As the story has it, silk was discovered in China around 2700 BC during the reign of emperor Huang Di. At some point either he or his wife, Hsi Ling-Shi, accidentally dropped a silkworm cocoon into a cup of freshly poured tea. A single thread unwound from the mass of the cocoon, and intrigued whichever one of them noticed it. In one version of the story Hsi Ling-Shi discovered all the properties of silk on her own, while in another Huang Di asked her to research the new finding. In either case, Hsi Ling-Shi discovered all the methods of raising silkworms, then boiling and collecting the silk, and was later deified as Seine-Than -- goddess of the silkworms.

Whether or not any of this ever happened, Chinese silk production really does go back about 5000 years, which makes it much older than iron-working. In 139 BC the Silk Road was opened between China and the Eastern edge of the Mediterranean sea, and for centuries before that various traders moved the product from East to West. Silk may have been the deciding factor in the meeting of Eastern and Western culture. Even so, the secrets of growing silkworms and making silk (collectively known as sericulture) were guarded well; it wasn't until 300 AD that sericulture even got as far West as India. In 522 AD emperor Justinian was finally able to get silkworm eggs smuggled all the way to Rome, and the prized Chinese secret was secret no more. It caught on quickly in Eastern europe, and when a revolution caused China's foreign trade to be discontinued in 877, Western silk prices were hardly affected.

Western culture made some innovations on silk production, but was never able to reproduce some qualities of Chinese, Korean, and Indian silk. 1801 saw Joseph Jacquard's invention of the Jacquard loom, which could weave patterns from colored silk without (much) human intervention. The loom is still mentioned today because it surprising similarity to a primitive computer, including a counting mechanism and its method of reading patterns from punched cards. Louis Pasteur also contributed to sericulture by stopping the silkworm disease Pebrine; this work may have given him the idea for his germ theory of disease. Despite all the Western interest and innovation, political revolution in China during the late 1970's lead to their again becoming the world's largest silk producer; a process that's still important nearly five millennia after its invention.

The silkworm itself is the only member of its family, and has the name Bombyx Mori. No members of this species have been found in the wild, and if planted there Bombyx Mori will not survive; it is a completely domesticated animal. Silkworms are only able to eat leaves from the mulberry (Morus) genus, though an artificial silkworm food is available. Mulberry leaves and stems exude latex, which is the first step in the chemical process that makes silk, and also makes the mulberry inedible to most other insects.

During its lifetime the silkworm goes through three morphological stages: larva, pupa, and adult moth. Larval stage itself is made up of four molts (technically known as instar stages), and the fifth instar stage is also the pupal stage. As of the fourth instar stage, the silkworm is about three inches long and has eight pairs of legs. At this point the silkworm spends three or four days spinning its cocoon, entering the pupal stage. Were the pupa allowed to continue and become an adult, the moth would have a wingspan of about two inches and be covered with fuzz. Both males and females have fat, un-aerodynamic bodies, but females tend to be a bit larger. Neither sex is able to fly, and both live only a few days as adults.

Silk is made by two glands which produce the protein fibroin. Each fibroin strand is coated within the gland by another protein, sericin, which is sticky and stiffens when exposed to air. A specialized organ named the spinarette (also found in spiders) spins these two fibers together and ejects them from the silkworm's body. As the silkworm makes specialized movements, the silk gradually builds up into a cocoon shape. As has been noted many times, the silk fiber is around five times as strong as a steel fiber of the same diameter, and once protected against predators in the wild.

To harvest the silk, the farmer drops a bunch of cocoons into very hot water (or steams them) to loosen up the sericin. Then a loose end is found, and wound together with the silk from five to fifteen more cocoons. Machines can automate this procedure, but the highest quality silk is hand-harvested. Each cocoon's single thread is somewhere between 800 and 3000 feet long. Because of silk's lightness, it takes 1500 silkworm cocoons to produce one kilogram of silk. Some sericulturists eat the now-boiled pupae, while others crush them for oil, and others simply discard them.

A brand of Soy milk. Comes in many flavors including chocolate and vanilla. Many claim that they cannot tell the difference between Silk (tm) and actual milk. Very popular among the vegan and vegetarian crowd.

Silk is a character in David Eddings'popular series of books, the Belgariad and appears briefly in his second series of books - the Mallorean.

