Smooth as Silk - Bombyx Mori

By Karin Bolcshazy

I am sure we all have a cherished silk item in our closets with a feel of softness and luxuriousness no other textile – synthetic or natural - can match? Silk is produced via sericulture, or silk farming - the cultivation of silkworms to produce silk. Today, China and India are the two main producers with more than 60% of the world's annual production. 

Lifecycle of the silkworm.

The silk moth (right photo) lays 300 – 500 eggs which hatch into larvae and silkworms feeding exclusively on mulberry leaves

Having grown and molted several times, the silkworm extrudes a silk fiber and forms a net to hold itself. The silk solidifies when it contacts the air. Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers known

The silkworm spins approximately one mile of filament and completely encloses itself in a cocoon in about two or three days. The amount of usable quality silk in each cocoon is small. As a result, about 2,500 silkworms are required to produce a pound of raw silk.[12]

The intact cocoons are boiled, killing the silkworm pupa. (Animal Rights organizations, such as PETA, have protested this practice).

The silk is obtained by brushing the undamaged cocoon to find the outside end of the filament. The silk filaments are then wound on a reel. The silk at this stage is known as raw silk.

Sources: Smithsonian National Museum of American History; The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia; Atlas Obscura.com; Wikipedia