I’m not sure if being a tapestry weaver makes you interested in fiber or if being interested in fiber makes you interested in tapestry; but my tapestry weaving mother instilled in me a love for and snobbery about fibers from an early age.
When I was a kid, we would go shopping and she would have to touch everything. “That’s acrylic!” she would say, and I’d have to put the sweater back on the rack.
I remember her telling me where silk comes from. It was definitely the fiber with the best story. Wool from sheep? Old news. Silk from the larvae of insects going through metamorphosis? That’s pretty neat.
Today a customer asked what the difference between Mulberry Silk (which is what our hand-painted silk is) and other types of silk is. I thought this was a great question and wanted to share the answer with all of you.
Mulberry Silk is widely considered the best silk you can buy and is the most common silk available commercially. It is made by the domesticated Bombyx Mori Moth. The silkworms are raised completely indoors and are fed only Mulberry Leaves. Bombyx mori is actually Latin for “silkworm of the Mulberry Tree”. The process to make this silk was developed in China.
There are several other types of silk from both wild and domesticated silkworms including Tasar Silk, Eri Silk and Muga Silk.
Not all silk is made by insects, though. An example is Sea Silk. This silk is made with the long filaments (called byssus) that come from a gland of large saltwater clams (specifically the Pinna nobilis). This silk is very fine, light and warm. Some spiders also produce silk, but this is not used for textiles.
Differences in silk also come from how the silk is processed. The cocoon that produces Mulberry Silk is one long fiber that is very shiny and strong. When you put that cocoon in hot water, you remove some of the sericin (which basically keeps the fibers glued together) and release the strands of silk.
There are two main ways of processing the silk after this. One is simply to reel it (or unwrap it). This reeled silk can then be plied or twisted, but it does not need to be twisted to hold together because the fiber are so long.
Silk can also be spun. In that case, the silk is combed out and cut into shorter length before being spun.
Isn’t fiber cool?