Clothing & Cosmetics  > The Story of Silk


Beauty Without Cruelty, India


Soft, smooth and shimmering silk is perhaps the most attractive textile man has ever created. More than two thousand years ago, this fabric was imported from China. The method and source of its production was a very highly guarded secret ...may be because it involved the killing of millions of lives.


The silk filament is what a silkworm spins its cocoon of and is constructed as a shell to protect itself during its cycle of growth from caterpillar to chrysalis to moth.


The female moth lays about four to six hundred eggs. The eggs hatch in about ten days and the larvae (one-twelfth of an inch) emerge. They are fed on mulberry leaves for about twenty to twenty-seven days, till they are fully grown (three to three and a half inches in length). A fully grown caterpillar emits a gummy substance from its mouth and wraps itself in layers of this filament to form a cocoon in two to four days. The caterpillar develops into a moth in about fifteen days. To emerge it has to cut through the cocoon - thereby ruining the filament of the cocoon.


Hence, to save the filament from being damaged, the chrysalis is either immersed in boiling water, passed through hot air or exposed to the scorching heat of the sun's rays, thus killing the life inside. The long, continuous filament of the cocoon is then reeled. To produced one hundred grams of pure silk, approximately fifteen hundred chrysalis have to die. Particular chrysalis are kept aside to allow the moths to emerge and mate.


After the female moth lays eggs, she is always mercilessly crushed to check for diseases. If she appears diseased, the eggs laid by her are immediately destroyed.


Generation after generation of inbreeding has taken away the moth's capacity to fly. After mating, the male moths are dumped into a basket and thrown out. It is a common sight to see crows picking at them outside silk manufacturing centers.


Varieties of Silk


India produces four varieties of silk obtained from four types of moths. These are known as Mulberry, Tussar, Eri and Muga. Mulberry is also produced in other silk producing countries like China, Japan, Russia, Italy, South Korea, etc., Eri and Muga are produced only in India.


Manmade materials that look somewhat like silk are known as Artificial Silk (Art Silk). Of these, rayon (viscose) is of vegetable origin; while nylon and polyester (terene) are petroleum products.


A Material's Silk Content


Once woven, silk is known by different names depending on the weave, style, design and place where it is woven. Below are put together the most well known materials according to their silk content.


Caution needs to be taken with regard to Zari (gold or silver brocade). The yarn used for this can be silk or polyester.


For real gold zari, silk yarn is almost always used.


100% Silk Materials

Boski Pure crepe
Pure chiffon Pure gaji
Pure georgette Khadi silk
Organza Pure satin
Raw silk Matka silk


Matka silk is 100% silk, wherein the yarn in the warp is the usual silk yarn, while the yarn in weft is obtained from the cocoons that are cut open by the moths as they emerge. These moths are allowed to lay eggs, after which they are crushed to death.


100% Silk Saris
Banarasi (Varanasi) Bangalore
Bhagalpore Dhakai
Dharmavaram Kashmiri
Khambhat Matka
Murshidabad Tanchhoi
Tussar Temple
Kanjivaram (Kanchipuram)
Patola from Patan, Hyderabad and Orissa
Paithani Saris of Maharashtra
100% Silk or 100% Cotton Saris
Calcutta Gadhwal
Madurai Shantiniketan
Irkal saris from Narayan Peth (Andhra Pradesh) can be 100% silk or part silk and part cotton.
Venkatgiri saris may be all cotton or part silk and part cotton.
Saris with Silk/Cotton Yarns in Warp/Weft
Chanderi Tissue
Poona (Pune) Venkatgiri
Maheshwari Saris of Madhya Pradesh
Manipuri Kota and Munga Kota saris have both silk and cotton yarn.


A Test to Determine a Material's Silk Content


Remember, it is a totally wrong impression that if a material is cheap it has no pure silk in it. It is advisable to check oneself and not rely on the shopkeeper's word. If you would like to know what yarn is used in a particular material, test in the following way:


Shopkeepers may not allow the silk test by burning to be performed on their premises, a few threads could be asked for and burnt at home. To identify silk, you must burn some yarn. It is very important that a few threads from the warp, a few threads from weft and the zari thread stripped of the metal are individually checked by burning. Since human hair also burns like silk, it would be easier to learn by burning some hair! Hold a strand between tweezers and burn. Observe carefully how it burns. When it stops burning, a very tiny (pinhead size) ash ball will be left behind. Rub it between your fingers and smell the powdered ash. The smell of burnt hair, silk, wool and leather is identified and the way it burns forming an ash ball, will also be the same. If the fiber is cotton or rayon, it will quickly flare up in flames and will not form any ash ball nor will it smell like burnt hair. If the yarn tested is a petroleum product like nylon or polyester, it will burn forming a tiny, hard, glasslike bead.