“A silkworm spins all its silk till its death and a candle won’t stop its tears until it is fully burnt.”
-Tang Poem
Silk Chinese Blue Ladies JacketSilk has been a huge part of Chinese culture and tradition since roughly 2,640 B.C. Legend states that an ancient empress, Lei Zu, the wife of the Yellow Emperor and the daughter of XiLing-Shi, was the first person to discover the beauty of a silkworm’s cocoon and therefore, silk. As empress Lei Zu drank tea under a tree in her garden, a silk worm’s cocoon fell into her cup. She picked up the soft white cocoon and began to wrap the thread around her finger. As the silk ran out, she discovered the small larvae which had woven itself inside. She immediately understood that this caterpillar larvae was the source of the silk. Lei Zu shared this awareness with her people and it became widespread.

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.

Gorgeous Chinese Shawl, Double-sided embroidered silk crepe