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Home First Posted: Dec 2, 2009
Aug 13, 2010

Silk Making

by Lady Arianne de Chateaumichel
Silk Making

The following text is taken directly from the above web site with permission of the author. I thought it was an excellent article and well researched. The pictures that appear on this page were taken by me on our last trip to Viet Nam, and are copyright HorseHints.org.


Our Viet Nam Trip


Silk is undisputedly the most beautiful of all natural fibers, with its unearthly sheen. It is also uncommonly strong, even at its finest, when it is almost invisible. It is unlike any other fiber used to make fabrics, for it is neither grown in a field or on an animal. It is not manufactured in a factory. A humble caterpillar about the size of a woman's smallest finger produces the silk fiber, spinning it out of its mouth, using tiny fore-legs to place the silk where it should go. It is known scientifically as Bombyx mori, although other species of silkworm produce less famous types of silk (Franck, p. 46).

Since mankind discovered the wonder of the silkworm's floss, it has been used for the costliest of garments (Boucher, pp. 175 - 6). It has been the cause of espionage, murder, and wars (Franck, p. 86). Silken fabrics have traveled for thousands of miles from their origins at a time when few people traveled more than a hundred miles from their birthplaces in their entire lives (Crowfoot, p. 100). It would seem that such a fiber must be incredibly difficult to cultivate, but it is not. It is a time-consuming process, for every step must be done carefully and by hand, and growing the silkworms to the cocoon stage is only half the process. After the cocoon is formed, the silk must be cleaned and processed, into either filament or spun silk thread. It is then dyed to the desired colour or allowed to stay a pristine white and can be used for a myriad of different purposes, from fine cords to delicate tabletweavings and lush fabrics.

The process of making silk has not changed very much in the thousands of years since the silkworm's thread was first used, in ancient China. Wooden trays may be exchanged for the more sanitary plastic ones. Powdered silkworm chow is available for those without access to fresh mulberry leaves, making it possible for more people to grow silkworms, and at times of year when the mulberry leaves are not around. Over the centuries, the silkworm moth has lost its ability to fly, but that has little bearing on its care or cultivation. It is still a hands-on process involving live creatures, and takes a lot of time. But the result is certainly worth all the work and will certainly give one a truer understanding of why silk has been so desirable and so expensive throughout history.

A Short History of Silk Cultivation and Use

Silk was discovered to be a useful fibre in China, between 2697 and 2597 BCE, during the reign of Huang Ti, the Yellow Emperor. Legend has it that an Empress named Lei-tzu noticed some cocoons on some mulberry trees in the Imperial gardens. She took some away and was later playing with them when she accidentally dropped one in her tea. When she attempted to retrieve it, she found it loosened into one long strand. Whether this story is true or not, she is known to this day in China as Si Ling-chi, the "Lady of the Silkworm" (Franck, pps. 45-46).

The lustrous fiber was soon heavily cultivated, but the Chinese kept the secret of its cultivation and processing, allowing only finished fabrics and threads to leave the country. Merchants brought it to the far corners of the known world, even traveling to Europe along what was to become known as the "Silk Road", where Greeks and Romans, among others, paid extravagant prices for the luxurious fabrics (Franck, p. 3).

But the Chinese could not keep their monopoly forever. Legend has it that a Chinese princess living at about 400 CE, on her way to be married to a Khotan (Indian) prince, took some mulberry seeds and silkworm eggs with her, hidden in her elaborate headdress, so she would be able to continue dressing in silks in her new country (Franck, pps 158 - 9). Persian monks or travelers brought the secret of silk cultivation to Byzantium in the 6th century, during the reign of Justinian (Franck, pps. 157 - 8). Sericulture spread to Italy, Spain, and France during the late seventh century and reached England in the sixteenth century (Joseph, p. 118). During the colonization of the Americas, "James I tried to have a silk industry established in what is now the United States," although "his attempts and those that followed were never successful" (Joseph, p. 118). Now most silk is cultivated in nations where labour is cheaply available, but silkworms are sold by mail-order, and instructions for growing them and harvesting cocoons is posted on the Internet for anyone to read.

