Friday, March 16, 2018

Silk, Silkworms, and Related

Last month, I wrote about spider silk, inspired to research because of recent articles I wrote about argiope spiders. I decided to revisit one of my curiosities about silk, particularly silkworms.

What was the process for obtaining silk from those worms? Did "farmers" have loads of worms that they fed till the worms entered pupating stage, then farmers unwound the material? What happened afterwards? Did the worms die? Did they recreate their chrysalises/cocoons, only to have farmers steal again? And again? And again?

In initial googling, I see that worms become moths, and their pupating stage includes cocoons, not crysalises. About a year ago, I wrote "Leggy Bugs—Caterpillars (Lepidopteran Larvae, which Become Butterflies and Moths)". My article explains that butterflies emerge from chrysalises, and moths emerge from cocoons.

"How silkworms make silk" answered many of my questions. Yes, they kill the worms, thus, no pupating do-overs. Workers obtain the silk afterward. About 2500 silkworms are required to yield one pound of silk. (The video refers to both chrysalis and cocoon; however, these pupal terms are not interchangeable.)

"Interesting Silkworm Facts" describes basic silkworm information for casually interested readers (self included). The gist of obtaining silk from the worms:
Once they enter this (pupal) state, they become motionless and enclose themselves in an envelope of silk. … This silk comes from their salivary glands. And it is this raw silk that people harvest and turn into those lustrous and fine fabric. … these silk threads are so thin and so fine that it takes 3000 cocoons to make one pound of silk. The sad thing about harvesting silk from silkworms is that these creatures die in the process. To get the silk, the cocoons must be boiled.
Other silk thoughts came to mind: Silkworm missiles, certain items made of silk, different silks, …

Weapons—Chinese Silkworm Missiles and Tomahawks

I couldn't find a feasible explanation for why a Silkworm missile is named Silkworm. The worm itself seems innocuous. It dies an early life because it gets boiled while it's in its cocoon, seldom reaching its natural and metamorphosed life as a moth. Maybe the name is a disarmingly misleading descriptor for a potent destroyer missile.

Another missile name that might seem odd is "tomahawk". My first encounter with the word was reading "Tomahawk", a comic book series from decades ago. It was clear that an actual tomahawk was a hand-held weapon. "Short History of Tomahawk" informs of the name's origin, with descriptions of various tomahawks and their changes over time.

Silk Stockings and Parachutes

From "England Textile Occupations Silk, Cotton, Weaving (National Institute)":
Early references to silk weaving in England occur in the trade protection Acts of the last half of the 15th century banning the import of foreign silk goods. … The 19th century was the heyday of the fashion for silk ribbon, dresses and other uses … Shorter skirts from the 1920s created a demand for silk stockings, and during the Second World War all silk was requisitioned for making parachutes, each requiring 67 square yards. When someone found a downed parachute, or they were sold off after the war, they were snapped up.
Besides a commodity, Silk Stockings is a 1957 movie starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Another movie also named Silk Stockings came out in 1927. These two movies don't appear to have any relationship to the other.

More Silk and Hitting the Silk

Dictionary.com's entry for "silk" includes numerous definitions for uses as nouns, adjective, a verb, idioms, and word origin and history. The entry for "hit the silk" is the same as "silk", but includes additional information and explanation for the expression, which primarily pertains to a soldier jumping out of a plane in a parachute. (Some of the title headings might seem misleading or mistitled, in case you're persnickety, like I can be.)

Brocade and Other Kinds of Silk

In the past, I'd been curious about brocade, not knowing that it was silk with fancy characteristics. "The Different Types Of Silk" describes silk types that have familiar names (brocade, silk satin, chiffon, …) and shows illustrative examples.

"Damask vs Brocade: What's the Difference?" contrasts the two types of fabrics.
Damasks and brocades are not patterns but are two different types of fabric. Although they are both woven using a jacquard loom, they are constructed differently.
Although the article does not refer to "silk", it provides a link to "Jacquard Damask and Brocade Fabrics in Women's Fashion". This webpage talks about silk and additionally deeper details about the fabrics. Another resource is "Brocade and jacquard – what’s the difference? (or, the history of the jacquard loom, and all the weaves it can create)". (Despite the title lacking "Damask", the article gives it fair treatment.)

Silk Road

The more traditional Silk Road pertains to trade in the Far East. From History.com's "Silk Road":
The Silk Road was a network of trade routes connecting China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe. Established when the Han Dynasty in China officially opened trade with the West in 130 B.C., the Silk Road routes remained in use until 1453 A.D. … Although it’s been nearly 600 years since the Silk Road has been used for international trade, the routes had a lasting impact on commerce, culture and history that resonates even today.
Another source about the Silk Road, at a more elementary level, is "Ancient China The Silk Road". "Caterpillar drives sales on China's new Silk Road" describes more recent attention to the area.
Helping fuel the growth of that (China) market, Caterpillar executives and analysts say, is China’s Belt and Road initiative, a huge infrastructure spending spree that builds on the old Silk Road trading routes. The ambitious and ever-growing $1 trillion initiative now includes projects spanning Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The more recent Silk Road is associated with entrepreneurial Ross Ulbricht. "Silk Road’s mastermind Ross Ulbricht takes case to US Court of Appeals" provides some background about him and his company that he named Silk Road.
Silk Road operated using the Tor Network and the marketplace users mainly bought and sold drugs, false identification documents, and computer hacking software. Transactions on Silk Road used Bitcoins, favoured because of the anonymity it grants.

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