The Silk Road

Like most curious and mischievous children, I played with worms. I accidentally rode my bike over them from time to time, and avoided them on the sidewalks after thunderstorms. In all my worm interactions, I never realized how hard-working these wiggly little creatures could be.

Silk is considered one of the most luxurious fabrics in the world, and the Thai are known for weaving some of the finest. It is believed that the Chinese people brought silk to this area about 3,000 years ago.

Since then, silk has held various roles in Thai society: from royal clothing to a form of currency during the time of Ayutthaya. (Be sure to check out the video on Ayutthaya.)

To understand how complex the silk-making process is, I visit a silk factory in Chiang Mai. I knew the process had something to do with worms, but I thought they spun silk like a spider spins a web. Boy, was I wrong!

Traditional silk-making begins with Bombyx mori worms, or silkworms, who spin themselves into golden cocoons. What I found fascinating is that breeding silkworms has been going on for at least 5,000 years. That means that silk production is at least 5,000 years old!

Once the worm spins its cocoon, silk craftsmen know what to do. The worms are separated from their cocoons in a vat of hot water. This kills the worm inside.

Then, the fine silk strands are extracted, spun into threads, bleached, and then dyed. Weavers take the raw silk threads to hand-looms and transform it into fabric. The weavers made the process seem effortless, but it takes about 40 hours to produce one pound of woven silk. No wonder silk clothing can be so expensive!