Silken materials were traded to far nations long before China lost its monopoly on silk production. The silk road is traditionally believed to have opened between 105 and 115 BCE, although it has been a trade route of sorts for two thousand years or more (Franck, p. 1). The Persians undertook massive public works in order to make it easier for caravans to travel through the great desert areas along their stretch of the Silk Road (Franck, p. 67). At least one Greek trader apparently traveled to all the way to China (Franck, pps. 67-8). Alexander the Great knew of silk and conquered halfway across the Silk Road, possibly in order to achieve some sort of control over the silk trade (Franck, p. 78). The Romans, who were originally quite shocked by the unusual properties of silk fabric, eventually desired it so much that they first tried to conquer the nations of the Silk Road before sending numerous ships out to trade for silks and other luxuries, even trading directly with the Chinese beginning in the 160's CE (Franck, pps. 120, & 131). As Franck writes:

With the trickle that crossed the Silk Road proper an the larger flow that followed the Spice Route, Asian luxuries soon made their mark not only in Rome itself, but also throughout the Roman Empire. Silk that had been spun in China, traded at Malaya or India, woven and dyed in Phoenicia, might be worn by patricians anywhere around the Mediterranean, from Anatolia to Spain (p. 119).

It was during this time that damask, a distinctly patterned type of silk fabric invented in the city for which it was named, became so desirable that some of this silk is known to have made the return journey all the way to China (Franck, p. 141).

Silk reached Roman Britain by the 3rd century C.E., as a child's grave from the second quarter of the century contains a geometric twill damask silk, one of the earliest patterned silks woven in western Europe (Crowfoot, p. 82). Another piece of silk cloth found in a 4th century grave is thought to have been woven in China (p. 82). Little if any silk is thought to have made its way to Britain during the fifth and sixth centuries, and a few silk threads, thought to have been used for embroidery, are the first archaeological evidence of silk in Britain in the seventh century, although "by c. 686 Aldhelm, a West Saxon churchman, described men and women as wearing tunics with silk-trimmed sleeves" (p. 82).

By the fourth and fifth centuries, life in the heart of the Byzantine Empire meant silk, at least for the wealthy. All who could dressed in silken robes, and buried their dead in silk winding sheets (Franck, p. 153). It was at this time that the Church, no longer poor, "began to use elaborate silken hangings, many of them heavily embroidered with gold and silver" (p. 153). There were five guilds in Constantinople alone that "dealt solely with trading or working with silk" (p. 153). Constantinople also commanded the trade of silk to the rest of Europe, and was always on the lookout for the best price for these silks (p. 153).

Large quantities of money changed hands as part of the silk trade, but little of it went to the actual silk workers, who were in danger of being kidnapped by rival nations (Franck, p. 154). Those in the Byzantine Empire might not be in danger of being kidnapped, but only because they were virtual prisoners (p. 154). These gynaecea, or imperial silk workshops, were staffed entirely by women, who were not allowed to leave (p. 154).

While silk cloth was produced in imperial Byzantine workshops by the sixth and seventh centuries, central Asia is believed to have been the source of many silk cloths found in England and the rest of Europe during the early medieval era (Crowfoot, pps. 83-4). This is due in large part to a battle that occurred in 751 CE between Chinese and Arab warriors (Franck, p. 204). The Arabs overran the Chinese forces and captured thousands of soldier-artisans, many of whom were papermakers or expert silkworkers (p. 204). These silkworkers now found themselves passing their millenia-old secret of filament, as opposed to the lower-quality spun, silk thread on to some of their biggest former customers, allowing them to produce the super-fine fabrics that could previously be made only with Chinese threads. From this point on, Moslem silkmakers produced "most of the silk for their own lands and for Western Europe" while "Byzantium's silk industry stagnated" (p. 204). Chinese-style sericulture spread with the Moslems to Spain and Sicily, from whence the knowledge eventually spread to the rest of Europe (p. 204). Some silks from the early medieval era are believed to have been produced in western Europe, although not in England (Crowfoot, p. 84).

