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About silk

In the prehistoric times of almost 5,000 years ago, silk emerged in the Yellow River valley in China. In the early dynasties the silk trade developed and reach an early peak during the Qing and Han Dynasty. Maidens from the Imperial Place picked the fine leaves from the Mulberry tree, tenderly fed them to silkworms and finally wove fabric out of the silk threads. The Chinese Emperor wore and used silk to symbolize his royalty and wealth. Sericulture or silk production has a long and colourful history unknown to most people. For centuries the West knew very little about silk and the people who made it. For more than two thousand years the Chinese kept the secret of silk close to themselves.

Chinese legend gives the title Goddess of Silk to Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih, wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, who was said to have ruled China in about 3000 BC. She is credited with the introduction of silkworm rearing and the invention of the loom.

There are many indigenous varieties of wild silk moths found in a number of different countries. The key to understanding the great mystery and magic of silk, and China's domination of its production and promotion, lies with one species: the blind, flightless moth, Bombyx mori. It lays 500 or more eggs in four to six days and dies soon after. The eggs are like pinpoints: one hundred of them weigh only one gram. From one ounce of eggs come about 30,000 worms, which eat a ton of mulberry leaves and produce twelve pounds of raw silk. The original wild ancestor of this cultivated species is believed to be Bombyx mandarina Moore, a silk moth living on the white mulberry tree and unique to China. The silkworm of this particular moth produces a thread whose filament is smoother, finer and rounder than that of other silk moths. In 221 B.C at the time of Emperor Hanwu, a large quantity of silk was transported west along the now famous Silk Road.

Thousands of years have passed since the appearance of silk and despite the advancement of science and technology, silk still has to be produced inch by inch by the industrious little silkworm.


Silk Production:
Producing silk is a lengthy process and demands constant close attention. To produce high quality silk, there are two conditions which need to be fulfilled: preventing the moth from hatching out and perfecting the diet on which the silkworms should feed. Chinese developed secret ways for both.

  • The eggs must be kept at 65 degrees F, increasing gradually to 77 degrees at which point they hatch. After the eggs hatch, the baby worms feed day and night every half hour on fresh, hand-picked and chopped mulberry leaves until they are very fat. Also a fixed temperature has to be maintained throughout. Thousands of feeding worms are kept on trays that are stacked one on top of another. A roomful of munching worms sounds like heavy rain falling on the roof. The newly hatched silkworm multiplies its weight 10,000 times within a month, changing colour and shedding its whitish-grey skin several times. A silkworm's life spans only 25-28 days.

  • The silkworms feed until they have stored up enough energy to enter the cocoon stage. While they are growing they have to be protected from loud noises, drafts, strong smells such as those of fish and meat and even the odour of sweat. When it is time to build their cocoons, the worms produce a jelly-like substance in their silk glands, which hardens when it comes into contact with air. Silkworms spend three or four days spinning a cocoon around them until they look like puffy, white balls.

  • After eight or nine days in a warm, dry place the cocoons are ready to be unwound. First they are steamed and then dipped into hot water to loosen the tightly woven filaments. These filaments are unwound onto a spool. Each cocoon is made up of a filament between 600 and 900 metres long! Between five and eight of these super-fine filaments are twisted together to make one thread.

  • Finally the silk threads are woven into cloth or used for embroidery work. Clothes made from silk are not only beautiful and lightweight; they are also warm in cool weather and cool in hot weather.
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    Ultimate comfort, elegance and sensuality:
    The work of thousands of worms is needed to produce sufficient silk for one dress, shirt or negligee.

    Silk is a miracle created by silkworms. A silkworm gorges itself, grows, moults, anchors itself and spins silk, making a cocoon for us to harvest to create a natural, luxurious material to wrap us in comfort. Silk is exquisite, elegant, floating as light as air, providing one's body with a sensual feeling, ---soft as a whisper. The pleasure is beyond the description of words.

    Silk, called the "queen of the fabrics", is becoming more and more popular, not limited to the very rich, but now available to all discerning shoppers. Silk is a kind of natural compound protein threaded with 18 amino acids homogenous with skin. Silk protects and moistens the skin by touch and friction. According to the research of beauty-specialists, the moisture absorption of silk is 150% as much as cotton, and the moisture release of silk exceeds that of cotton by 20% thus confirming that people can perspire comfortably in silk clothes.

    Effectively wearing silk is like having a second skin.


    How to Identify Real Silk:

    Apart from the look and the feel, real silk can be distinguished from polyester and other artificial fabrics by testing it with fire. One can pass a flame over silk material about five times and it will not burn. On the other hand polyester will melt after one second. When burning silk fibres they will remain separate and smell like human hair, whereas polyester threads will just melt together and become sticky and hard.