Silk's real name is Prince Khedlar, as he is, in fact, nephew to the King of Drasnia - Rhodar. Silk also goes by the name of Ambar of Kotu and Radek of Boktor.

Although not much is known about Silk's past, mentions of it arise regularly throughout the stories. These include infiltrating the palace of Cherek, crashing a spice ship into the Hook of Arendia and he is well known for his adventures at The Great Fair in Arendia.

One of Silk's many (and possibly his best) quirks is his love for his aunt. This is made worse by the fact that his aunt is also the Queen of Drasnia. Another of Silk's traits is the his ability to shift the muscles in his face to look like somebody completely different.

Silk is a great character because he is so unpredictable and is a generally awful person, but extremely likable.

How to wash silk

A few years ago I found myself in the situation that I had a silk shirt that needed washing. The problem was that I had never washed silk before and was afraid of ruining it, so I did a web search and found some very contradictory and confusing advice.

Eventually, after adding all the advice up and drawing some conclusions, I came up with this method which has worked well for me since then:

  • Hand wash.
  • Use shampoo. The shampoo should be ordinary plain, unperfumed, hair shampoo. (You do not want to get some expensive shampoo that is designed to add stuff to your hair. Also, you do not want to get "two-in-one shampoo" with conditioner in it, for the same reason.)
  • Iron while it's still fairly wet (but not dripping). No need to iron it dry though, just iron until it gets nice and smooth.
  • Let it dry on a hanger (assuming we're still talking about shirts).

The idea about using shampoo makes sense because it is designed to gently clean the same type of dirt (sweat and grease from your skin) as you would get on your silk shirts (especially the collars).

Silk (?), n. [OE. silk, selk, AS. seolc, seoloc; akin to Icel. silki, SW. & Dan. silke; prob. through Slavic from an Oriental source; cf. Lith. szilkai, Russ. shelk', and also L. sericum Seric stuff, silk. Cf. Sericeous. Serge a woolen stuff.]


The fine, soft thread produced by various species of caterpillars in forming the cocoons within which the worm is inclosed during the pupa state, especially that produced by the larvae of Bombyx mori.


Hence, thread spun, or cloth woven, from the above-named material.


That which resembles silk, as the filiform styles of the female flower of maize.

Raw silk, silk as it is wound off from the cocoons, and before it is manufactured. -- Silk cotton, a cottony substance enveloping the seeds of the silk-cotton tree. -- Silk-cotton tree Bot., a name for several tropical trees of the genera Bombax and Eriodendron, and belonging to the order Bombaceae. The trees grow to an immense size, and have their seeds enveloped in a cottony substance, which is used for stuffing cushions, but can not be spun. -- Silk flower. Bot. (a) The silk tree. (b) A similar tree (Calliandra trinervia) of Peru. -- Silk fowl Zool., a breed of domestic fowls having silky plumage. -- Silk gland Zool., a gland which secretes the material of silk, as in spider or a silkworm; a sericterium. -- Silk gown, the distinctive robe of a barrister who has been appointed king's or queen's counsel; hence, the counsel himself. Such a one has precedence over mere barristers, who wear stuff gowns. [Eng.] -- Silk grass Bot., a kind of grass (Stipa comata) of the Western United States, which has very long silky awns. The name is also sometimes given to various species of the genera Aqave and Yucca. -- Silk moth Zool., the adult moth of any silkworm. See Silkworm. -- Silk shag, a coarse, rough-woven silk, like plush, but with a stiffer nap. -- Silk spider Zool., a large spider (Nephila plumipes), native of the Southern United States, remarkable for the large quantity of strong silk it produces and for the great disparity in the sizes of the sexes. -- Silk thrower, Silk throwster, one who twists or spins silk, and prepares it for weaving. Brande & C. -- Silk tree Bot., an Asiatic leguminous tree (Albizzia Julibrissin) with finely bipinnate leaves, and large flat pods; -- so called because of the abundant long silky stamens of its blossoms. Also called silk flower. -- Silk vessel. Zool. Same as Silk gland, above. -- Virginia silk Bot., a climbing plant (Periploca Gr&ae;ca) of the Milkweed family, having a silky tuft on the seeds. It is native in Southern Europe.


© Webster 1913.

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