Silks woven into many different varieties of narrow goods were used in various ways during the Middle Ages. Silk ribbon has been found, used to bind or face the edges of garments (Crowfoot, p. 158). Narrow lengths of silk tabletweaving, also called cardweaving, have been found strengthening the outer edge of a row of buttonholes (pps. 161-2). Wider lengths of cardwoven silk bands were used as trims, girdles, and ecclesiastic pieces, some with brocading, embroidery, and metal accents (Crockett, pps. 15 - 19). Around the eighth century, "[t]extiles... indicate that card weaving rapidly became a highly refined craft, even of court ladies, who were able to afford very fine silk in combination with gold and silver threads" (pps. 14 - 15).

The most famous use of silk through history is as fabric, and many fragments remain, with the earliest known in Britain dating from the mid-third century C.E. (Crowfoot, p. 82). Many are patterned, although the method of choice changes over time, and there are always some that are unadorned (pps. 83 - 120). By the tenth century, cords and braids made of silk could be made in England using imported floss, and both patterned and plain silk fabrics were available (p. 85). Silks woven as samite, damasks, compound twills, and weft-patterned tabbies soon became popular (pps. 85 - 6). In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, metal threads were used increasingly often in silk fabrics, eventually leading to the famous "cloth of gold" or "cloth of silver"(pps. 86 - 8, 103). Satin-woven silks arrive in England by the late thirteenth century (p. 122). They are followed by satin damasks, which supplanted twill damasks, during the fourteenth century (p. 124). Velvet, invented by the late thirteenth century, were made entirely from silk or used silk for the pile and a less expensive material for the backing (p. 127). The uses for these silk fabrics were extremely varied, as they were used for everything from pouches to garters, gowns and facings to ecclesiastic pieces and burial drapes (pps. 89, 93, 96, 104, & 114).


In ancient times, the Chinese grew their silkworms on trays and fed them fresh leaves from the white mulberry (Franck, p. 46). It is likely that cultures which received their silkworms from the Chinese used those same methods, although this was not stated in any of the books found on the subject.

With its massive trading empire based largely on silk, China nationalized its silk industry, demanding that taxes be paid in silk, produced by the women of the family (p. 46). If this silk was to be traded as fabric, rather than as thread, it was then "woven to specified widths in the imperial workshops" (p. 133). The Byzantine Empire used the same type of state-run workshops, called gynaecea, where women laboured to produce the desired fabrics under conditions of virtual imprisonment (p. 154). It is not stated how the Arabs or other nations produced their silks.

In modern times, it is suggested that amateur growers use "a Tupperware type plastic box... a container at least the size of a shoe box (preferably larger)" in which to grow the silkworms and a petri dish to keep them in as eggs and young silkworms (Mulberry Farms, "Hatching and Raising Instructions"). The petri dish is the container in which the eggs are shipped, although any small flat tray with a loosely-fitting lid should work just as well for this stage. The lady who donated my first tray of silkworms suggested growing them in a Glad Ovenware tray, size 9" by 12". This is the best priced tray this size that is generally available, and comes with its own lid, which the grower may wish to cut several holes in with a knife in order to maximize airflow while minimizing the chances of a spill. While it is not strictly necessary, the Sericulum people suggest lining each tray with a piece of wax paper in order to minimize messes and make cleanup easier ("Rearing the Domestic Silk Moth"). This practice is strongly encouraged.

The silkworms also need to eat, starting within hours of their emergence from the eggs. The ancients fed them the leaves of Mulberry trees, the same food they would have eaten in the wild (Franck, p. 46). Even today, this is the preferred food (Sericulum). Unfortunately, fresh mulberry leaves are not always available in the quantities that would be necessary to feed colonies of silkworms. It is therefore convenient that the people at Mulberry Farms sell a powdered concentrate made from mulberry leaves that is meant to be mixed with water and cooked, becoming a green block with a Velveeta-like consistency that can be sliced or grated and fed to the silkworms.

