol of royalty while attending functions and during festivals. Historically silk was used by the upper classes, while cotton was used by the poorer classes. Today silk is mainly used in Bhoodhan Pochampallymarker (also known as Silk City), Kanchipurammarker, Dharmavaram, Mysore, etc. in South India and Banarasmarker in the North for manufacturing garments and sarees. "Murshidabad silk", famous from historical times, is mainly produced in Malda and Murshidabad district of West Bengal and woven with hand looms in Birbhum and Murshidabad district. Another place famous for production of silk is Bhagalpurmarker. The silk from Kanchi is particularly well-known for its classic designs and enduring quality. The silk is traditionally hand-woven and hand-dyed and usually also has silver threads woven into the cloth. Most of this silk is used to make saris. The saris usually are very expensive and vibrant in color. Garments made from silk form an integral part of Indian weddings and other celebrations. In the northeastern state of Assammarker, three different types of silk are produced, collectively called Assam silk: Muga, Eri and Pat silk. Muga, the golden silk, and Eri are produced by silkworms that are native only to Assam. The heritage of silk rearing and weaving is very old and continues today especially with the production of Muga and Pat riha and mekhela chador, the three-piece silk saris woven with traditional motifs. Mysore Silk Sarees, which are known for their soft texture, last many years if carefully maintained.

Ancient Mediterranean

In the Odyssey, 19.233, when Odysseus, while pretending to be someone else, is questioned by Penelope about her husband's clothing, he says that he wore a shirt "gleaming like the skin of a dried onion" (varies with translations, literal translation here) which could refer to the lustrous quality of silk fabric. The Roman Empire knew of and traded in silk. During the reign of emperor Tiberius, sumptuary laws were passed that forbade men from wearing silk garments, but these proved ineffectual.Despite the popularity of silk, the secret of silk-making only reached Europe around AD 550, via the Byzantine Empire. Legend has it that monks working for the emperor Justinian I smuggled silkworm eggs to Constantinoplemarker in hollow canes from China. All top-quality looms and weavers were located inside the Palace complex in Constantinoplemarker and the cloth produced was used in imperial robes or in diplomacy, as gifts to foreign dignitaries. The remainder was sold at very high prices.

Islamic world

In Islamic teachings, Muslim men are forbidden to wear silk. Many religious jurists believe the reasoning behind the prohibition lies in avoiding clothing for men that can be considered feminine or extravagant. There are disputes regarding the amount of silk a fabric can consist of (i.e., whether a small decorative silk piece on a cotton caftan is permissible or not) for it to be lawful for men to wear but the dominant opinion of most Muslim scholars is that the wearing of silk for men is forbidden.

Despite injunctions against silk for men, silk has retained its popularity in the Islamic world because of its permissibility for women. The Muslim Moors brought silk with them to Spain during their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Medieval and modern Europe

Dress made from silk
Venetianmarker merchants traded extensively in silk and encouraged silk growers to settle in Italymarker. By the 13th century, Italian silk was a significant source of trade. Since that period, the silk worked in the province of Como has been the most valuable silk in the world. The wealth of Florencemarker was largely built on textiles, both wool and silk, and other cities like Luccamarker also grew rich on the trade. Italian silk was so popular in Europe that Francis I of France invited Italian silk makers to France to create a French silk industry, especially in Lyonmarker. Mass emigration (especially of Huguenots) during periods of religious dispute had seriously damaged French industry and introduced these various textile industries, including silk, to other countries.



James I attempted to establish silk production in England, purchasing and planting 100,000 mulberry trees, some on land adjacent to Hampton Court Palacemarker, but they were of a species unsuited to the silk worms, and the attempt failed. British enterprise also established silk filature in Cyprusmarker in 1928. In England in the mid 20th Century, silk was produced at Lullingstone Castle in Kent. Silkworms were raised and reeled under the direction of Zoe Lady Hart Dyke. Production started elsewhere later. In Italymarker, the Stazione Bacologica Sperimentale was founded in Paduamarker in 1871 to research sericulture. In the late 19th century, China, Japan, and Italy were the major producers of silk. The most important cities for silk production in Italy were Comomarker and Meldolamarker (Forlìmarker). In medieval times, it was common for silk to be used to make elaborate casings for bananas and other fruits.

