Although considered a fiber of animal origin, silk has unique characteristics and qualities that are very different from other protein fibers.
This is why we are devoting a special article to it.
Silk belongs to the fibroin protein family. It is an insoluble protein created by spiders, larvae of bombyx mori (silkworm) and other kinds of butterflies.
The Bombyx mori is native to northern China. According to a Chinese legend transcribed by Confucius, silk was discovered around 4,000 years ago by Empress Leizu, wife of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi.
A silkworm cocoon is said to have fallen into Empress Leizu's teacup. Wanting to extract it from her drink, the young girl unrolled the thread of the cocoon…. The idea then came to him to weave it. According to her husband's recommendation, Leizu began to observe the life of the mulberry moth.
Thereafter, she raised them and taught this art which would become sericulture.
Today, the young woman appears in Chinese mythology as "The Goddess of Silk".
For more than two millennia, China kept the secret of making silk which was reserved for making imperial clothing.
Gradually, with the increase in travel and the growth of trade, silk crossed borders and gave birth to “The Silk Road”. China, however, retained the monopoly of its production and trade.
An imperial law condemned to death anyone attempting to export the silkworms or even their eggs. Up to the borders of the Roman Empire, silk became a monetary standard used to estimate the value of different products.
How was the secret of sericulture stolen from the Chinese? There are several versions of this story: for some, it was two monks sent by Emperor Justinian in 552 who brought back silkworm eggs, hidden in a bamboo tree. For others it would be the Han emperor Wu (2nd century AD) who sent ambassadors with gifts including precious silk to the West. Subsequently, production spread across Western Europe and Persia.
Looking at the characteristics of silk, we understand why China wanted to keep its precious secret on pain of death.
Silk is extremely soft and supple to the touch in addition to being very light. Its shiny and luminous appearance gives it a luxurious appearance. Its production is very laborious and expensive. For centuries, it was a symbol of wealth and success. Provided with great resistance, silk keeps its shape and has a lot of movement and drape. It keeps you cool in summer and provides warmth in winter. The yarn is elastic, but much less than that of sheep's wool.
Silk is one of the most imitated fibers. It served as a model for the development of the first artificial fibers, highly resistant and at lower cost. The results of course do not match the precious thread…