February 2004

How to choose fiber
Part II

As I promised, each month we will talk about one type of fiber. This month we are going to talk about silk. Silk is a luxurious fiber and for many millennia represented wealth. Silk has its origins in Asia and for centuries, was exported to Europe; hence the famous Silk Road that went through Europe and Middle East all the way to China.

Silk is a very strong fiber. Experts believe that when pulling force is applied to a steel filament and a silk filament of the same diameter, the steel filament will break before the silk. Silk absorbs moisture, so it feels cool in summer and warm in winter. With its soft feel and wonderful characteristic, silk makes a magnificent fiber to wear.

Silk is an animal product. It is produced by the larvae of a special moth. The best silkworms feed on the leaves of the white mulberry tree. The female moth, after coming out of the cocoon, only lives three days to a week, and lays 400 to 500 eggs. When the larvae hatch, they immediately start eating mulberry leaves and molt about four times in 2 months. When they are about three inches long they start spinning their cocoons, which takes three to six days. For commercial silk production, the cocoons are dropped in hot water to kill the larvae before they break their cocoons to come out. Each cocoon can yield 500 to 1000 yards of silk filament.

Silk garments can be hand washed and dried flat, or dry cleaned. It is not a good idea to use washing machine and dryer as silk may felt like wool (a disappointing personal experience). A good shampoo works well on silk. To reduce static, use a good hair conditioner in rinse water.

These days you can find yarn that are a combination of silk, mohair and wool. This kind of yarn is perfect for creating very comfortable soft garments. Another product in the market is recycled silk. It is made from remnants and mill ends, spun into beautifully colored yarn that resemble the colors of Indian women's Saris. A quick search on the internet will give you numerous sources for silk yarn.

In the next issue, as the weather gets warmer, we will talk about cotton to make beautiful warm weather garments.

Nazanin S. Fard

Needlecraft University

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