When the silkworms are ready to begin cocooning, they should be moved into a low tray containing a support structure on which they can build their cocoons. It is not mentioned what the Ancients gave their silkworms to use as supports when building their cocoons, but I've found that empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls work wonderfully, cut to length and given a quick dip in some melted wax. Each toilet paper roll produces three wax paper rings, and each paper towel roll produces six. Lining the trays with wax paper dramatically decreases the difficulty of removing cocoons later on, and makes it easier to clean the trays as well.

The silkworms in a colony tend to enter the cocooning stage within a week of each other, and one soon finds oneself needing a large number of wax paper rings. Even though the rings are usually reusable, one may need to find an alternative support structure for the cocoons. Egg cartons are the best backup, and folded pieces of unprinted cardboard or fiberboard work well, cut to size and fan-pleated to form valleys and peaks. The peaks can be tall enough to completely separate the different valley from each other, and two or three silkworms can be placed in each valley without overcrowding.

When the youngest cocoon in a tray is three to five days old, the cocoons in that tray should be completely built and strong enough to be hard to the touch. At this point, they can and should be moved out of the cocooning tray and placed in another tray that has been lined with a sheet of wax paper so they can age in a clean environment. If the silkworms are to be allowed to hatch, they can remain in this tray or others like it through emergence, mating, and egg-laying to their deaths. If they are to be baked, they need to be placed in a baking tray and killed in a warm oven. They can also be killed by being placed in the freezer, and their cocoons stored there until they are needed.

It is not known whether the ancients used a separate step to kill the silkworms in their cocoons prior to emergence, but they did prefer the long uncut strands from cocoons that were not pierced (Franck, p. 46). It is possible that they killed the silkworms in the next step, when the cocoons are allowed to soak in a pot of hot water until the seracin releases and the silk can be unreeled. For this step, any sort of pot or bowl will do, although one that can be placed on a hot stove makes the process simpler.

From ancient times, the preferred silks have always been the ones that could be reeled off in long continuous strand, for these make the best quality fabrics (Franck, p. 46). In order to do this, one needs a special piece of equipment that, at least in ancient China, resembles a large spinning wheel (p. 47). If one lacks this tool, called a silk reel, one can pull the threads off by hand and later spin the fibres. In this case, it is easier to spin these fibres later if they are snapped periodically as they are pulled off.

Overview of Silkworm Care

Originally, silkworms grew wild on mulberry trees, feeding on the soft new leaves and building their cocoons on the trees themselves. Early on, however, the Chinese commercialized silk manufacture, growing the silkworms in trays full of mulberry leaves (Franck, pps. 46 - 7). Each family was responsible for their own silkworm farm and depended on the women of the family to produce sufficient good-quality silk for them to pay their taxes (p. 47).

They must also be certain to leave enough silkworms alive in each batch to produce enough eggs for a viable next generation. While each female silkworm moth is capable of laying two to three hundred eggs, she cannot lay any if she does not mate (Sericulum, "Rearing the Domestic Silk Moth"). There is no way to tell male from female until they become moths. At this point, the males are noticeably smaller than the females, who are full of unfertilized eggs.

My first batch of silkworm eggs was ordered over the internet, and arrived in a petri dish. Upon receipt, the closed dish is placed on a tray with a folded piece of wet paper towel and covered with a bowl or lid, propped open for airflow. Within a few days, the eggs start hatching, and the dish is full of narrow black lines about a quarter of an inch long. These are gently transferred into another petri dish or other flat lidded dish containing a layer of silkworm chow. More can be added as they hatch, until the dish becomes full.

The silkworms can eat well off this for three to five days when their food starts to dry out and becomes covered by a thin layer of frass-laiden silk. At this point, they need to be carefully moved out of their dish into a clean one with fresh food. About three days later, this must happen again, and the colony should probably be divided if it hasn't already. After this point, they are large enough to live in a tray instead of a petri dish, and need to be moved to a new tray every time they are fed. Whenever there seem to be too many silkworms for the amount of food or space in the trays, the colonies are split again. How often this must happen is dependent upon the number of silkworms in the colony.

