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Topic – Ancient China: Making Silk in Ancient China

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Read about making silk in ancient China, or click on the play button below to listen aloud.

Making Silk in Ancient China

Silkmoth, the start to making silk

The making of silk fabric was one of the most important discoveries in ancient China. The ancient Chinese discovered that silkworms make tiny strands of silk, and these strands can be used to make a fabric that is beautiful and very strong. Read on to find out how the ancient Chinese made silk.

Silk making process at the Silk Museum, factory and shop in Suzhou, China.

Step 1: The eggs laid by silkworm moths are collected and kept in a cool place where the temperature can be controlled. Over time, the temperature is slowly increased to about 25°C. The silkworms will then hatch from the eggs.   

Step 2: Silkworms are fed fresh mulberry leaves. They eat constantly until they grow very fat. The fat provides the energy the silkworms need to create a cocoon.

Silkworms hatched from eggs

Step 3: Silkworms produce a jelly-like material that hardens into a thin strand of silk when it is exposed to air. The worm wraps itself in the long strand to create a white cocoon.

Step 4: The cocoons are kept in a dry place for several days. The cocoons are then steamed or baked to kill the silkworm inside before it starts to break out. Each cocoon is then dipped in hot water to loosen the strand of silk.

Step 5: Each cocoon is then unwound to get the long strand of silk. This strand is between 600 metres and 900 metres long. The strands are then wound onto a spool.

Silk cocoons created by silkworms

Step 6: Several strands of silk are then twisted together to make strong silk thread. Natural materials are used to dye the threads different colours. The threads are then woven into colourful fabric.

Weaving traditional Chinese silk in Wuzhen, China

Fun Fact: According to Chinese legend, Empress Hsi Ling Shi, wife of Emperor Huang Ti (also called the Yellow Emperor), was the first person to accidentally discover silk. It happened when a silkworm cocoon fell into the cup of tea she was drinking under a mulberry tree. When she pulled out the cocoon, the strong silk fiber came loose.

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