For over 5,000 years, the history
of silk and the history of China have been closely intertwined.
The famous Silk Road was the very important trade road in ancient
time. It made great contribution to the development of the human's
civilization. The methods of silk production were carefully guarded
secrets for most of those years. For centuries silk has been one
of China's most important items of trade.
The history of Chinese silk
According to archeological evidence, silk and silk fabric emerged
in China at least 5,500 years ago. It was said that the demigod
Leizu, a legendary figure of prehistoric China, who first planted
mulberries and raised silkworms.
During the Zhou Dynasty (11th century-221BC), a special administration
was set up to manage sericulture (silkworm breeding) and silk production.
The famous Silk Road to the Middle East and Europe was opened in
the western Han Dynasty (206BC-25AD). Gradually, sericulture and
silk production techniques spread to other countries. Chinese silk
was highly prized among the wealthy of the Ancient Roman Empire.
Today, Chinese silk still enjoys high reputation for its superb
quality throughout the world.
One circular life of silkworm
Silkworm has three distinct morphological stages: larva, pupa and
moth. After hatching from the egg, actually the larva is not really
a worm at all but a caterpillar. larvae go through four molts as
they grow. During each molt, the old skin is exuviated and a new,
larger one is produced. The silk worm larval life is divided into
five instars, separated by four molts.
The egg of silkworm is very tiny as a pinhead. A female moth can
lay 500 or more eggs in four to six days and dies soon after. The
eggs must be kept at 65 degrees F, increasing gradually to 77 degrees
at which point they hatch. The larvae hatch in about 10 days and
the baby worms are about 0.6cm long. They eat day and night every
half hour on fresh, hand-picked and chopped mulberry leaves until
they are very fat. Also a fixed temperature has to be maintained
throughout. Thousands of feeding worms are kept on trays. A roomful
of munching of silkworms sounds like heavy rain falling on the roof.
The newly hatched silkworm multiplies its weight 10,000 times within
a month, changing color and shedding its whitish-gray skin several
The silkworms keep on eating until they have stored
up enough energy to enter the cocoon stage. At this time they can
be 7.5cm long. While they are growing they have to be protected
from loud noises, strong smells such as those of fish and meat and
even the odor of sweat. When it is time to build their cocoons,
the worms produce a jelly-like substance in their silk glands, which
hardens when it comes into contact with air. Silkworms spend three
or four days spinning a cocoon around themselves until they look
like puffy, white balls.
After eight or nine days in a warm, dry place the cocoons are ready
to be unwound. Cocoons cannot be stored with a long time because
the pupa (chrysalis) remains alive it will begin to secrete alkali,
which eats its way through the cocoon, ruining the silk threads.
So they are steamed or baked to kill the pupas. The cocoons are
then soaked into hot water to loosen the tightly woven filaments.
These filaments are unwound onto a spool. Each cocoon is made up
of a filament between 600 and 900 meters long! Between five and
eight of these super-fine filaments are combined together to make
one yarn. An interesting fact is that about 1,000 meters of filament
can be unwound from one cocoon, while 110 cocoons are needed for
a man's tie, and 630 cocoons are needed for a woman's blouse.
After the silk is harvested from the cocoons it is brought to the
weavers for dyeing and preparation for weaving. Today most dyes
are chemical dye but before it is vegetable dye.
Broken or waste filaments and damaged cocoons are retained, treated
to remove the sericin, and combed. This is then processed into yarn,
marketed as spun silk, which is inferior in character to the reeled
product and much cheaper. Low grade silk is made from damaged cocoons
that were spoiled by emerging moths used for breeding stock. Filaments
from the coarse outer portion of the cocoon, which is removed by
brushing before reeling, and the inner portion of the cocoon, which
remains after reeling the raw silk, are mixed with silk from damaged
cocoons to make low grade silk.
Finally the silk threads are used for suits, coats, trousers, jackets,
shirts, handkerchiefs, ties, lingerie, hosiery, scarves, bedspreads,
gloves, lace, curtains, silk quilt, linings and handbags. They are
also used for embroidery work, and silk carpets.
Characteristics of silk
Silkworms possess a pair of specially modified salivary glands called
sericteries, which are used for the production of a clear, viscous,
proteinaceous fluid that is forced through openings called spinnerets
on the mouthpart of the larva. As the fluid comes into contact with
the air it hardens. The diameter of the spinneret determines the
thickness of the silk thread, which is produced as a long, continuous
filament. Silk is a natural protein fiber containing about 70-75%
of actual fiber fibroin and about 25-30% sericin. Silk filaments
are very fine and long - as much as 300 to 900 meters in length.