The silkworms grow quickly, as do their appetites. By the time they are about three weeks old, they need to be fed every day. The amount of frass they produce at this point is prodigious! Few die at this stage if the colonies are kept healthy in clean trays at the suggested temperature, which is between 78 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit (Mulberry Farms, "Hatching and Raising Instructions").

At about twenty-eight days of age, some of the silkworms start to spin silk in a meaningful fashion. These silkworms are immediately transferred to clean trays containing the cocooning structures, where they soon spin their cocoons.

This is a busy period in silkworm cultivation, for not only must the other silkworms be cared for in the regular fashion, but cocooning silkworms must be quickly transferred to cocooning trays. It is a bad idea to open a tray of cocooning silkworms, since most of them have attached their cocoons in some way to the lid of the tray and would be disturbed if it were lifted. Each tray must therefore be filled at one time, with no silkworms added later. It is recommended to check the feeding trays at least two or three times a day, removing all that are beginning to cocoon.

Additionally, the cocooning trays must all be checked at least once a day so that the new cocoons may all be dated. This is more important for cocoons in which the moths are to be killed than for cocoons from which the silkworm moths will be allowed to hatch, but it is still necessary to know when to expect the moths to hatch, so one can be around to carefully move them away from the cocoons and into a tray that has been prepared for mating moths. Otherwise, there will be eggs that are accidentally laid on nearby cocoons.

In order to prevent the moth from emerging from the cocoon, thereby cutting many of the fibers, it is generally suggested that the cocoons be baked at 200 degrees (F) for thirty minutes to kill the chrysalis inside. This is done five days after the cocoon was started, in order to maximize the amount of silk recovered (Sericulum, "Rearing the Domestic Silk Moth"). Some experts suggest that freezing is a kinder way to kill the moths, but it should still be done when the cocoon is five days old.

If one wishes to have a future generation of silkworms, a sufficient number of silkworms must be left alive to mate and produce eggs. Each couple is capable of producing two to three hundred eggs, but there is no way to tell male from female before emergence, and the moths are short-lived and unable to fly or otherwise travel far. The moths spend several days in a mating orgy, with males fighting each other for the females. The males die shortly after mating, and the females spend up to four days laying their eggs before also dying (Sericulum, "Rearing the Domestic Silk Moth"). The eggs must be kept refrigerated for the next several months in order to mature properly and begin the life cycle over again (Sericulum).

Use of Waste Products

At one time, every product of silkworm cultivation was kept and used. Even the chrysalis was used, as it was considered by some to be a delicacy. It would be roasted before being eaten (Franck, p. 46). While that use is too disgusting for this person to even consider, the frass, or silkworm feces, is perfect for use as a fertilizer. None of the books mention how the ancients used the frass, but it would make sense for them to have used it in the same manner. The small pellet size makes it convenient to use, and the forty-some roses and myriad other plants growing in my garden appreciate it greatly. Uneaten silkworm food is also disposed of in this way, as are dead silkworms and the few clumps of silk that cannot be cleaned. Food plants are not given the frass fertilizer, for health reasons.

In ancient times, the Chinese used silk that could not be used for any other purpose as an insulating batting in winter clothes (Franck, p. 46). So far, the only waste silk that this person has needed to find a use for is that from which she has been unable to clean the frass. Either it is possible to clean off all the frass and use this silk, or that reason for wasting silk was simply not mentioned.

Processing the Cocoons

The books do not mention how the ancients killed the silkworm chrysalis, unless they killed them when they placed the cocoons in hot water to unreel them, rather than as a separate step. However, in modern practice the moth is killed by freezing or by baking the cocoons in a two hundred degree (F) oven for thirty minutes (Sericulum, "Rearing the Domestic Silk Moth"). After that, one may wait to unreel the cocoons when one is ready to do so, as long as the cocoons are stored properly, preferably in a freezer. This is to prevent the chrysalis from decomposing and dirtying the silk. The smell is sufficient reason to keep these frozen!

