We just landed but make time to squeeze in a home school field trip to a silk farm to see where silk comes from and how it is made. The farm is in Siem Reap set amongst a field of mulberry bushes in a series of wooden structures. The worms love the mulberry but would be eaten by birds if left in the fields so they live in the wooden buildings instead and the mulberry leaves are picked and brought to them.
Isn't it often the case that thrifty people come up with the simplest most ingenious solutions to problems that wealthy people tend to overcomplicate? I just loved seeing this in action at this farm. They not only rid themselves of the bird issue with their worm relo, but they also rid themselves of any ant invasions by constructing a series of very small concrete mini moats around every touch point the wooden structure had with the earth. The moats had just inches of water in them but that is enough to keep ants from being able to cross and climb up the structure to eat the worms inside. Something tells me a more developed nation would have had overhead wires installed for the birds and heavily spray for the ants.
The worms eat the leaves and then in short order start to plump up and turn yellow. This color change signals it is time to cocoon so they are either offered sticks or more often these days a large shallow woven basket with concentric circle partitions woven in. The cocoons in the shallow channels of the woven concentrics make them easy to extract. Once the cocoon is made it is gathered and boiled. 14% are allowed to hatch to keep the worm population regenerated. A hatched cocoon means broken silk so sadly the worm is boiled alive as part of the silk making process. If it makes you feel better, it is usually enjoyed with nice chianti. The boiling cocoons are then brushed until then end of the silk is found then the silken strand grabbed and pulled off the cocoon and onto a spool. Each cocoon usually yields around mile of silk filament. The outer silk threads are considered a different grade from the inside much finer and smoother silk. The filaments are then thread through a machine and twisted into thread by combining around 48 individual silk filaments. The threads are then dyed naturally using the leaves from various plants and then again spooled- ready for weaving.
The looms are all handmade in this place with wood and string. You pull the warp up, run the shuttle loaded with thread across the separated perpendicular threads, then pull the warp the opposite direction and do it again. Different patterns require different shuttle tosses. It's an amazing exercise in dexterity and patience. It takes 3 months to make one useable cloth. It takes about 5500 silkworms to produce 1 kg of silk. The farming of silk is called Sericulture.