The Silk Production Process
Where Does Silk Come From?
The silk based textiles we are used to enjoying in our clothes and bedding are filled with a natural fibre which originates from little domesticated creatures known as silkworms, which are harvested due to their natural production of silk cocoons. While they feed and reproduce, the silk worms create a surrounding environment for themselves which can be unwoven and treated to become the long-stranded fibres which people experience. Let’s explore the silk production process together!
The country of origin of silk is China, since it’s also where most silkworm harvesting occurs. For thousands of years, the Chinese have developed techniques and processes to produce the silk fibres to be sold around the world and adapted into products that people demand. The tradition of raising silkworms and turning their cocoons into raw silk is known as sericulture, a craft that has been perfected and handed down for many generations. Ensuring a high quality silk turnover is a complicated process high quality silk skilled in maintaining a precisely controlled environment (temperature and humidity) for the silk worm, and in growing the mulberry tree that is used as food.
Silk fibres are a continuous protein fibre created from natural processes and extracted from cocoons, which means that these fibres can retain the properties that are associated with the chemicals produced by the silkworm. When secreted by the silkworm, the natural state of the fibre is a single silk thread made up of a double filament of protein material (fibroin) glued together with sericin, an allergenic and gummy substance that is normally extracted during the processing of the silk threads. You can learn more about how silk is made by reading our research paper.
Extracting Raw Silk
The production process of silk can seem deceptively simple but indeed has several steps. In fact, the process of creating silk fibres of the highest quality take a few weeks to complete.
Here is a quick breakdown of the entire process:
- First, the new born larvae of the silkworms are kept in a warm and stable environment and given plenty of mulberry leaves, their favourite diet.
- The silkworms naturally produce cocoons around themselves to pupate. This process is done through “spinning”: the worm secretes a dense fluid from its gland structural glands, resulting in the fibre of the cocoon.
- The cocoons are sorted carefully according to size and quality.
- Boiling water with soap is used unravel the silk fibres from the cocoon. This is known as the degumming process.
- The outer shell of the cocoon is fed into into the spinning reel, which is still often operated manually
- The long fibre thread that are extracted from the cocoon are then cleaned and stripped from any deficiencies.
- The silk fibres are implemented into products such as bedding and clothes.
An Extremely Delicate Process
The extraction of silk must make sure that only the highest quality cocoons are submitted to the degumming and reeling process. What’s more, the quality of silk generated becomes finer and finer the closer the spinner moves to the inner layers of the cocoon. As the cocoons are exhumed from the boiling water, they become twisted and strands from the edges become to uncling from the rest. These are what eventually results in long fibre Mulberry silk multi-filament. Often, the best quality silk is extracted by the technique of “throwing”, resulting in “thrown silk” which can be made through through knitting or weaving.
Silk Fibres Can Be Enhanced
Did you know that silk is hypo-allergenic purely because of natural properties? However, when it is processed into usable objects that we touch in daily life, it’s also important to make sure that it is not left under the influence of chemicals or other allergens. The process through which a silk duvet is made should be as healthy and clean as the much as the silk production process. What’s more, silk fibres can be made stronger and better through diligent research. Since the silk sleeping environment temperature regulated and moisture absorbent, it’s extremely hard for bacteria to develop. However, most silk fibres cannot be washed safely without the risk of damaging the core structure of the duvet or comforter. This is frustrating, as over the years naturally people might want to clean their duvet. A great example of silk enhancement in action is the application of nanotechnology to silk fibres in order to add to their natural longevity and strength, and therefore become able to withstand hotter washing temperatures.