The History of Silk

The History of Silk The history of silk, its discovery and the legend, the production development in China, India, Japan, Europe and North America - in our Blog.
The History of Silk
The History Of Silk: The Chinese Queen Xi Ling Shi

Legend has it that the fiber was discovered by the Chinese Queen Xi Ling Shi, wife of Emperor Huang-Ti in 2640 B.C. According to local lore, the queen was sitting under a mulberry tree and drinking a cup of hot tea. A silk cocoon fell into her tea cup and she noticed that the delicate fibers started to unravel in the hot liquid. Whether or not the story holds true, the earliest references to silk production, all point to China.

The earliest instances of silk cloth haven been traced back over 6,000 years ago to the Neolithic period (5000-1700 B.C.) when silkworms were cultivated in China for the luxurious threads contained within their cocoons. “The earliest surviving cloths made from the gossamer-thin filaments” produced by Bombyx mori silkworms, “are fragments dated to about 3630 B.C., and come from the Henan province, in east-central China.”

Sericulture has enjoyed a long and colorful history across the world and has survived many ups and downs along the way. Below is a brief historical timeline:
• In 2640 B.C., legend has it that mulberry silk fiber was discovered by the Chinese Queen Xi Ling Shi, wife of Emperor Huang-Ti.

• The origin of the Indian saree has been traced back to the Indus Valley civilization which existed during 2800-1800 B.C. In addition, there are references to the saree in the oldest scriptures of the Hindu religion called the vedas.

• In 1750 – 500 B.C., in the Indian sub-continent, an oral history recorded in a Sanskrit epic of ancient India called the Mahabharata, that the “Chinas and the Hunas from the mountains brought tribute to Yudhistira, the eldest son of King Pandu, silk and silkworms.” It is not known if this passage refers to mulberry silk from the Bombyx mori silkworm in China, or to one of the wilds silks for which India became later known.

• In the 3rd Century B.C., Chinese silk fabrics were found throughout Asia and were transported by land to the west, and by sea to Japan. These routes later became known as the Silk Roads. Mulberry silks traveled from China to the west through India and it is believed that the Bombyx mori silk moth was introduced into India during this time period.

• In 552 A.D., Byzantine Emperor Justinian sent two monks on a mission to Asia. They came back to Byzantium with silkworm eggs hidden inside their bamboo walking sticks. From then on, sericulture spread through Asia Minor – including Greece.

• “During the medieval period, silk culture was widely practiced in Kashmir, West Bengal, Mysore and other parts of India”. India cultivated wild or indigenous silks during this time, independently of China.

• In the 7th Century, the Arabs conquered the Persians and captured their silks in the process. This helped to further spread sericulture and silk weaving as their campaigns swept through Africa, Sicily and Spain. In the 10th Century, the Andalusian region of Spain was Europe’s main silk-producing center.

• Marco Polo traveled to China in 1271. His trip led to the development of commercial exchanges between East and West, and to an ever-increasing demand (and use) for silk.

• By the 13th century, Italy had become the silk center of the West, and the Italian silk industry amassed riches that helped finance the Italian Renaissance.

• In 1450-1466, Lyon, France became a major warehouse for foreign silks. In 1466, Louis XI became frustrated at the outflow of money from France to Italy for costly silks and declared his intention to “introduce the art and craft of making PREVIEW 5 gold and silk fabrics” in the city of Lyon, France.16 Later in 1536, Francois I gave Lyon the monopoly of silk imports and trade, thus effectively creating the Lyon silk industry.

• Sericulture “was introduced to the American Colonies in 1609, when James I of England encouraged it to discourage tobacco planting and to fill English looms”.

• In 1685, Louis XIV declared the “Revocation of the Edict of Nantes” in France that granted the Huguenots (Christian Protestants) the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. The Huguenots, still facing discrimination fled the country in large numbers. Many Huguenots were expert weavers and were major contributors to the development of the silk industry in Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland.19 Huguenot silk weavers were also believed to be among the first colonists, settling in Jamestown Virginia, Savannah Georgia and the Carolinas. The American government provided free land to settle and to grow mulberry.

• The British East India Company set up trade centers in the Indian cities of Surat, Maslipatnam and Patna. Later, Kassimbazar in the Murshidabad district of Bengal became the hub of the indigenous silk industry.

• In 1785, Tipu Sultan, the Indian ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore established Mysore’s first sericulture development project to focus exclusively on domesticated mulberry silk. He had a vision that Mysore would be foremost among silk producing nations and procured silkworms from China. In addition, mulberry tree plantations were established in the Bangalore district of Karnataka, India.

• Throughout the 18th Century, silk continued to prosper in Europe, Japan and China. Thousands of Mulberry plantations were established in Virginia and Georgia, and extended into South Carolina in the hope that the silk industry would take hold.

• In 1776, the American Revolution brought an end to British-imposed edicts on the American colonies to produce and export silk to England. Sericulture continued in America but was deemed to be not as profitable as tobacco.

• In 1789, the French Revolution brought hard times and the demand for silk declined. The silk industry in France was nearly destroyed; more than half of the looms stood empty.

• In 1804 Frenchman Joseph-Marie Jacquard introduced a punch-card mechanism that permitted a weaver to control his loom single-handed and to produce complex patterns with increased speed and accuracy. By the mid 1830s most looms in Lyon were equipped with the Jacquard machine.

• In 1854, a deadly plague began killing silkworms in France, long before scientists knew of microbes. Louis Pasteur was studying fermentation at the time and was brought in to attack the problem.27 He discovered two diseases that be brought under control and also made correlations that led to his important findings on infectious diseases. Despite Pasteur’s discoveries, silkworm diseases spread through Europe and the Middle East, which soon became increasingly dependent on the Far East for raw silk.

• In 1869, the Suez Canal opened the opportunity for increased international trade and raw silk imported from Japan became more competitive. The rapid industrialization of European silk-producing countries led to the transfer of agricultural labor to the cities and towns. Diseases that affected the silkworm continued to challenge local farmers and made silk-rearing a less reliable source for living.

Источник: Silk Stories by Pamela Kaplan. May 15, 2016. Published by ProQuest LLC (2016

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