Silk was expensive in Medieval Europe and used only by the rich. Italian merchants like Giovanni Arnolfini became hugely wealthy trading it to the Courts of Northern Europe.

North America

James I of England introduced silk-growing to the American colonies around 1619, ostensibly to discourage tobacco planting. The Shakers in Kentucky adopted the practice as did a cottage industry in New England. In the 1800s a new attempt at a silk industry began with European-born workers in Paterson, New Jerseymarker, and the city became a US silk center, although Japanese imports were still more important.

World War II interrupted the silk trade from Japanmarker. Silk prices increased dramatically, and US industry began to look for substitutes, which led to the use of synthetic such as nylon. Synthetic silks have also been made from lyocell, a type of cellulose fiber, and are often difficult to distinguish from real silk (see spider silk for more on synthetic silks).

Properties

Models in silk dresses at the MoMo Falana fashion show


Physical properties

Silk fibers from the Bombyx mori silkworm have a triangular cross section with rounded corners, 5-10 μm wide. The fibroin-heavy chain is composed mostly of beta-sheets, due to a 59-mer aminoacid repeat sequence GAGAGSGAAG[SGAGAG]8Y with some variations. The flat surfaces of the fibrils reflect light at many angles, giving silk a natural shine. The cross-section from other silkworms can vary in shape and diameter: crescent-like for Anaphe and elongated wedge for tussah. Silkworm fibers are naturally extruded from two silkworm glands as a pair of primary filaments (brin) which are stuck together, with sericin proteins acting like glue, to form a bave. Bave diameters for tussah silk can reach 65 μm. See cited reference for cross-sectional SEM photographs.

Silk has a smooth, soft texture that is not slippery, unlike many synthetic fibers. Its denier is 4.5 g/d when dry and 2.8-4.0 g/d when moist.

Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers but loses up to 20% of its strength when wet. It has a good moisture regain of 11%. Its elasticity is moderate to poor: if elongated even a small amount, it remains stretched. It can be weakened if exposed to too much sunlight. It may also be attacked by insects, especially if left dirty.

Silk is a poor conductor of electricity and thus susceptible to static cling.

Unwashed silk chiffon may shrink up to 8% due to a relaxation of the fiber macrostructure. So silk should either be pre-washed prior to garment construction, or dry cleaned. Dry cleaning may still shrink the chiffon up to 4%. Occasionally, this shrinkage can be reversed by a gentle steaming with a press cloth. There is almost no gradual shrinkage nor shrinkage due to molecular-level deformation.

Chemical properties

Silk is made up of the amino acids Gly-Ser-Gly-Ala and forms Beta pleated sheets. H-bonds form between chains, and side chains form above and below the plane of the H-bond network.

The high proportion (50%) of glycine, which is a small amino acid, allows tight packing and the fibers are strong and resistant to stretching. The tensile strength is due to the many interseeded hydrogen bonds. Since the protein forms a Beta sheet, when stretched the force is applied to these strong bonds and they do not break.

Silk is resistant to most mineral acids, except for sulfuric acid which dissolves it. It is yellowed by perspiration.

Uses



Silk's good absorbency makes it comfortable to wear in warm weather and while active. Its low conductivity keeps warm air close to the skin during cold weather. It is often used for clothing such as shirts, blouses, formal dresses, high fashion clothes, negligees, pyjamas, robes, skirtsuits, sun dresses and kimonos.

Silk's elegant, soft luster and beautiful drape makes it perfect for many furnishing applications. It is used for upholstery, wall coverings, window treatments (if blended with another fiber), rugs, bedding and wall hangings.

