A Brief History of Silk
According to legend, silk was first discovered over four millenia ago by Chinese Empress Xi Ling Shi. As a young girl living in a palace, she liked to visit its beautiful garden containing many mulberry trees. One day she gently plucked a cocoon from a tree and accidentally dropped it in hot water that was being prepared for tea. When it fell into the water, she discovered that she could unwind the delicate thread from the cocoon.
For the next 2,000 years, the secret of making silk remained in China, protected by Imperial decree that threatened death by torture to anyone who disclosed it. It eventually reached Japan by the 4th century A.D. and also made its way to India, supposedly by a Chinese princess who hid eggs and mulberry seeds in the lining of her headdress.
By the 6th century A.D., it also made its way to the West when monks working as spies for the Byzantine Emperor smuggled silkworm eggs from China to Constantinople in hollowed-out canes.
Once the secret was out, silk quickly became a highly sought-after and precious commodity along the world's trade routes, with the best Chinese silks fetching as much as 300 denarii (a Roman soldier's salary for an entire year).
Since the late 1970's, China has dramatically increased silk production and has once again become the world's leading producer of the finest silk.
Other Interesting Facts
The Chinese character for 'happiness' is a combination of the symbols for white, silk, and tree.
The strongest natural fiber known to man, silk is as tough as steel in tensile strength.
Roughly 2,500 cocoons are needed to produce 1 lb. of silk, representing a single silk filament that can stretch for over 1,000 miles.
The shimmering quality of silk thread is produced by the fiber's prism-like structure which enables the silk cloth to refract light at different angles.
The United States is the largest importer of silk in the world.