    Advice on Care and Maintenance:

  • Silk should always be worn slightly loose and not skin-tight.
  • Handle carefully when wearing watches and jewellery to avoid snagging.
  • Avoid direct contact with chemicals including perfumes.
  • Never use bleach.
  • We recommend that pure silk garments be dry cleaned. Dry cleaning of fine silks extends the life of the garment, and protects its natural beauty.
  • Silk can also be washed by hand or washing machine in water at a temperature not exceeding 30°C using non-bio detergent or one specifically for silk and wool.
  • Wash dark colours separately and do not mix with non-delicate garments.
  • Steaming silk is recommended for removing creases.
  • Iron only at the silk setting and for best results just when the garment is about 90% dry.

    Special attention should be paid in particular:

    If washed by hand:

  • Totally dissolve the detergent completely whether in liquid or powder form before immersing the garment.
  • Soak the silk for just a few minutes and wash it with a gentle dipping/kneading motion. Do not rub the silk with force.
  • Rinse the garment thoroughly so that no soap residue is left.
  • Do not wring or twist; roll it in a towel to extract water.

    If washed in a washing machine

  • It is advisable to use a net wash bag.
  • Select "Silk" option if marked or delicate cycle on the washing machine.
  • Do not use tumble dry.
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    Classifications of silk:

    There are many types of silks. Listed below are a few of the more popular ones. To assess a silk it is necessary to consider three factors. These are: Silk Type, Silk Weight and Silk Weave. Silks of the same type may have different characteristics because of different weights or weaves.

    Silk Fabric Description Weight
    Broadcloth, Habotai Same as China Silk only heavier: good for shirts Medium 10 mm or more
    Brocade A jacquard weave with an embossed effect: often contains synthetic or man-made fibres: good for jackets Heavy
    Crepe Satin A soft smooth silky fabric of a satin weave with a crepe back, sometimes called crepe backed satin. Medium 12 mm or more
    Chiffon A transparent soft and light silk. Plain weave fabric with twisted yarns. Sheer ? light to medium
    Crepe de Chine A plain weave silk of various weights. This silk is the "hand" or touch that many people identify as silk. There are various weights from light, suitable for linings and many "washable silks" to heavy for shirts and dresses. 8 mm and more
    Damask /Crepe Jacquard A jacquard woven silk of elaborate patterns Light to medium
    Doupion A silk reeled from double cocoons nested together. The threads are uneven and irregular. Silk Doupion is suitable for fine suits and lightweight dresses. Light to medium
    Faille A soft ribbed silk with wider ribs than seen in grosgrain ribbon; slightly glossy.
    Georgette A sheer crepe silk, heavier than chiffon and with a crinkle surface. Light to medium
    Noil (raw silk) Spun silk with nubby texture Medium to heavy
    Peau de Soie Silk skin; satiny finish Heavy
    Pongee A variation of Tussah from India; slightly ribbed and textured; inexpensive Light
    Shantung Tussah silk originated in Shangdong Province of China. Rough silk with duppion yarns. Medium to heavy
    Taffeta Hand woven is best; a crisp fabric that rustles Medium to heavy
    Velvet Pile fabric often containing rayon Medium to heavy.


    Fabric Weaves:

    Silks are woven fabrics. Fabric weave helps determine such characteristics as strength and durability of the fabric as well as its beauty. Since silk is so strong naturally, less durable weaves may be used to achieve a particular look not capable in other fabrics.

    Weave Explanation Comment
    Dobby Made with a special loom that creates small geometric figures. Often seen in noil silk suiting.
    Herringbone Most durable; diagonal rib switch back and forth creating rows of parallel lines, which slope in opposite directions. An expensive weave.
    Jacquard Intricate weaving creating complex designs in the fabric. Popular.
    Leno Open weave using twisted fibres. Weak weave.
    Plain Yarns run over and under one another; most common weave. Appearance is changed by looseness of weave.
    Rib Variation of plain weave in which the yarns in one direction are heavier than the other creating a rib effect. A strong fabric weave.
    Satin Uses a floating yarns to create the lustre of a pearl; beware of imitations and copies which shine beautifully! Can snag easily.
    Twill A dense fabric (double thread) with the appearance of fine diagonal lines; very strong. An expensive weave.


    Various Terms:

    Term Definition
    Dupionni See dupion silk. Other related terms: douppioni; shangtung. Fabric containing slubs; uneven; forms when two silk worms make their cocoons together at the same time, thus joining together.
    Momme Silk weight; a silk weight of 5 momme (mm) is very light and transparent and one which is 22 mm is much thicker and more heavy.
    Raw silk Refers to spun silk that has been brushed to give a cotton effect; popular; easy care.
    Sericin The gum that protects the fibre in its natural state.
    Spun silk Short silk threads that are spun together to form a longer filament.


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