While on the decline now, due to artificial fibers, silk has had many industrial and commercial uses; parachutes, bicycle tires, comforter filling and artillery gunpowder bags.

From the blackpowder era, until roughly World War I, early bulletproof vests were made from silk.

A special manufacturing process which removes the outer irritant sericin coating of the silk makes it suitable as non-absorbable surgical sutures. This process has also recently led to the introduction of specialist silk underclothing for children and adults with eczema where it can significantly reduce itch.

Silk cloth is also used as a material on which to write and paint.

Production

The cultivation of silk is called sericulture. Over 30 countries produce silk, the major ones are Chinamarker (54%) and Indiamarker (14%).

"In order to produce 1 kg of silk, 104 kg of mulberry leaves need to be eaten by 3000 silkworms.

It takes about 5000 silkworms to make a pure silk kimono."



Top Ten Cocoons (Reelable) Producers — 2005
Country Production Footnote Production Footnote
978,013 C 290,003 F
259,679 C 77,000 F
57,332 C 17,000 F
37,097 C 11,000 F
20,235 C 6,000 F
16,862 C 5,000 F
10,117 C 3,000 F
5,059 C 1,500 F
3,372 C 1,000 F
2,023 C 600 F
No symbol = official figure,F = FAO estimate, * = Unofficial figure, C = Calculated figure;

Production in Int $1000 have been calculated based on 1999-2001 international prices

Source: Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations: Economic And Social Department: The Statistical Devision


Cultivation

Cocoon
Silk moths lay eggs on specially prepared paper. The eggs hatch and the caterpillars (silkworms) are fed fresh mulberry leaves. After about 35 days and 4 moltings, the caterpillars are 10,000 times heavier than when hatched, and are ready to begin spinning a cocoon. A straw frame is placed over the tray of caterpillars, and each caterpillar begins spinning a cocoon by moving its head in a "figure 8" pattern. Two glands produce liquid silk and force it through openings in the head called spinnerets. Liquid silk is coated in sericin, a water-soluble protective gum, and solidifies on contact with the air. Within 2–3 days, the caterpillar spins about 1 mile of filament and is completely encased in a cocoon. The silk farmers then kill most caterpillars by heat, leaving some to metamorphose into moths to breed the next generation of caterpillars.

Animal rights

As the process of harvesting the silk from the cocoon kills the larvae, sericulture has been criticized in the early 21st century by animal rights activists, especially since artificial silks are available.Mahatma Gandhi was also critical of silk production based on the Ahimsa philosophy "not to hurt any living thing." This led to Gandhi's promotion of cotton spinning machines, an example of which can be seen at the Gandhi Institute. He also promoted Ahimsa silk, wild silk made from the cocoons of wild and semi-wild silk moths. Ahimsa silk is promoted in parts of Southern India for those who prefer not to wear silk produced by killing silkworms.

See also



Notes



References

  • Ftitz, Anne and Cant, Jennifer (1986). Consumer Textiles. Oxford University Press Australia. Reprint 1987. ISBN 0 19 554647 4.
  • Good, Irene. 1995. “On the question of silk in pre-Han Eurasia” Antiquity Vol. 69, Number 266, December 1995, pp. 959–968
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West from the Weilüe 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 AD. Draft annotated English translation. Appendix E. [8237]
  • Kuhn, Dieter. 1995. “Silk Weaving in Ancient China: From Geometric Figures to Patterns of Pictorial Likeness.” Chinese Science 12 (1995): pp. 77–114.
  • Liu, Xinru. 1996. Silk and Religion: An Exploration of Material Life and the Thought of People, AD 600-1200. Oxford University Press.
  • Sung, Ying-Hsing. 1637. Chinese Technology in the Seventeenth Century - T'ien-kung K'ai-wu. Translated and annotated by E-tu Zen Sun and Shiou-chuan Sun. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1966. Reprint: Dover, 1997. Chap. 2. Clothing materials.
  • Kadolph, Sara J. Textiles. 10th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. 76-81.


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