Silk clothes are synonymous with quality and elegance. Silk is a natural animal fiber produced by insects. Silk is also one of the oldest fabrics known to men, but in the beginning, the use of silk was only limited to China. The history of this fabric can be traced back to the 27th century BC in China. They used silk mainly for clothing and the color of the silk somebody wore signified that person’s social rank class.
How Was Silk Discovered?
The discovery of silk was an accident, according to tales. Stories say Empress Leizu was having tea when a silk worm’s cocoon fell into hot tea. Then when she tried to take it out of the cup, the threads began to unroll, so the Empress thought she could use it for weaving. After that occurrence, the Empress started studying silk worms’ life, and how this fabric can be made.
Silk production began between 6000 and 3000 BC in China. The Chinese kept the silk as a secret for a long time under the threat of the death penalty to the one who would give it away. However, knowledge of silk gradually began spreading across Thailand and India all the way to Southeast and South Asia. According to the legend, Byzantine monks brought this beautiful material to Europe by hiding silkworms in bamboo sticks.
Initially, silk was reserved only for the royal family. Later, its use spread throughout China and later in Asia.
After that, silk became very sought after and popular due to its texture and shine and became the true luxury fabric.
Fifteen years ago, in 2007, archaeologists found silk woven and dyed by a very complex method in a Chinese province, estimated to be about 2,500 years old. This discovery proves that complex techniques of weaving and dyeing silk have been used since the Han dynasty in 202 BC.
When Did the Silk Trade Start?
The discovery of silk in the hair of a mummy dating back to 1070 BC was proof that the trade in this material had already begun. Only in the second half of the first millennium BC the Silk Road was opened and spread across the Mediterranean through North Africa and Europe.
The trade eventually spread to India, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. At that time, the Silk Road was the main trade route between Europe and Asia.
Countries such as Japan and India also learned the skill of sericulture and soon joined in on the silk production.
Silk Trade in Medieval and Modern Europe
Venetian traders encouraged breeders of similar beetles to settle in Italy. Starting from the 13th century, Italian silk became the most important source of trade. The silk produced in the Como region became one of the highest quality silks in the world. Italian silk was very popular throughout Europe, so King Francis I of France encouraged Italian silk producers to settle in France to establish the French silk industry in Lyon.
In the coming years, efforts to produce silk spread throughout Europe. English King James I planted 100,000 Mulberry trees around the palace in an attempt to establish the English silk industry, but this attempt failed.
At the end of the 19th century, China, Japan, and Italy were the largest producers of silk.
Silk with its excellent qualities is pleasant and healthy to wear. Pure silk is nonflammable, very stretchy, and strong. It is a good insulator and healthy because it has anti-allergic properties.
Knowing the history of silk, it is not surprising that it has always intrigued the nobility, kings, manufacturers, and traders and has quickly become one of the most wanted materials in the world for making clothes. And it still is a truly luxurious material that will make you feel like a royalty even in this day and age.