The history of Chinese silk stretches back more than 2,000 years, and here is how was silk made in ancient china and more ancient history about silk.
It is soft yet strong, lustrous, and can be dyed brilliantly and beautifully. The history of Chinese silk stretches back more than 2,000 years
Silk has been prized throughout history, from the emperors of the Roman Empire to the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Learn about the invention of silk, how it contributed to the establishment of the fabled Silk Road, and how the craft of making silk spread throughout the world.
Table of Contents
Silk Production Process in Ancient China
Mulberries were typically grown in deserts, along field edges, and in front of houses, according to ancient written sources. In the third month of the lunar calendar which was called “silkworm month” silkworms breeding process started. On the first day of this month women washed grain (silkworm eggs) with pure water and then placed them in warm “silkworm house”.
The grain was watered with an herbal brew to encourage the rapid birth of caterpillars. It was mandatory to maintain precise temperature and silence in “silkworm house”, to keep it clean, ventilate but avoid excessive air movement. The grain was initially stored in feeding troughs. Caterpillars began to pupate in 20–22 days. They were then put on wooden racks after being put in sieves. After that, the threads were unwound and the cocoons were scorched with hot water.
Sericin was partially washed away as a result of this procedure, leaving a untouched, 700–1,000 m–long filament behind. A spinning wheel combined the filaments into one thread.
Characteristics of Silk
Quality silk is soft and glossy with clear and symmetrical colors. The triangular prism-like structure of the silk fiber is what gives it its shimmering appearance.
It refracts incoming light at different angles and so produces different colors.
Silk is strong, but it isn’t elastic. It does not revert to its original length after being stretched. Water is also absorbed by it. The fact that some insects enjoy eating silk is one issue with it.
The First Uses of Silk
Silk didn’t take long to become a status symbol after its discovery. Silk was rare and valuable because it takes a lot of time and effort to make silk fabrics. At first, silk clothing could only be worn by the Emperor, members of his immediate family, and senior military officers. Nevertheless, during the Qing Dynasty, these regulations were later relaxed. Everyone was permitted to wear silk clothing after the Qing Dynasty, including royalty and peasants. Silk remained an expensive fabric, so in practice you weren’t likely to see the majority of society’s lower classes wearing it.
Silk was so highly prized in prehistoric China that it was briefly even used as money. Government workers in the Han dynasty received their pay in silk, and farmers were required to pay taxes in both grain and silk. Monks who disobeyed the rules of their monastery were even required to pay their fines in silk. The lengths of silk were used at the time as a unit of measurement for price. Since other nations recognized the value of silk, the Emperor and other Chinese government representatives also gave silk as diplomatic gifts in their international dealings.
Silk was thought to be useful for a variety of purposes besides making clothing because it is one of nature’s strongest natural fibers. Additionally, fishing lines and the strings for bows and musical instruments were made of silk. Before the Chinese developed and disseminated the paper we are familiar with, silk cloth was even used as paper.
How Silk Spread from China to the World
The rest of the world took notice of China’s silk’s beauty. Archaeologists have discovered silk in the graveyards of numerous ancient civilizations, despite the fact that other nations did not yet know how to produce silk fabrics. China’s trade activities are to thank for this.
The Greek and Roman empires, Persia, and ancient Egypt are just a few of these civilizations. Prior to the establishment of The Silk Route, China had some foreign trading relationships, but it wasn’t until after that time that silk truly became a global phenomenon.
Silk and Its Role in the Silk Route
In the past, the Silk Road was the longest and busiest trade route in the world. One of the factors leading to the beginning of the Silk Road around 200 AD was the keen interest that other nations displayed in Chinese silk. A time ago, China was cut off from the West by some of the world’s most difficult mountain and desert terrains. Before The Silk Road was established. The Han government sent one of its generals west of China to forge trade ties with other nations, and this is how the Silk Road came to be. Between Eastern China and the Mediterranean Sea, the road extended over 6,000 kilometers.
Silk was one of the most expensive products China produced at the time. It was even thought to be more expensive than gold. Because of its sheen, durability, and lovely drape, silk was considered to be a luxurious good. In exchange for foreign goods, a lot of silk was therefore exchanged or given. The Silk Route was later given that name because so much silk traveled along this extraordinary trading route.
One of China’s most significant exports was silk, but it wasn’t the only one. Tea and paper were just two of the valuable products China offered to the world. They were compensated with gold, silver, horses, jewels, and other valuables.
Till sea trade became more common in the late Middle Ages, the Silk Route continued to aid in the development of many important ancient societies. Many nations had mastered the art of making their own silk by this time.
The Spread of Silk Farming
Here is how silk spread to world.