When ready to unreel the cocoons, one fills a pot about half full with clean water and heats it to near boiling, placing the cocoons in the water at this time. After waiting a few minutes, one fishes a cocoon out of the water with a chopstick or other smooth implement, placing it on a smooth cloth that lies across a folded towel. The end of a strand is found and gently pulled on, slowly releasing the strand from the cocoon. This process has remained in use, virtually unchanged, since the earliest days of sericulture (Franck, pps 46 - 7).

If one has access to a silk reel, one can then do as the Chinese did and unwind the cocoons, several at a time, onto the reel, where the various strands are treated as one. If one continues as the Chinese did, one then twists these threads together slightly in a process called "throwing", in order to further strengthen the delicate thread. It is then ready to use, and is the most desirable of silks (Franck, pps. 46 - 7).

If one does not have access to a silk reel or the silk is from a less desirable open cocoon, the silk is best treated in a manner to make it more easily spun. Multiple strands can be pulled off as one, and it is actually good to have some of them snap occasionally, as the super-long strands are sometimes rather difficult to handle later. When the walls of the cocoon are sufficiently thin, it is a good idea to gently ease a section open in order to remove the chrysalis, which will otherwise become tangled in the strands as it eventually slides out on its own and will stain the water if it stays in too long.

While unreeling the cocoon by hand, it is easiest to hold it cupped in the fingers of one hand while gently easing the strands off with the other. Anyone who has ever loosened a large fluff of wool into a pencil suitable for spinning will quickly discover the similarity.

If the silk, particularly loose silk that was used to support the cocoons, is frassy or the cocoons are ones from which the moth has been allowed to escape, the silk will need extended soaking time and multiple rinses to become clean enough for use. If so, it is best to make sure the chrysalis is removed in the first rinse, so it does not have enough time to absorb water and become a slimy mess. If allowed to dry between rinses, the silk will mat together and become difficult to handle, but this is not a problem until the end of the final rinse.

After the final rinse, the silk strands need to be fished out in small groups and fluffed as they are dried, a process for which the hair dryer, on a low, cool setting, is a lifesaver. If any strands dry before they are sufficiently fluffed, they can be misted with a light solution of hair conditioner and water. The silk strands are now ready for use.

Using the Silk

During the period of the Chinese monopoly on silk, the women of the family were responsible for the preparation of the silk, which would then be collected as skeins and woven into fabric in state-run workshops (Franck, p. 47). Trained weavers in these workshops were expected to weave approximately thirty feet of silk per day, for which the length of a bolt of silk cloth was standardized (Whitfield, p. 110).

Some silks were left as floss for embroidery and sewing, as Franck later writes of a tribe of China's trading partners who "...received just about one-eighth of the embroidered silks and silk floss they had received just a decade or so earlier (Franck, p. 118)." Silk coming to the west was often woven and dyed in Phoenicia, a land long famous for its beautiful dyes, especially Tyrian Purple (pps. 73 & 119).

In medieval times, Crowfoot states that, "Silk thread was used extensively in the sewing and ornamentation of royal clothing in the middle ages, a practice which is likely to have been followed by the aristocracy and rich merchant families (p. 152)." It seems to have been widely used in places where the stitching would show, even on woolen cloth and untidy repair work (Crowfoot, p. 152). London silkwomen "specialized in twisting silk thread and producing ribbons, cords, braids, fringes, tassels, and other small silk goods" (p. 152). Such was the value of these silkwomen that by the mid-fourteenth century, they were able to affect changes in laws concerning their industry (Gies, p. 175).

Silk cloth was widely used in the Middle Ages for fine silk veils (Crowfoot, p. 152). Silk was also used to make samite, damask, satin and velvet fabrics, which were used for a wide variety of purposes (pps. 85 & 89). For more information on those uses, please see the short history of silk manufacture and use, earlier in this paper.

Most modern recreators are working with smaller quantities of silk than the silk manufacturer of earlier times. It seems sensible, then, to spin or reel the silk and use it for narrow wares, such as cords and trims, rather than try to prepare enough to weave even a short length of satin or velvet cloth.