Silk has a high natural luster and sheen of a white or cream color;
and is one of the strongest fibers at 2.6 to 4.8 grams per denier.
When it is dry the elongation (elastic recovery) varies from 10-25%
and when wet it will elongate as much as 33-35%. Silk has a relatively
high standard moisture regain of 11%. At saturation the regain is
25-35%. Silk can be dyed before or after it has been woven into
a cloth. It can be woven or knitted.
Due to the quality of silk, the silk products are not only beautiful
and lightweight but also they are warm in cool weather and cool
in hot weather. At the same time silk products are moisture proof,
germproof, antistatic and anti-worms. So they are very good for
health. Chinese silk products are very welcomed by the people from
all over the world.
Embroidery is an excellent traditional Chinese handicraft. The unearthed
silk painting and embroidery proved that its history was over 3000
years. At present, the piece of embroidery of the Shang Dynasty
(1600BC-1100BC) found in Henan Province is the earliest embroidery
handicraft in China.
The silk embroidery in ancient China had great influence on the
people’s material and cultural life. It was also the main article
for exporting via the Silk Road. During the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD)
the technology of silk embroidery reached a fairly high level. In
the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the folk embroidery of different providences
with different styles mainly formed into four categories: Suxiu
Embroidery in Suzhou, Xiangxiu Embroidery in Hunan, Shuxiu Embroidery
in Sichuan and Yuexiu Embroidery in Guangdong.
After the People’s Republic of China was established,
the art of painting and photography has been applied on the silk
embroidery that created a terrific effect. They look like paintings
from distance but embroidery at close quarters. At the same time
the usage of silk embroidery was also expanded from the costumes
to tablecloth, bedspread, pillowcases, screens and wall hangings.
Embroidered works have become very complicated and exquisite today.
The double-sided embroidered cat is one representative work of suxiu
Embroidery. The artists split the hair-thin colored silk thread
into filament, which can be half, quarter, 1/8 or even 1/48 of its
original thickness. They use these very thin filaments in embroidering.
But the thousands of ends and joints cannot be seen just like disappearing.
The finished work is a cute and lovely looking cat on both sides
of the groundwork. The most difficult part of the work is the eyes
of the cat. In order to give them luster and life, silk filaments
of more than twenty colors of shade have to be used. Recently the
double-sided silk embroidery has developed further innovations.
The same design on both sides is embroidered in different colors
and totally different designs on both sides can be embroidered on
the same groundwork. That is really incredible artwork.
The four famous categories of silk embroidery represent
the artistic value and workmanship of Chinese embroidery.
Suxiu Embroidery is known for its neat stitches, elegant colors
and fine quality. Smooth, neat, bright, even, fine and tight are
its feature. The subjects of its embroidering are mostly cats, finish
and shrimps. The double-sided Suxiu Embroidery with two sides that
can be appreciated is really exquisite.
Xiangxiu Embroidery has bright colors. It always
uses Chinese paintings as its background. The mountains, rivers,
pavilions, birds and animals are embroidered realistically and lifelike.
The techniques of Xiangxiu Embroidery are manifested fully in the
embroidery of tigers and lions. Their hair is embroidered with fine
lines. There is a saying: On Xiangxiu Embroidery tiger can run,
bird can sing, flowers are fragrant and people are lifelike.
Shuxiu Embroidery is characterized by its simple structure, bright
colors, well-knit stitches, smooth surface and traditional decorator
designs such as squares and stripes. Its subjects are mostly butterflies,
carps, pandas and so on.
Yuexiu Embroidery is always done with gold or silver threads, which
are neat and bright. It has tight layout, decorator designs and
gorgeous surface. It is mostly used in theatrical costumes and wedding
gowns. Peacocks, dragon, phoenix are its traditional subjects.
Chinese Silk carpets
Chinese carpets have centuries-old history and enjoy a great reputation.
Assimilating the essence of Persian carpets, the skillful Chinese
craftsmen improved the workmanship to the peak of perfection and
they knotted very refined Persian design pure silk carpets which
can match or exceed the Iranian Qum silk rugs in quality and workmanship.
Due to the high quality and competitive price Chinese Persian design
silk rugs are welcomed in the high-end market. However this handicraft
industry is declining in output in the new century because the weavers
switch to other jobs instead of knotting rugs. So the high quality
Chinese silk rugs will disappear soon and absolutely the value will
increase a lot with the passing of time.
you have interest in Chinese silk rugs please go to this web site
to learn more detailed information.