Silk is created from cocoons that silkworms spin. But how is silk made into fabric? Here is a step-by-step explanation of the fascinating process of making silk.
Even though silk has a long history—dating back thousands of years—it is still regarded as one of the most expensive, opulent fabrics. Little has changed in the production of silk over all those years.
Despite technological advancements in production methods, producing silk is still a labor-intensive process that requires a lot of effort.
Here are the 7 Steps in the Making of Silk.
How is Silk Made into Fabric?
Making silk yarn can begin once the silkworms have undergone their pupal stage inside their cocoons.
First, the cocoons from the montages must be collected. Seven to eight days after the silkworms began spinning their cocoons, the harvest is carried out. You can split a few cocoons in half to see if the pupae have developed completely.
A fully developed pupa is tough and brown in hue. In order to protect the delicate silk fibers, the cocoons are carefully picked by hand.
Stifling & Sorting
The pupa must be put to death in order to prevent the cocoon’s silk from being broken and the egg from hatching. Stifling is the term for this action, which is typically carried out with hot air or steam.
Additionally, stifling dries out the cocoon, allowing for longer preservation. Following that, the cocoons can be sorted according to their quality and various features, including the length, shape, color, and luster of the silk fiber.
Some cocoons might be deemed unsuitable for further processing and discarded. Mold growth, perforations, and urine stains are a few examples of cocoon flaws.
The cocoons will be stifled once more before being heated to prepare them for unreeling. In order to soften the cocoons, hot water is used. Finding the end of the single silk fiber that forms the cocoons is made simpler by cooking them. The process of relaxing them is also made simpler.
Boiling the cocoons softens the silk, which is another advantage. A process of degumming is triggered by the cooking of the cocoons. The process of degumming involves removing sericin proteins from silk fibers.
Sericin, a gummy-like protein, coats fibroin, the other protein found in silk. Two filaments of fiber can bond with the help of sericin. However, silk has a slightly rougher feel due to the sericin, which makes it more difficult to dye. The hard sericin protein is softened by cooking the cocoons, giving them a smoother texture and feel.
Even after being cooked, the cocoons may still have some loose fiber on their surface, giving them a fuzzy appearance. The silk fibers that make up this fuzzy layer are shattered and uneven. In a procedure known as deflossing, the loose fiber is taken out of the cocoons.
The value of the cocoons is increased through deflossing, which also gives them a neat appearance and facilitates further processing.
Reeling is the stage of the silk production process where silk cocoons are transformed into threads of silk yarn. Reeling is the process of unfolding the cocoon and weaving together numerous silk fibers into a single strand of silk. Formerly done by hand, reeling is now largely automated using machines.
The machine’s rotating brushes seize the end of the silk filament from a cocoon during reeling. The reel then rapidly unravels the cocoon while simultaneously drying the silk.
A single silk strand is too thin to be used by itself. For this reason, multiple cocoons’ filaments are reeled together at once to create a single strand of silk yarn.
Depending on the preferred silk yarn thickness, the number of cocoons reeled together can range from 2 to 20. Due to the delicate nature of the fibers, 1 pound of silk requires approximately 2500 cocoons.
The remaining silkworm pupae are sometimes saved after the cocoons are removed and shipped to nations like China, South Korea, and Thailand, where they are prepared into meals or consumed as snacks.
Twisting & Dying
The silk yarn threads are now taken out of the reels after reeling is finished. The silk is then twisted into bundle-forming spirals. Skeins are another name for these yarn bundles.
You can add more silk threads and twist them together, or you can increase the twist in a single silk thread. Depending on the type of fabric the silk will be woven in, a different amount of twisting may be required.
The silk yarn is prepared for dyeing after twisting. Either before or after the silk thread is woven into fabrics, you can dye the silk. Due to the structure of the fibroin proteins, which make up the majority of silk, dyeing silk is simple.
Silk readily absorbs the dye, and the colors will be vivid. Silk contains both positive and negative ions, so the majority of commercial dyes work well on it.
The silk threads are wound onto spools or tubes after twisting and dying. The silk yarn is now prepared for sale or for weaving into textiles.
The process of weaving the threads turns silk yarn into silk fabric. Silk weaving is a complex process. Charmeuse, also known as satin, is one of the most well-known techniques for weaving silk.
