Silk Secrets

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More than 4,000 years ago, somebody in China discovered something amazing! When they found how valuable this secret was, China kept it from the rest of the world as a big secret for many years.

When the secret eventually got out, the Chinese emperor made a law that anybody who revealed the secret would be put to death.

What’s the Secret?

The cocoon of a moth can be woven into a special material that we now call silk. Silk is a thin, but strong fiber that silkworms produce when making their cocoons. It can be woven into a very soft and smooth fabric.

People make silk from the cocoons of silkworms, similar to a butterfly cocoon. You have to take millions of these cocoons and unwind them carefully, and that makes long threads. You spin these together to make them thicker, and then weave them to
make silk.

What’s it worth?

Silk cloth was extremely valuable in Ancient China and played an important role in the culture and economy for thousands of years. Wearing silk was an important status symbol. At first, only members of the royal family were allowed to wear silk. Later, silk clothing was restricted to only the noble class. Silk was even used as money during some Ancient Chinese dynasties.

Traveling Silk

The making of silk finally spread out of China when somebody managed to smuggle out two baby mulberry trees and some silkworms. Soon, these silkworms were making silk in Syria, and silk became a lot cheaper than it had been before.

Silk was used for other purposes than clothing. It made paper, fishing lines, bowstrings and canvas for painting. Silk was such an important product that the trade route from Europe to China became known as the Silk Road.

Fun facts about the Silk Road

  • It was over 4,000 miles long.
  • Marco Polo traveled to China along the Silk Road.
  • It is thought that the bubonic plague, or Black Death, traveled to Europe from the Silk Road.
  • There were many routes. Some were shorter, but more dangerous. Others took longer, but were safer.
  • Very few merchants traveled along the entire route. Goods were traded at many cities and trade posts along the way.

 

Make it!

Want to make your own silk?

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1. First you’ll need silkworms; you can buy them in surrounding farms in Guangdong Province or even on the popular shopping website taobao.

2. Silkworms will only eat fresh mulberry leaves. You need to feed your silkworms mulberry leaves everyday, usually you can buy the leaves when you get the silk worms (these need to be kept in the fridge) or you can buy a whole mulberry tree.

2. Silkworms will only eat fresh mulberry leaves. You need to feed your silkworms mulberry leaves everyday, usually you can buy the leaves when you get the silk worms (these need to be kept in the fridge) or you can buy a whole mulberry tree.

3. You’ll notice that the silkworms munch through the leaves very quickly. You will see them grow up to 70 times their original size!

3. You’ll notice that the silkworms munch through the leaves very quickly. You will see them grow up to 70 times their original size!

4. After about a month each silkworm will form a cocoon with a long fiber it produces from its saliva.

4. After about a month each silkworm will form a cocoon with a long fiber it produces from its saliva.

5. Eventually the silk worm will emerge as a moth and will lay eggs and the whole lifecycle will start again. The cocoon will be left behind, and if you’re careful you will be able to pull the thread into a long piece of silk!

5. Eventually the silk worm will emerge as a moth and will lay eggs and the whole lifecycle will start again.

6. The cocoon will be left behind, and if you’re careful you will be able to pull the thread into a long piece of silk!

Do It!

Go to visit a silk farm. There are many around China, and a particularly great one in Beijing, where you can see the whole process of silk making from beginning to end. You can even buy some of the silk garments at the end of the tour in the gift shop!