Silk farming - or sericulture, as it is known, has a long and magical history. It was discovered by the Chinese 5,000 years ago. According to legend, the princess Xi Lingshi discovered that a cocoon could be unravelled to produce a thread when one dropped into her tea while sat under a mulberry tree. The Chinese held onto their monopoly for nearly 2,000 years - in fact they jealously guarded the secret under the threat of death.
The secret of silk production is the tiny creature known as the silk worm, the most common is the Bombyx Mori. A flightless, domesticated moth, it lays 500 eggs in 5 days and then dies. The eggs must be kept at a temperature of 18°C, increasing to 25°C. The resulting silkworms are fed on Mulberry leaves and during their short lives of a single month, increase in size 10,000 times. Once they have enough energy, they spend 3-4 days spinning a cocoon around themselves.
A Waiting Game
After a further 9 days the cocoons are ready. First, they are dipped in hot water to loosen the filaments and then unwound. Each cocoon amazingly produces around 900 metres of a single thread, of which 5-8 are spun together to produce a single silk yarn.
Silk takes dye like no other fabric because in cross section the thread is more triangular than round and this intensifies the effect of any colour. Silk appears to be almost alive because no single fibre is uniform, this provides the designer with a huge variety of options as it can be gossamer thin or a thick upholstery weight.
The farming and weaving of silk is a lengthy and laborious process. In fact, the total number of people directly dependant on sericulture is 34 million worldwide. It provides a buffer against poverty in rural communities. The main silk producing countries are China and India, however it is also important in Brazil, North Korea, Thailand and Vietnam amongst others.
The skills of the weavers have been developed over generations. The working conditions are clean and fair. All our fabrics are individually inspected before despatch to ensure that we provide you with the high quality you expect from us.
Today, James Hare is one of the world's leaders in silk and we are very proud to be a specialist in ‘The Queen of Fabrics’.