Spinning the silk is actually almost easy once the silk has been well-processed, and can be done almost anywhere, as long as there is not a noticeable breeze or draft in the area. Unlike many other fibres, silk is light enough that even a slight breeze can give the loose stuff a life of its own! It is pleasant to work with, and eventually the spindle becomes full. It is time for the next step, dyeing.

Silk takes dyes better than any other natural fibre. Linen will hardly dye at all unless the dye is a modern one designed for cellulose fibres. Cotton and wool take dyes moderately well, but not compared with silk. Silk absorbs the dye, and even onion-skin dye has a vibrant, if brown, result after only a little while. Marigold heads produce a bright, sunny yellow.

If the silk is to be used as thread, it should most likely be plied before being used, although single, or unplied threads have been found used on finer fabrics, such as veils (Crowfoot, p. 152). During the Middle Ages, silk was preferable as sewing thread and was used extensively on royal clothing and for visible and decorative stitching on the garments of those who could afford it (p. 152).

A description of the various types of cloth and narrow wares that were made of silk during the Middle Ages is included in the earlier section on the history of silk cultivation and use.

Final Thoughts

The art of sericulture is an ancient and honoured one, which directly influenced other crafts, such as weaving and sewing; and repeatedly altered the political face of the world. Yet it is one that the average home artisan can participate in, with incredible results. It is neither difficult nor expensive, although it is a time-consuming process, in which every step must be done carefully and by hand. The result is certainly worth all the work, and silk can be followed from the egg to the garment by even one with little or no outside space, giving the craftsperson a whole new understanding of the various arts involved.


While I have tried to explain any specialty words in context, some may need further explanation. I have attempted to explain any that would be unfamiliar to the reader.

  1. Bombyx mori: the scientific name for the domesticated silkworm, actually a type of moth. The larval, or caterpillar, stage is the most easily recognized stage of its life.
  2. chrysalis: the layer of skin molted while the silkworm is in the cocoon, or the creature while in the cocoon.
  3. gynaecea: the term used for the Byzantine silk factories, so named because they employed only women. These women were virtual captives.
  4. filament thread: silk (or other) thread made from long filaments of fibre, rather than shorter lengths that must be spun together.
  5. frass: silkworm feces.
  6. seracin: the gummy substance that holds silk fibres together as a cocoon. Cocoons are soaked in hot water to loosen the seracin and allow the fibres to be used.
  7. sericulture: the cultivation of silkworms for their silk.


Crockett, Candace. Card Weaving. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1973. Revised 1991.
Crowfoot, Pritchard, and Staniland. Textiles and Clothing c. 1150 - c. 1450. From the Museum of London's "Medieval Finds From Excavations in London" series. Norwich, UK: HMSO, 1992.
Franck, Irene, and Brownstone, David. The Silk Road: a History. NY: Facts on File Publications, Inc., 1986.
Gies, Frances and Joseph. Women in the Middle Ages. NY: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1978.
Joseph, Marjory L. Introductory Textile Science. NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1966.
Mulberry Farms. "Hatching and Raising Instructions." This is part of a pamphlet sent along with each order of silkworm chow or eggs.
Sericulum: the Science of silkworms for the Course of Nature. . This was the first place I found information on cultivating silkworms, and contains excellent instructions for growing them by modern methods.
Whitfield, Susan. Life Along the Silk Road. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.

Silkworm Sources

Mulberry Farms: . This company sells silkworms, eggs, food, and equipment for the average consumer, who they expect is probably growing the silkworms as lizard food. However, I have not had a problem with their products, and they are genuinely friendly and curious about silkworm cultivation for silk production.

Sericulum: . This was the first place I found information on cultivating silkworms, and contains excellent instructions for growing them by modern methods. They tend to focus on silkworm cultivation for laboratory or classroom use, but their information is certainly valid. Their prices are significantly higher than those of Mulberry Farms.

For More Information:

Silk Making/Wikipedia
Silk Making in 6 Steps
Our Viet Nam Trip
Silk Making