While visiting Izmir in Turkey, I had a first hand opportunity to understand how silk is collected and made into yarn. Though I have seen videos before, seeing this first hand was really incredible. More so, I came to understand the principles of making the yarn.
I’ve posted videos of how Mulberry Silk Yarn is made in the past. I always have a handful of comments of people complaining about the killing of a silk worm to obtain these fibres. It’s been on my mind too. However, we are in an age of industrialization where we massively produce livestock and countless other objects that cause the death of creatures and or environment. Am I saying it’s right? Not sure… but that’s the society we are living in today.
Silk Worm strands are the 2nd most strongest natural fibre in the known universe. Spider Web strands are the strongest. Most people may not know that the beautiful sculptures found in ancient Rome and European countries were hand cut using Silk Worm Fibres! It’s hard to believe that marble and rock can be cut with strands that are produced by a caterpillar, aka Silk Worm.
To not beat around the bush, yes, silk worms are killed in the process of harvesting silk worm strands. The cocoons are one continuous strand from start to finish. Once they have spun themselves into a cocoon, they wait a few days and then pick the cocoon for harvest. They place the cocoons in an oven and heat it up. This process kills the silk worm.
The cocoons are moved to a hot water pot and soaked for about 20 minutes. This helps release the fibres. While you may think the silk worm’s death is caused by drowning in the hot water, the silk worm is, in fact, already dead. In some cultures, the silk worm at the end is eaten as food. So it’s a natural process where all parts of the silk worm are used.
So the obviously question is how do they find the ends to start unraveling the cocoons? They have what appears to be a stick looking brush. They stir this stick in the put and the fibers naturally grab onto the stick. In the photo, the stick is out of the camera view but you can see she is pulling it up and the fibres are going into the pot. A few cocoons are dangling They just need a bit of help to start unwinding.
They gather several cocoon strands together to make up 1 thin strand that will be wound onto a spindle. Once the process is started, you will be surprised how fast the spinning unravels a cocoon. It’s a really thin strand, so to make yarn, several strands are put together to thicken it up. It’s like 4 Ply Worsted Yarn. There are 4 plys that make the thickness. The same principle applies here.
When all of the fibre is taken from the cocoon, the cocoon looks like a transparent plastic coating with the silk worm inside. I would describe it like a giant pill capsule. This is part of the old skin of the silk worm that is in process of metamorphosis.
For silk that has colour, the silk is then dyed.
So the obvious question is about the death of the silk worms. I had to ask the question about harvesting and obtaining the fibres. I was told that about 50% of the cocoons are not harvested for the fibre but left alone for natural metamorphoses to turn into a moth. The answer is obvious… if you kill all of the cocoons… there is not going to be any more cocoons in the future if you wipe out your future generation.
We were told that silk worm farming is exceptionally easy. If you have Mulberry Trees, you will have a Silk Worm Processing Opportunity. The silk worms need very little care as it’s a natural process. Silk Worm Farming starts off really tiny but by using the concept of only taking 50% of the cocoons for fibre use, it means you will have the other 50% to exponentially increase your next generation of silk worms. Moths need to lay their eggs. They have between 200 – 500 eggs per moth. You can see how quickly you can grow your farm capacity by using the 50% rule of harvest. For one butterfly, you may end up with 300 silk worms and then 50% of that, about 15, is used for the fibre while the other 150 go on to the month stage to be the egg layers for the next generation. It’s a never ending cycle.
Farmers need to be patient and not be greedy to wipe out their farms. In an industrial age that we are in, it’s easy to get excited by the money and over produce. This is one of those cycles that you need to respect a living creature and not take too much. Being greedy today would mean the next generation of silk worms will be far less.
Though I understood the process of silk processing… I was really intriqued about the life cycle and harvesting of the cocoons.