Silk fabric is widely regarded as the most luxurious textile on the planet. Its tumultuous history, rife with wars, secrecy, and centuries of trade, bears little resemblance to the fabric's current reputation for being the epitome of high fashion.
The most abundant form of silk, a natural protein fiber, is cultivated from the cocoon of mulberry silkworm larvae. Silkworms lay eggs on special paper and eat only fresh mulberry leaves. Thirty-five days after hatching, the silkworms begin spinning their cocoons. Each cocoon yields 1,000 yards of raw silk thread, which is then spun to produce a “yarn” of silk. The process is time-consuming and delicate, which explains the high cost of silk. The fiber gets its brilliant shimmer from its structure, a triangular prism that reflects light at varying angles. Another variant of silk, “wild silk”, is produced by caterpillars other than the mulberry silkworm, and can be harvested in captivity much like traditional silk. The color and texture of wild silk tends to differ from the cultivated variety, and the fibers are typically shorter, due to damage by the emerging moth. To preserve the long, silken strands of fiber in cultivated cocoons, the larvae inside is typically pierced with a needle, and the cocoon is unraveled without damage.
Silk's textile origins date back to 6000 BC, when the wife of the Yellow Emperor, Xi Ling-Shi, went for a walk among damaged mulberry trees and noticed glistening threads attached to worms eating the plant's leaves. Historians disagree about how long it took before Xi Ling-Shi realized the silkworms cocoons could be harvested into silk, but one version recounts the Empress dropping a cocoon into her tea and watching it unravel into silken threads. China maintained a monopoly on silk trade for thousands of years and orchestrated an intricate and famous trade system eventually extending as far west as Europe and Africa, which was known as the Silk Road. High-quality silk was also produced in Thailand, India and eventually Western Europe, but the material wasn't introduced to America until the 17th century; early settlers simply could not afford the expensive cloth. Synthetics were later developed as a substitute for the luxurious feel of silk fabric, but they dyed poorly and lacked the shimmering quality of silk's light-refracting prisms.
Today, silk fabrics are prevalent in every country: from Indian saris to French couture gowns, it has pervaded all cultures. Its low conductivity keeps one warm in the winter, while its great absorbency wicks moisture away during summer. The feel of silk fabric is unmistakable: smooth and luxurious, the fabric ripples like the surface of water. This quality makes it especially suitable for sexy lingerie and elegant dresses. It is a fabric reserved for special occasions, a cloth meant to enhance a moment. Check out our bountiful collection of silk fabrics.