How is silk made from silkworm and other insects? What is the step-by-step procedure involved? We will discuss all these points here. Silk is not textile but a natural protein fiber-containing Fibroin. This fiber is like a fine thread that several insects use to form cocoons and enter their larvae. These silkworms are known as Bombyx mori and they are bred in captivity for their silk.
1. Silk Producing Insects
- Silk is mainly produced by larvae of insects that are undergoing the process of complete metamorphosis. But the insects like web spinners and raspy crickets can produce silk throughout their lives.
- Also, silk production takes place in Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, and ants).
- Other insects like mayflies, thrips, leafhoppers, beetles, lacewings, silverfish, fleas, midges, and flies produce silk too.
- Even, other arthropods from the category of arachnids which include spiders also produce silk.
The process of obtaining silk from silkworm is known as Sericulture. This process involves rearing of silkworms. It may also be considered silk farming. It involves the raising of silkworms and then, processing the fiber they produce. Then, the silk fibers are combined to make silk thread. The process of how is silk made step by step is described in the upcoming sections. (See How Do You Get Chiggers Out of Your Yard?)
The process of how is silk made from silkworm step by step includes these seven steps that are done with special care from the initial till the final stage.
3. Birth & Feeding
Birth and Feeding is the first step in the production of silk. During the birth stage, the female silk moth lays around 300 to 500 eggs at one time. When these eggs hatch, silk larvae is formed and are known as caterpillars. During this process, these eggs are kept in an incubator. Silkworms are given plenty of mulberry leaves to feed on as they boost up the growth process. Silkworms take up to six weeks to grow enough to raise their heads. They reach the length of 3 inches after 6 weeks. This is the time when they stop eating and prepare themselves to make a cocoon. (See How Do Snake Fangs Work?)
4. Formation of Cocoon
Silkworms attach themselves to a branch or an artificial frame that may or may not be provided within the incubator. Then, they start spinning their silk cocoon. They rotate about 3, 00,000 times to make a complete cocoon and this process takes from 3 to 8 days. The entire cocoon is produced by just one single strand which a silkworm produces and elongates without breaking it. Isn’t that amazing? Its length reaches up to 100 meters. The special natural glue which helps to keep this thread together is known as sericin which is found in all silk-producing insects.
5. Extraction & Reeling
Extraction and Reeling is the second step of how is silk made from silkworm process. Once the cocoon is prepared and the silkworms are completely covered in the thread, it is time for extracting their threads from the cocoon. Since the thread is held together tightly by the sericin, therefore boiling these cocoons is useful for melting this glue.
The temperature rise and reeling out of each thread from every single cocoon is done with great caution so as to not break the thread. As the thread becomes loose, it is rolled out open from the cocoons and individually rolled onto separate reels. If some sericin remains are still on the thread after extraction, then it is washed with soap and boiling water. (See How to Get Rid of Mosquitoes Indoors)
6. Dyeing & Twisting
Dyeing and Twisting is the third step involved in making silk. Dyeing is the process to give colors to the threads that have been extracted from the cocoons. The thread is bleached and dried after it is thoroughly washed. This process is also termed deflossing. During old times, the coloring technique was based on natural colors extracted from leaves or fruits. However, artificial coloring is preferred by the manufacturing industries due to the wide variety of color choices & the accuracy of color they offer. The process of how is silk made from silkworms & dyed remained the same over the years because the threads are soaked in these dyes in modern methods also.
Spinning is the fourth step of how is silk made from silkworms. It is considered the most important step in the production process of silk. Spinning is the process of making yarn in which the thread is drawn and twisted. During the old times, the traditional spinning wheel was used. Now the same work is done much quicker. The spinning – hand, ring or mule, helps in getting the yarn rolled onto a bobbin which becomes ready for the process of weaving. (Also see How to Identify Bugs in My Garden)
Weaving is the fifth step. It is the process of making cloth from the yarn obtained through the spinning process. The most common methods of weaving are open weaving, satin weaving, and plain weaving. The final look of the silk cloth will depend generally upon the method of weaving used. The threads will be woven at right angles to each other, and the two different angles are called a warp and a weft. The warp will run up and down the fabric, while the weft runs across it.
To give patterns to the fabric, the process of printing takes place. This is the sixth step in the process of how is silk made from silkworm. While the traditional method of giving a vibrant pattern or color is the screen-printing method, the modern technique of printing is done through specially designed textile printers. In the modern method, the handmade designs or digital designs are transferred onto the silk fabric. (See Will Rayon Shrink with Washing?)
Silk has properties like being crease-proof or fire-resistant, which are acquired through the process of finishing. This is the seventh and the last step in the silk production process which gives a lustrous and beautiful shine to the cloth for which it is most famous. The finished products can be now supplied into various markets.