A silkworm’s cocoon is a single thread of raw silk about 1,000 to 3,000 feet long. The fibers are very beautiful and delicate, being only about 10 micrometers in diameter. About 2,000 to 3,000 cocoons are required to make a pound of silk. At least 70 million pounds of raw silk are produced each year, requiring nearly 10 billion pounds of mulberry leaves, which is the Chinese silkworms’ preferred diet.
In China, silk is extremely popular, and fine fabrics have been made from silkworms for thousands of years. The Silk Road, so known because merchants traveled it with their wares beginning around 200 BC, eventually extended across land and sea routes as far as India and all the way to the Red Sea. One of my favorite and least-known stories is about the women who traded as merchants along the Silk Road. For propriety’s sake, they would “marry” dead men, so that they could ply their trade as married women and be free to travel alone.
China has a long, deep history with silk, and on our next China trip, you can see this process for yourself! We’re headed there October 9-21, 2012.