Facebook Email Pinterest Twitter X Instagram Tiktok Icon YouTube Icon Headphones Icon Favorite Navigation Search Icon Forum Search Icon Main Search Icon Close Icon Video Play Icon Indicator Arrow Icon Close Icon Hamburger/Search Icon Plus Icon Arrow Down Icon Video Guide Icon Article Guide Icon Modal Close Icon Guide Search Icon

Sign in or become an insider to access this story

Sign In

The Story of Silk From Hungry Caterpillar to Luxury Fiber

Discover why silk is great to wear and how to care for it
Threads #218, Summer 2022

Silk. No other fiber has the same allure and mystique as this ancient wonder. It comes in a wide range of weaves, weights, and textures—there’s a silk fabric for just about anyone who sews. There are many legends about the origin of silk. One story is that a Chinese woman was enjoying a cup of tea beneath a mulberry tree when a cocoon dropped into her cup. When she plucked it from her tea the cocoon started to unreel, and silk as a fiber was discovered.

antheraea yamamai mothHowever it was discovered, silk is thought to have been cultivated in China beginning approximately 5,000 years ago. China remained the dominant source of silk, its origins zealously protected. Eventually the secret was discovered and silk production made its way into other Asian countries. About 1,500 years ago, silk moth eggs were smuggled into Europe. This was a daring act of industrial espionage, as silkworms were so valuable that the crime of smuggling them from China was punishable by death.

Moth families

The predominant silk moth for commercial silk production is the Bombyx mori, from the Bombycidae moth family. There are two main branches to this family, the other being the Bombyx mandarina, which exists in the wild and can hybridize with the Bombyx mori. After thousands of years of selective breeding, the Bombyx mori moth is a domesticated insect; it does not exist in the wild. It cannot survive without human care, and the moth is unable to fly or even find a mate without assistance. 

During the caterpillar stage, the Bombyx mori eats only the leaves of the mulberry tree and produces a pure white silk. Both the Bombyx mori moth and caterpillar are white, as their pigment was bred out over the centuries. Other silk moths, which produce distinctive types of…

Start your 14-day FREE trial to access this story.

Start your FREE trial today and get instant access to this article plus access to all Threads Insider content.

Start Your Free Trial

Threads Insider

Get instant access to hundreds of videos, tutorials, projects, and more.

Start Your Free Trial

Already an Insider? Log in

Log in or become a member to post a comment.

More From Threads

Discussion Forum

Recent Posts and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |

Threads Insider Exclusives

View All
View All