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Where Does the Silk Come From to Make Silk Scarves and Shawls?

Updated on August 24, 2015

Do you not wonder at the beauty of a handmade silk scarf or shawl, marvel at the skill and creativity behind it? Have you ever speculated about the process that produced it?  If you research the topic, what you discover will further amaze you.

It Starts With A Silk Moth

Before the craftsmen and women can weave and the artist create, a small female silk moth must lay her eggs. Over a period of four to six days, she will produce approximately 500 eggs before dying. The overall result of her and other moths’ labor and death are some 30,000 miniscule silkworms or caterpillars per ounce of eggs. Each one of them begins their life by nibbling away at the leaves of the black mulberry tree. To produce approximately 12 pounds of silk, they will need to eat around 1 ton of leaves.

Larvae – silk worms, demand constant attention. They live in layers – in trays stacked atop each other in warm incubators. The attendants make sure there are no drafts, strong smells or loud noises. They feed the worms once every half-hour to encourage weight gain. In order to produce fine silk, the worms must increase their birth weight 10,000 times. This will provide them with sufficient energy to enter into the second stage of their lives – the cocoon or pupa.

The Worm Turns

As a pupa or caterpillar, the now mature silkworm will begin to spin a substance for its cocoon. Although this initially has a jelly-like texture, it hardens with contact with air. The entire process of spinning the cocoon or pupating lasts for 3 or 4 days. The continuous thread winds slowly around the caterpillar until they are completely covered. In the end, the caterpillar resembles a small, white puffball.

If left alone, the caterpillar would mature into a silk moth within 8 or 9 days. This is not the case in silk production. The silk producer takes the unborn moths and places them in intense heat. This kills off the larvae while preserving the silken threads. He or she next dips the cocoons into hot water. This will relax the threads for the unwinding process. The silken threads from the cocoon, totally between 600 and 900 meters, end up on a spool.

The Aftermath

The fine raw silken threads can follow any number of routes after the unwinding and rewinding process ends. The intended use dictates the twisting pattern that will compose a single silk thread. The result can be crepe and organzine or the finest and purest silk. 

The last component of the process involves weaving the silk threads into the cloth forming the starting point of your fabulous silk scarf or shawl. At this point, both the designers and artists enter the picture. They begin the process through which the hand-woven and beautiful silk becomes a unique and stunning piece of wearable art.

While the amount of work behind the production of raw silk is high and intensive, the demand has continued to increase. There has been flagging of interest among those with discerning eyes and tastes. The quality and sheer pleasure of silk against the skin is sure to result in this trend continuing. Unlike many manufactured products, handmade silk will endure.

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    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 7 years ago from Northern, California

      Wow. I had no idea that such a tiny little creature could make such a bold and beautiful product. What wonderful skills and creativity the designers and atrists have. I am in awe of the process as well as the results. Thank you for sharing a very interesting chapter in the life of silk scarves.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for writing the production of silk. It was very interesting.