The Story of Silk From Hungry Caterpillar to Luxury FiberDiscover why silk is great to wear and how to care for it
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.
However 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.
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…