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Textiles - Silk - Research Paper Example

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Ancient Chinese first developed silk fabric, with the earliest examples dating back to 3500 BC. Legend gives credit to a Chinese empress, Hsi-Ling-Shih, Lei-Tzu for discovering silk. Legend has it that she was in her garden sipping tea when a cocoon fell into the cup and since the tea was hot; the long silk strand was loosened. Apparently, she later raised silkworms and made a loom which she used to make silk fabrics. Originally, silks were reserved for the Chinese Kings for their use and presents to others. They later spread gradually in the Chinese culture and traded socially and geographically in Asia. It became a luxury fabric in the areas with access to Chinese merchants due to its lusture and texture. The demand for silk skyrocketed and became a staple of international trade (Philippa, 1993). There is evidence of the trade in silk from silk found in the hair of a 21st dynasty mummy, c.1070 BC in Egypt. This trade reached as far as the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, North Africa, and Europe. The trade was very extensive such that the main trade route between Asia and Europe came to be named the Silk Road. The Chinese emperors tried to keep sericulture knowledge so as to maintain a monopoly. Nonetheless, it reached Korea by 200 BC, ancient Khotan in around 100 AD, and India around AD 140. However, Chinese silk was the most sought-after and lucrative luxury item. It traded across the Asian and European continents with many civilizations like the ancient Persians economically benefiting from the trade. Today, the major producers of silk are India (14%) and China (54%). Japan is the leading consumer of Silk (Sara, 2007). Silk moths lay their eggs which later hatch to caterpillars (silkworms). The caterpillars are fed with fresh mulberry leaves. Thirty five days later, they are 10,000 times heavier compared to when hatched. A straw frame is put over the tray with caterpillars. Each caterpillar spins a cocoon when it moves its head in a certain pattern. Liquid silk is produced by two glands which force it through the head openings called spinnerets. It is coated with sericin, a protective water-soluble gum which solidifies on contact with air. Between 2–3 days, a caterpillar can spin about a mile of filament, encasing itself in a complete cocoon. Sadly, silk farmers kill most of the caterpillars by heat. Only a few are left to metamorphose into moths which breed a new generation of caterpillars. The cocoons are harvested and soaked into boiling water for the sericin which holds the silk fibers in a cocoon to soften. The fibers are unwound to make a continuous thread. Between three to ten threads are spun together forming a single silk thread (Sara, 2007). Sericulture refers to the raw production of silk through raising silkworms. Silkworm production relies on various environmental elements which affect silk production feasibility in many parts of the world. Since the harvesting process kills the larvae, animal rights and welfare activists have criticized the sericulture process. This led to Mohandas Gandhi promoting cotton spinning machines. In addition, he promoted Ahimsa silk (wild silk) made from the cocoons of semi-wild and wild silk moths. It is promoted in Southern India catering for people who do not prefer silk produced through killing of silkworms. The PETA organization has also campaigned against silk (Sara, 2007). Silk from silkworms is composed of two major proteins, fibroin and sericin. ...Show more


Textiles-Silk Instructor: Textiles-Silk Silk is a naturally occurring protein fibre with some forms which are woven into textiles. The silk protein fibre is mainly composed of fibroin which is produced by insect larvae forming cocoons…
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Textiles - Silk essay example
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