The Silk Road

Like most little girls, I was grossed out by worms. I avoided them on the sidewalks after thunderstorms, and I never touched them when baiting a fish-hook. I never realized how hard-working these wiggly little creatures could be.

It is believed that the Chinese introduced the Thai people to silk making about 3,000 years ago. Since then, silk has been important to Thai society. It was used to make royal clothing and even as a form of money during the time of Ayutthaya.

The Thai people are known for weaving some of the finest silk in the world. To understand the silk-making process, I visited a factory in Chiang Mai. I knew the process had something to do with worms, but thought they spun silk like a spider spins a web. Boy, was I wrong!

Silk-making begins with Bombyx mori worms, or silkworms. Once grown, they 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, the silk weavers know what to do. First, the worms are separated from their cocoons in a pot of hot water. This kills the worm inside. The fine silk strands are extracted and spun into threads. Then, the thread is bleached and dyed.

Weavers take this raw silk to large hand-looms to turn the strands of silk into fabric. The weavers made the process look easy. However, it takes about 40 hours to produce one pound of woven silk. No wonder silk clothing and fabric can be so expensive!