By: Emily Richards
Where silk originated
Almost 5,500 years ago under the Zhou, Shang and Han dynasties (2,100 BC - 220 AD), silk came about as an art form. Under the Han dynasty, it was simply just an embroidery and decoration for official documents. Over the next few dynasties, it began being used for clothing and became a big part of China.
Silk comes from the silkworm, which is a type of moth mainly found in Asia. Their cocoons are what is used for making the silk. So during the Zhou dynasty (11th century-256BC), a special program was set up to administer silk making and silkworm breeding.
The process of silkworm breeding and the process of unreeling the cocoons is called semi culture. The silkworms start as eggs. They then become a larva, then a pupa. It takes a normal silkworm anywhere from twenty-five to twenty-eight days to become old enough to spin a cocoon. Once the silkworms are old enough, all of them are placed on several straws one at a time. The silkworms grab ahold of the straws and make a cocoon around it. The cocoons must then be unspun. Women called "reeling women" are usually the ones who unspin the cocoons. Before the cocoons can be unwound, the cocoon must be heated to kill the pupae. Otherwise, the pupa could become a moth, make a hole in the cocoon, and then unwinding the cocoon would be unimportant and would not be able to be used to make clothing. To begin the unwinding process, the cocoons are put in a tub of hot water. Then the loose ends of the cocoons are tightened. They are then placed on a wheel that unwinds the cocoons. The result is "raw" silk. This "raw" silk is then measured out, dyed, and made into cloth. About 1,000 meters of silk can be made from one cocoon, 111 cocoons are needed to make a man's tie, and 630 cocoons are needed to make a women's shirt.
Once raw silk is made, the cloth/silk is soaked to soften the material. Then, it is dyed. The dye makes the silk what it is - appealing. Once it is dyed, it is embroidered to make it beautiful. It can be made with several patterns and colors to appeal to everyone.
Examples of silk in China
Silk history in China
China was very famous for their silk. The first silk was found in China in the Shi Ji, writings from Ancient China, and from a few rare pieces found from rare tombs. They were also found on the royal burial grounds in China that was believed to be from the Shang dynasty. And because of the Silk Road, China's silk was the finest, and still is. The silk that was first found was called Bombyx mori silk. This silk was, at an early state, already being dyed vibrant colors, had elaborate designs, and were different weights. The first pieces were only small fragments that were yellow and painted. The book, Shi Ji, explains how silk was made and how it was women's work.
Silk was used to barter when it first came about. It was something you could barter for other luxurious items. It was mainly used like currency during the 1100s, after the Zhou dynasty. Over time, as silk became more popular and a great luxury, it influenced other cultures and started civilizations through The Silk Road.
Examples of Silk Embroidery
The Silk Road
One of the things that made China famous for their silk was the Silk Road. The Silk Road was a route from China into the West. It spread many things from China, especially silk, hence Silk Road. The route was useful to many people including traders, merchants, pilgrims, soldiers, nomads, et cetera. But the Silk Road didn't just transport silk. It transported many other goods from China like trade goods, satin, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb. Some other non-materialistic things that traveled along the road were ideas, diseases, thoughts, and culture. These things traveled over 5,000 miles on the Silk Road. This included China, India, Asia Minor, and along the Mediterranean Sea. The Silk Road was such a major part of silk making in China and the development of China because it helped develop the civilizations of China, India, Byzantium, Egypt, Persia, Arabia, and Rome because it helped spread their cultures and ideas. It helped shape the modern world and that's why it is still remembered as being a major part of Ancient China. This technology is important because of the Silk Road. The Silk Road transported goods such as silk, trade goods, satin, musk, rubies, etc. This technology spread Chinese culture and religion, while also forming civilizations like Rome, India, Persia, et cetera. So even though silk may seem less important than bronze making, paper making, or porcelain, it influenced the world simply by spreading culture by a road.
The Silk Road Route
The Silk Road in the 1st Century
Silkworms by Donna Schaffer