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A History of Silk

Updated on January 29, 2012

With origins dating back to 6000 BC, silk is still considered the most luxurious and elegant fabric in the world.

is adored by many as the most luxurious fabric in the world. The feel of silk fabric is sumptuous, smooth and luxurious, and it has an elegant drape, spilling like pools of water, making it ideal for the most special occasions including weddings and ultra-formal events. Silk fabric is also breathtaking in sensual lingerie and many types of apparel including shirts,ties,blouses, dresses, couture, pajamas, robes, suits and skirts. Whatever its application, silk brings an essence of high end luxury to any garment. Silk's unique and unparalleled luster and drape transform any garment into something exceptional. Silk also has décor possibilities and is used inupholstery, wall coverings, draperies,rugs,bedding and wall hangings.

Silk is a natural protein fiber cultivated from the cocoon of mulberry silkworm larvae. Silk moths lay eggs and when the eggs hatch, the caterpillars are fed only fresh mulberry leaves. About 30 days after hatching, the silkworms begin spinning their cocoons. Each cocoon yields 1,000 yards of raw silk thread, which is then spun to produce a “yarn” of silk. The process is time-consuming and delicate, which explains the high cost of silk. It takes 5500 silkworms to produce 1 kilogram of silk.

Silk's origins date back to 6000 BC, when the wife of the Yellow Emperor, Xi Ling-Shi, went for a walk and noticed the eye-catching threads attached to the worms eating the leaves of the mulberry plants. Historians disagree about how long it took before Xi Ling-Shi realized the silkworms’ cocoons could be harvested into silk, but one version describes the Empress dropping a cocoon into her tea and watching it unravel into silken threads. (In silk production cocoons are placed in hot water to free the silk filaments). China maintained a monopoly on silk trade for thousands of years and created a trade system eventually extending as far west as Europe and Africa, known as the Silk Road.

TheEmperors of China tried to keep knowledge ofsericulture (silk farming) secret to maintain their country’s monopoly on silk production. Still, sericulture reachedKorea around 200 BC, and by AD 140 had been established in India which is now the second largest silk producer in the world. China is still the world’s largest silk producer, responsible for 54% of all production.

By the 17th century, sericulture had taken hold in North America when KingJames I introduced silk-growing to the American colonies around 1619: the official reason being to discouragetobacco planting. During World War II, silk prices increased astronomically and US industry began to look for substitutes, which led to the use of synthetics such asnylon. Silk stockings for women were replaced by nylon stockings which are still popular today. Synthetic silks have also been made fromlyocell, a type ofcellulose fiber which easily passes as real silk and which has the added benefit of being environmentally friendly.

Silk’s low conductivity keeps warm air close to the skin during cold weather, while its great absorbency wicks moisture away during summer. Silk'sabsorbency makes it comfortable to wear in warm weather and it is one of the most comfortable and elegant fabrics available, with a multitude of apparel and décor uses and a rich and compelling history.

For the finest selection of Grade A premium silk fabrics in hundreds of colors visit NY Fashion Center.


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