The History of Silk
Silk is an extremely soft and luxurious fabric that will retain its beauty for years. Fashioned from the natural protein fibers produced by the mulberry silkworm, it is inherently strong, and has some of the most coveted qualities of modern fabrics today.
Silk’s history started in China during the 27th century BC. There were also traces of evidences showing that in the middle of 4000 BC and 3000 BC, the silk fabric has already existed. As the Silk Road opened during the latter half of the first millennium BC, the use of silk fabric has began to spread both socially and geographically. Meanwhile, the cultivation of silk has started to spread in Japan in 300 CE. And, not many years later Koreans and Indians have also discovered the secret of the opulent fabric.
Long ago, farming silk worms was the work of the women all over China. Thus, a lot of Chinese women worked in silkworm farms. Because of the silk fabric’s luster and texture, it became very well-known and was even considered as a luxury item among the upper class society. The use of silk became exclusive for the emperor, his family members and the highest of his trusted dignitaries. It has stayed that way for more than a millennia until eventually, the use of the most sought-after silk fabric began to spread as well to the other classes in the society.
Aside from being used for clothing, silk was also used for making bowstrings, musical instruments and the world’s first luxurious paper, the rag paper. Silk became so valuable and was used as salary for the civil servants and remuneration for worthy citizens. It became China’s trading currency in which values were calculated based on the lengths of the silk.
Around 550 AD, Byzantine emperor Justinian summoned two Nestorian monks. They managed to illicitly bring silkworm eggs for the emperor, which they hid in bamboo rods. That marked the start of the silk industry in the Byzantine region. Through the Crusades, the techniques of cultivation of silk became widespread throughout Western Europe.
Meanwhile in 1540, the French king has granted a silk production monopoly in Lyon City. The city became the center of the silk fabric trading in Europe. The silk industry in Lyon flourished significantly that during the 17th century more than 14,000 looms were used in the city.
The advent of the era of Industrial Revolution has paved the way to a booming textile industry. Remarkable developments were made in the silk industry including the standardization and simplification of silk production as well as the invention of the Jacquard loom, a machine that simplified the processes involved in manufacturing intricate textiles.
In 1845, silkworm diseases plagued the European silk industry which made silkworm cocoons very expensive. This resulted to the decline of silk industry in Europe. Fashion has also evolved and the popularity of using silk in garments has started to decline. Afterwards, Japan became the biggest silk producer in the world until World War II. Fast forward to this day, the world’s largest manufacturer of silk is no other than China.