Silk-Making in the Middle East
China was able to maintain a monopoly on the production of silk for thousands of years. In addition to having a climate that is conducive to growing Mulberry trees, China is also home to the mulberry silkworm. Silk production required the use of these two natural resources as well as sericulture expertise. The Chinese were committed to maintaining their control over the production of silk. A ban on the export of silkworms and their eggs was even put into effect. Anyone who disobeyed this prohibition risked being executed.
The methods of making silk were not revealed outside of China until a very long time later. The Byzantine emperor allegedly paid monks to smuggle silkworm eggs out of China in 500 AD. From China to Constantinople, these monks allegedly smuggled the eggs in their hollow bamboo walking canes. Additionally, the monks were said to have brought their expertise in sericulture. For the first time, a nation other than China had access to silkworms and acquired the knowledge necessary to produce silk textiles. Sericulture was probably also spread by Chinese immigrants who worked as silk producers abroad.
After learning this priceless art, the Byzantines, like the Chinese, sought to maintain a monopoly on the production of silk. When trading silk, they could increase their profits thanks to a monopoly. When weaving silk, the Persians created their own patterns and styles. When compared to Byzantine silk, Chinese silk was reportedly still of higher quality. Despite the appearance of some healthy competition, Chinese silk maintained its popularity because of its superior quality. The Byzantines lost their monopoly on sericulture in their area after hundreds of years, around 630 AD. In Persia, where they learned to make silk, the Arabs had just conquered.
Silk-Making in Europe
Sericulture was not immediately understood by other Western nations. Andalusia in Spain and Venice in Italy did not seize control of the European silk industry until the High Middle Ages. Around this time, in the year 1100, travelers from Constantinople established their silk-making business in Italy. The Italian region of Como is still well known for its silk production today.
Before silk production spread throughout what is now known as Europe, its inhabitants traded with China along the Silk Route to acquire silk. Romans loved to dress in silk, and the wealthy and influential members of society flocked to silk fashion in particular.
Silk-Making in East Asia
Around 300 AD, the Japanese were able to acquire silkworm eggs and master the craft of silk farming back in East Asia. They allegedly brought the eggs and several women who were knowledgeable about sericulture over from China. One of the primary materials used to make kimonos in Japan became silk, which gained enormous popularity there. The kimono is a traditional Japanese outfit that was worn on a daily basis at the time. Silk was a good material for kimono construction because it was simple to dye and gave the clothing a opulent, shimmering appearance. In the future, Japan would surpass China as one of the major producers of silk.
Care and Maintenance
If left in the sun for an extended period of time, silk will deteriorate. For curtains and drapes, silk fabric is a bad choice.
Some silk clothing can be hand washed. Sort the light colors from the dark ones. As soon as possible, wash any items with perspiration stains in cold water. Both sweat stains and food stains attract insects.
For best results, use a mild detergent and lukewarm water, rinse thoroughly, and roll in a towel to absorb the water. Turn the garment inside out and use a low setting if you need to iron it.
Dry cleaning should be used for delicate silks. The same holds true for hand-dyed scarves or prints with multiple colors to stop the colors from fading.
Silks can be damaged by moths. Items should be stored in cloth bags, such as cotton pillowcases, or enclosed in breathable materials. Don’t let them be in the sun or other harsh lighting.
Avoid storing them in plastic since this might trap moisture and cause yellowing or mildew.
Final Thoughts on How Was Silk Made in Ancient China
Unbelievable tales abound in the history of silk, which is undoubtedly fascinating. One of the oldest natural fabrics in existence. Clothing made of silk is still very popular today, as are scarves and even sheets. Additionally, silk has succeeded in keeping its status as a high-end material. Silk is still one of the strongest and most durable fabrics available today.
Today’s production of silk is largely unchanged from that of thousands of years ago, with the exception of a few technological advancements to speed up the process.
Do you adore Chinese silk? Wherever the silky material goes, it remains a popular item despite being the imperial dynasties’ top export for many centuries.
How Does Silk Work in Ancient China?
Silk was a symbol of wealth and power in ancient China, because only the rich and those in authority were allowed to wear silk garments, while poor people were prevented from wearing it.
What Dynasty Was Silk Invented?
Silk production dates back 6,000 years, and the earliest discovered piece of silk fabric was found in Henan in 3,630 BC. Silk cloth manufacture was well advanced during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) era.
Where Did the Silk Road Start and End?
The Silk Road began in Chang’an (now known as Xi’an), the ancient capital of China, in 119 BC. During the Later Han Dynasty (25–220 AD), Luoyang became the new location for the Silk Road’s beginning, moving Chang’an further east. Rome served as the destination for travelers traveling the Silk Road.