A natural fibre that is made by silkworms. It is highly sought for due to the soft and sensuous feel of the fabric. It was first produced in China more than 6,000 years ago.
Silkworms are actually caterpillars, usually that of the Bombyx mori variety. Silk production has been done for thousands of years in China. It is a long, drawn out process that is very time consuming. For instance, it takes 5,000 silkworms to get enough of the fabric to make a single silk kimono. Plus, silkworms eat about one ton of mulberry leaves and only make 5.5 kilograms (12 pounds) of silk.
Silk is made from the cocoons that the larvae of the silkworms produce. Once the worms get to the pupae stage and form their cocoons, most of the cocoons are collected and the larvae killed so silk producers can unravel the cocoons into silk thread. Enough are left to mature into adults to insure a supply of new silkworms and carry on the process.
The fact that it is such a long and difficult process is part of the reason why silk is so expensive and highly sought after as a fabric for making soft, luxurious clothing. It helps the wearer stay warm in winter, as well as cool in the summer due to its absorbency.
Uses of Silk
It is a popular fabric for making undergarments, pajamas, kimonos, scarves, sweaters and blouses or shirts. It easily absorbs dye, so can be made in many assorted colours. It is, however, subject to static cling since it is a natural product.
Silk is not an easy fabric to maintain and can be easily stained or damaged if not cared for properly. Most silk can't be washed or even dry cleaned and must be hand washed in warm water using a mild cleanser such as Woolite. You also can't put silk fabric into a dryer. It must be air dried.
Besides clothing, silk has been used for other items. Some of these include upholstery, wall coverings, rugs, bedding, cushions, and wall hangings. It is also popular for decorative items such as silk flowers or other decorations.
It also has had assorted uses in commercial items such as parachutes, filling for comforters, bike tires and gunpowder bags. Synthetic fabrics have replaced some of these uses.
Recently, new techniques have made it possible to use silk to make innovative products such as drug delivery systems and holograms.