The story of silk

The kids have been breeding silkworms at school over the last few months. And since I mentioned the playsilks in my last post, I thought it would be fitting to do a little educational post. So please indulge me and play along….

Of all the animals that man has domesticated over the last few thousand years, only 2 insects made the cut. Bees and Silkworms. The Chinese first domesticated silkworms 5000 years ago and for 3000 years it was their best kept secret, as only the Chinese knew how to produce silk.

According to Chinese legend, silk was discovered when Emperor Huangdi ordered his wife Xilingshi to find out what was damaging his mulberry tree. She found white worms eating the leaves and spinning shiny cocoons. When she dropped a cocoon into hot water a slender thread of silk unwound itself from the cocoon. Then, as today, silk was a luxury item. Silk fabrics travelled the famous caravan route from China to Rome, known as the Silk Road, until 6AD when two Persian monks smuggled a few silkworm eggs out of China in a hollow walking stick.

Today, silkworms have become extinct outside silk factories and children’s cardboard boxes.

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The little worms have a voracious appetite. Luckily we have 2 generous neighbours with well established Mulberry trees and we were able to collect bags of the fresh juicy leaves.  According to the information sheets, we were meant to clean out the box daily and not touch the worms as theirs skin is very fragile…Well, we did neither. The still thrived and over the last weekend have started their cocooning process.

While kids enjoyed the process, I am the one who is totally absorbed by those little miracle workers. And since discovering that one cocoon will give me 300m of silk, I am plotting on ways to harvest the silk without killing the pupae.

The thought of dropping the worms into boiling water is not very appealing. We kind of got attached to them and I don’t think it sends the right message to the kids. Also, what am I going to do with the kilometer of silk thread?

I wonder if I can knit it up with some wool? Just like the wool/silk blend from Abuelita maybe?

Well, I will keep you posted. If anyone has some experience with harvesting silk please do let me know. I am dying to know!

Enjoy the relatively sunny and rainless day.

Alex

PS: The historical stuff is from Burke’s Backyard Fact Sheet. No, I am not a history buff.

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