A smooth and shiny silk fabric is produced by the tight weave of charmeuse. A dull back and glossy front characterize silk charmeuse fabrics. Floating the lengthwise thread over three or more transverse threads creates this appearance.
The popular silk weaves silk chiffon, silk twill, silk crepe, and silk habotai are among others. Each of these weaves uses a different technique to layer and weave the silk yarn, creating fabrics with various textures and aesthetics.
The completed silk textiles can be used to create silk scarves, shirts, ties, pocket squares, and other items. The process of making silk comes to an end here.
What is Silk Made Of?
While there are now a huge variety of different types of insects used to produce silk, the most commonly used species is the larvae of ‘Bombyx Mori – (the caterpillar of the domestic silkmoth). These amazing silkworms produce one of the most valuable materials with numerous excellent qualities.
One silk filament is stronger than a comparable steel filament, despite silk being lustrous, lightweight, and durable.
How is Silk Fabric Used?
There are countless applications for silk. For our purposes, however, we’ll separate the potential purposes of this fabric into consumer and industrial categories:
The production of clothing is the most frequent consumer application of silk. Since it is so soft and durable, silk has been prized for thousands of years, and consumers still favor real silk over synthetic alternatives.
Here is how to care for silk fabric:
- How to Wash Silk?
- How to Repair Damaged Silk Fabric?
- How to Dye Silk Fabric?
- How to Iron Silk?
- Does Silk Shrink in the Dryer and When Washed?
Scarves, shirts, blouses, and eveningwear are a few examples of consumer apparel made from silk. Silk is a preferred material for men’s lingerie and underwear because of its lightweight and soft qualities. Silk can be used in the home to create decorative wall hangings, pillows, and curtains.
Despite the availability of synthetic materials for this use, silk is still frequently used in the production of parachute materials due to its strength and lightweight.
Additionally, silk surgical sutures are used by doctors and surgeons to close wounds and surgical incisions. This fiber is excellent for this application because it is very thin and has antibacterial qualities.
Where Does Silk Come From?
The large majority of the world’s silk supply comes from China, with India and Japan far behind in the rankings. Not only does China produce the most silk worldwide, but it was also China where silk was first discovered.
China is where the oldest silk artifacts have ever been located; they are roughly 5,600 years old and date back to the year 3630 BC. Even a written mention of silk was discovered on a piece of bronze from the approximately 3,600-year-old Shang Dynasty that was made in Anyang!
According to legend, silk was discovered in the Henan region of China around 3000 BC when Empress Liezu noticed that a silkworm cocoon had fallen into her hot tea while she was relaxing in the garden.
The Empress was fascinated by this strange phenomenon as the cocoon slowly began to unravel while it was submerged in her tea. When she removed the cocoon from her tea, she saw that it had relaxed and had turned into a single, long, thin, soft silk fiber.
By 1600–1046 BC, production techniques for silk had advanced significantly as a result of silk’s popularity in Asia following the Empress’s discovery.
Although centuries have passed, the processes used to make silk have largely remained the same, and this lovely old fabric is still as luscious and desirable as it was thousands of years ago.
Conclusion: How is Silk Made into Fabric?
Through a process known as sericulture, silkworms naturally produce silk fibers. In sericulture, silkworms consume mulberry leaf beds as they grow to maturity before spinning themselves into cocoons.
In order to extract the silk threads, which can then be dyed, spun, woven, and finished, the cocoons are then submerged in boiling water.
These days, there are many synthetic fabrics that can replace silk. To this day, however, nothing compares to the quality, appearance, and sensation of natural silk. Our efforts to preserve the centuries-old practices of silk production and silk farming should make us proud.
Is Silk Made by Killing Silkworms?
Contrastingly, traditional silk involves the death of the silk larvae inside the cocoons through steaming, boiling, or sun-drying. One pound of silk requires the death of 3,000 silkworms, and a silk sari necessitates the death of 10,000 of them, claims PETA.
Can Silk Be Made Without Killing Silkworms?
Ahimsa Silk, also known as Peace Silk, is an ethical substitute for regular silk. It is a kind of silk that is made without causing harm to silkworms.
Is It Cruel to Make Silk?
The process of creating silk can harm the integrity of the fibron. To make the process simpler and more effective, farmers will occasionally boil the silkworms alive, but this leads to a more cruel end product of silk. They could occasionally even be gassed alive.