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Silk thread, a product of animal origin, began its history in China more than 4,000 years ago. It’s a natural fiber commonly produced by mulberry silkworms. Silkworm farmers carefully facilitate the growth and development of silkworms to harvest the highly prized filament from their cocoons. Despite its thin diameter, silk thread is extremely strong and elastic.
Silk, a natural protein filament, is mainly produced in China and India. The cultivation of silk, also known as sericulture, is a labor-intensive job. It requires monitoring the temperature of the silkworm eggs during the incubation period, and then providing the hatched silkworms with a constant food source of mulberry leaves for approximately 30 days. In the larval stage, the silkworms spin their cocoons in one long, continuous thread, reaching up to 4,000 feet (1,200 m) long. This process can take the worms from four to eight days.
The cocoons are then heated, soaked in hot water, and the silk threads are gently unraveled and wound into a reel. The ends of the strands must be found by hand, making the work labor intensive and tedious. Eight threads are then combined to create a single, functional thread.
Microscopically, silk thread has a triangular shape and creates a sheen when light is reflected off it. This gives silk its trademark shimmer. Silk thread is strong, versatile, and stretchy, and it is dyed in a large variety of colors. It is woven into silk cloth and then prepared to make numerous textile products.
Silk thread had many industrial, commercial, and practical uses. It’s often used in clothing, such as fine shirts, undergarments, dresses, sleepwear, and robes. Its durable yet fine nature means cloth produced with silk thread drapes and hangs aesthetically, making it ideal for high-fashion clothing. Silk is also used in interior decorating for upholstery, window coverings, rugs, and bedding.
Silk thread’s unique characteristics make it a sought-after alternative to threads made from other fibers. It is smooth, absorbent, flexible, washable, long-lasting, and reflective. Silk thread is used for tailoring and decoration in fabric work. Artists use silk thread for fine details in craftwork such as embroidery designs on fabric, heirloom sewing, and jewelry making.
It takes approximately 3,000 silkworms to produce about 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of silk. Silk threads available for purchase are labeled by weight. Sericulture has been disparaged because silkworms are killed in the process of extracting the silk. Synthetic silks such as rayon are a viable alternative. These manufactured fibers, also known as art silk, have been produced since the late 1800s and provide a cheaper, non-animal-based option in lieu of traditional silk thread.