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Silk Fashion

Throughout the ages people have worn clothes. As the world has developed different styles have been pictured, fashioned, and then man-made or industrially manufactured. Silk was once a rare commodity that only affluent people could afford. Nowadays, as then, silk is the epitome of luxury when it comes to fabric whether it's for robes, sheets, or dresses.

The earliest evidence of silk was found at the sites of Yangshao culture in Xia County, Shanxi, where a silk cocoon was found cut in half by a sharp knife, dating back to between 4000 and 3000 BC. The species was identified as Bombyx mori, the domesticated silkworm.

In 3000 BC Chinese mythology created the legend of a fourteen (14) year old girl that extracted a silk worm’s cocoon that had fallen in her tea, and begun to unroll its thread.

The Silk Road primarily refers to the land routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and Southern Europe. The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in silk carried out along its length, beginning in the Han dynasty in China (207 BCE–220 CE).

Even though the name “Silk Road” derives from the popularity of Chinese silk among tradesmen in the Roman Empire and elsewhere in Europe, the material was not the only important export from the East to the West. However, China dominated silk production and kept it a secret for three hundred (300) years of dominance until the Koreans, Japanese, and Indians discovered how to produce it.

My first connection to silk was through a classmate named Sharif who was a Turkish boy that usually came to high school in a different coloured silk shirt every day. He stood out because all the other children wore school uniforms which required wearing a white shirt. Back then, like today the early seventies (70s) portrayed silk as flash and an expensive garment just like in the film “Saturday Night Fever”, with John Travolta. Clearly, he stood out from the crowd.

Silk is very expensive because of its limited availability and costly production. It takes more than 5,000 silkworms to produce just one kilogram of silk. The farming, killing, and harvesting of thousands of silkworm cocoons are resource-heavy, labor-intensive, and costly processes.

Silk fashion looks like it’s here to stay though in this day and age silk shirts are much cheaper than in the past. Raw material comes just like cashmere, in that there are many different types of silk; the price can vary from $8 to $80 per yard. The price differences depend on silk farms and how they manage their silk supplies. Organic silk tends to be more expensive as the price to manage production may be higher.

The luster of the expensive silk is the result from combining threads of different single colors in each of the weft and wrap. These make the surface shine and appear to change color as the angle of light on it changes. Put your silk shirt up to the light and see how it reflects differently to other silk products.

A more expensive silk goes through a special treatment before it is ready to be used. Sand-washing is one of the natural garments washing processes – it makes the fabric more wrinkle-resistant and provides a better hand feel. You can immediately tell the difference once silk has gone through sand washing by the increase in shine and color!

More expensive dyes fade less and last longer, and this adds on to the price of the silk. You want a silk shirt that uses organic dyes that won’t wash out after each cycle.

The silk momme (a unit of measurement for silk fabrics weight) reflects the price and quality. Higher momme weights equal higher quality silk.

Have a great day!

Prof. Carl Boniface

Vocabulary Builder:

C.E., the abbreviation for "Common Era" is used to mark time in the same way. B.C. means "before Christ" and B.C.E. stands for "Before the Common Era".

Cocoon (n) = a silky case spun by the larvae of many insects for protection in the pupal stage. It can also mean to envelop or surround in a protective or comforting way, for example "we began to feel cold even though we were cocooned in our sleeping bags"

Silkworm (n) = the commercially bred caterpillar of the domesticated silkworm moth (Bombyx mori), which spins a silk cocoon that is processed to yield silk fiber.

Stand out from the crowd (phrase) = be clearly better than or noticeably different from ordinary people or things. "To be successful we need to stand out from the crowd."

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