Silk Process in Chiang Mai
Female silkmoths lay anything from around 300 – 500 eggs at any one time. These eggs eventually hatch to form silkworms, which are incubated in a controlled environment until they hatch into larvae (caterpillars). The silkworms feed continually on a huge amount of mulberry leaves to encourage growth. It takes around 6 weeks to grow to their full potential (about 3 inches). At this time, they’ll stop eating and begin to raise their heads – that’s when they’re ready to spin their cocoon. Attached to a secure frame or tree, the silkworm will begin spinning its silk cocoon by rotating its body in a figure-8 movement around 300,000 times – a process which takes around 3 to 8 days. Each silkworm produces just one single strand of silk, which measures about 100 metres long and is held together by a type of natural gum, called sericin.
Once the silkworms have spun their cocoon, they will eventually enclose themselves inside it and then it’s time to extract the silk threads.
The cocoons are placed into boiling water in order to soften and dissolve the gum that is holding the cocoon together. This is a crucial step in the silk production process as it ensures that there is no damage to the continuity of each thread. When the silk threads have been washed and degummed, they will be bleached and dried before the dyeing process commences.
Traditional silk dyeing techniques take the dyes from natural resources found in the surrounding environment, such as fruit or indigo plant leaves. The threads will be soaked together in bundles, inside a pot of hot indigo leaves and water. This process will occur multiple times over a span of days to ensure proper colour tone and quality. However, these traditional dyeing methods have almost become extinct in the commercial manufacturing of silk. Advances in technology mean that manufacturers instead opt for using various dyes such as acid dyes or reactive dyes. This gives a greater range of choice in colours and shades to be able to serve wider demand. A traditional spinning wheel has always, and will always be an integral part of the silk production process. Although updated industrial processes are now able to spin silk threads much quicker, it simply mimics the functions of the classic spinning wheel. Weaving is the process in which the final piece of silk comes together. There are many different ways in which silk can be woven – satin weave, plain weave and open weave are most common, and the finish of the silk will depend on the type of weave.