March 22, 2022
Silk is a sleek and luxurious textile that is thousands of years old, and this Fabric Care Guide will teach you about the history and preservation of the sensuous, treasured fabric that was once only fit for kings.
According to Chinese legend, Empress Xi Ling-Shi was the first person to discover silk as a weavable fiber in 27 BC. While sipping tea under a mulberry tree, a cocoon fell into her cup and began to unravel. The empress became so enamored with the shimmering threads, she discovered the source—the silkworm. She soon developed the cultivation of silkworms, and is still known today as the Mother of Sericulture and Goddess of Silk.
The secrets of silk production were closely guarded by the Chinese for thousands of years. It was not until about 300A.D. that sericulture spread to Korea, and from there to Japan. In 552 A.D. two Nestorian monks, under orders from the Emperor Justinian, smuggled silkworm eggs from China and brought them to Europe. This was the beginning of the silk industry in the West. Sericulture spread rapidly throughout Europe and Asia during the following centuries.
The silk trade was so vast and demanding that the network of ancient commercial routes connecting Asia to Europe was called ‘The Silk Road.’ It passed through China, Central Asia, Northern India, and Roman empires and connected the Yellow River Valley to the Mediterranean Sea. With time, more than just silk was traded along this route, but other fabrics, jewels, foods, and spices—then ideas, cultures, and religions.
CULTIVATION & PRODUCTION
The process of silk production is known as sericulture. The farming and weaving of silk is a lengthy and laborious process. Below is the complex process broken down into five main steps:
- The silkworm eggs must be kept on a tray in a stable environment at a temperature of 18°C.
- Once hatched, the silkworms are fed fresh Mulberry leaves every half hour, day and night.
- After 25 days, the worms secrete a gummy substance and begin to spin their cocoon, and they will be kept in a warm place for eight or nine days while this happens.
- Once the cocoons are formed, they are steamed, and the worms inside them are killed. The cocoons are dissolved in boiling water in order for the individual long fibers to be extracted.
- The fibers of the cocoon are then spun to create the fine silk threads, which are then dyed or woven.
Fun Facts: Silk is inherently fire retardant, so if burnt, it will curl away from the flame and extinguish itself. And, it takes roughly 5000 silkworms to make a pure silk kimono.
SUSTAINABILITY & SOCIAL WELFARE
Silk has a mixed environmental impact. It is a natural fiber and will biodegrade. Mulberry trees that sustain most silkworms require few pesticides or fertilizers, and can be grown organically and require less water than cotton. However, it is very energy intensive: the leaves need to be picked fresh off the trees—silkworms will die if fed with leaves not freshly picked that day. This can be very labor intensive, and the overall care of the silkworms has been known to impact workers’ health.
Animal welfare is also not considered when producing silk; each silkworm is killed in the process. There is an alternative, though. ‘Ahimsa’ or ‘peace silk’ is specifically made without killing the silkworm. The butterfly emerges from the cocoon thus breaking the filament into smaller pieces, producing a less smooth thread. In this case, the final product is not as luxurious as it is when using the traditional method, but the animal’s life is spared.
Silk is an investment. It’s a fabric that should be bought with a long term relationship in mind. Keep these care instructions in mind when caring for your silk pieces.
- Store it by hanging it in a cool dry place. Silk creases so it’s best not to fold or leave it bunched up for long.
- If you’re storing your silk for a long period of time, make sure it’s clean and stored in a breathable fabric bag (avoid plastic ones because they lock in moisture).
- Store your silk away from the sun to avoid fading the color and weakening the fiber.
- Silk is a protein— this means it can attract moths. Make sure to add a natural moth repellent into the bag your silk will be in.
Silk should be handled carefully when there is a stain. It is a natural and gentle fabric, so be sure to review this guide before attempting to remove a stain on your favorite silk dress!
Apply club soda or sparkling water on the stain. Then, use paper towels to absorb excess liquid. Never rub or blot it! Finally, rinse the item with dish soap and water.
COFFEE & CHOCOLATE
Mix equal parts of distilled white vinegar and water. Lay a clean white rag under the stained area. Dip a corner of a clean white rag into the vinegar/water solution. Carefully blot the stained area, working from the center to the edges. Do not allow the area to become too saturated, as this will spread the stain.
Sprinkle some baby powder on the stain and let it sit for a half hour or so then shake off the powder.
Try our Bicarbonate Stain Remover Soap for minor, everyday stains!
- Do not rub, twist, or twist silk.
- Before the stain has completely disappeared, you should not expose the silk to hot water or drying heat.
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