Natural silk is a very valuable and sought-after material. It stands out in the textile industry for its delicate touch, unmatched drape and characteristic shine, in addition to its thermal, hypoallergenic and absorbent properties.
Everything seems to indicate that silk is the perfect fabric and every time we see a celebrity wearing it, in general, our desire to spend a lot of money on one of these luxurious garments increases. Will silk be the best among all fabrics or will there be better and, above all, more ethical options?
What is silk and where is it obtained from?
Silk is a natural fiber of animal origin that is used to make threads and fabrics. Fabric made from silk fibers is also known as silk and is highly sought after in the textile industry because it serves as a raw material in the manufacture of expensive garments. Among the virtues of silk, its shine, lightness, softness, freshness, elegance and ability to favor the silhouette and allow perspiration stand out.
The vast majority of silk fiber is obtained from worms of the Bombyx mori species , although there are some other species of insects, arachnids and mollusks that are also exploited for this purpose.
Butterflies or silkworms are domesticated seriferous insects that come from wild silkworms ( Bombyx mandarina ). They feed almost exclusively on the leaves of the white mulberry ( Morus alba ) and have lost their ability to fly during the process of domestication and selective breeding. Its complete metamorphosis lasts a maximum of six weeks. The larvae hatch from the egg in spring with an approximate length of 2 millimeters and after their last molt (just before passing to the chrysalis phase), they reach 8 centimeters in length.
Silkworms are native to the Asian continent, where they have been exploited for millennia for their silk. Currently they are bred all over the world and although there are numerous modern techniques that speed up the breeding and extraction process, many sericulturists continue to use ancestral artisanal techniques that, despite being much more laborious, generate higher quality fibers.
The process of obtaining silk from the silkworm is not at all simple and for many, it is even unethical and controversial. Some of the reasons:
- From a silkworm cocoon you can obtain between 300 and 1,200 meters of silk strands, which means that on average, the cocoons of between 1,000 and 2,000 worms are needed to make a scarf.
- The strength and quality of the fiber depends on the care given to the worms. Tens of thousands of them are kept in hatcheries. They feed on many kilos of mulberry leaves daily and need a rigorous cleaning and temperature and humidity control regimen to prevent disease.
- To make silk thread, the cocoons of silkworms must be cooked. This procedure is done with the worms still inside, as they are not allowed to emerge so that the cocoons do not break or deteriorate. Once cooked, the fiber is strained, spun, bleached, dyed and dried before being wound on a spool and used to create fabrics and clothing.
- The worms that are not used to make silk threads finish their metamorphosis and become adult butterflies. These will live between 5 and 15 days that they will dedicate entirely to reproduce. Each female can lay between 200 and 600 eggs. These will be kept in correctly acclimated places until next spring to repeat the process of obtaining the silk.
Silk spiders or gold silk spiders are poisonous arachnids of the genus Nephila . They live in America, Asia, Africa and Oceania and their name is due to the fact that they weave their webs with gold-colored silk that they themselves produce.
This silk has such a striking natural color and luster that it resembles gold. Although it is very resistant, elastic and, in addition, biodegradable, its commercialization is not profitable. Its producers assure that for their manufacture, the spiders are not harmed and are returned to their habitat after the silk harvesting process is concluded.
The nacra is a species of bivalve mollusk endemic to the Mediterranean Sea in critical danger of extinction . To its byse we owe sea silk (also known as sea gold or mermaid silk), an extremely fine, light and expensive yellowish or brownish fabric. The sea silk is considered by many the most exclusive fabric of the world.
Alternatives to silk
The silk of animal origin , of course, is a non – vegan material. Many organizations and animal movements have denounced animal abuse in the process to obtain silk and constantly recommend the use of other similar fabrics that do not involve animal exploitation. There are two excellent reasons not to use silk:
- The making of a silk garment involves the enslavement, suffering and / or murder of thousands (and even millions) of these silk-producing animals.
- Silk is very expensive. A silk garment costs 10 to 100 times more than a similar cotton or polyester garment.
If you are a fan of silk and you love its appearance and texture, don’t worry, there are many alternative fabrics to silk , which do not involve animal abuse and have an impressive resemblance to traditional silk. Some of them are:
- Ahimsa Silk: Ahimsa silk or Peace Silk is a silk made from the remains of the cocoons of silkworms once they have turned into butterflies. It is cheaper and of lower quality than conventional silk but it does not involve the death of any animal.
- Lotus silk : It is a natural silk of plant origin that is made by hand extracting and processing the fiber from the stems of the Nelumbo nucifera flowers , commonly known as Indian lotuses. The lotus flower thread is characterized by being less rigid, more elastic and up to 10 times more expensive than conventional silk thread. This silk is so valuable and exclusive because it is currently produced in only three countries around the world (Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia) and its production process is much slower and more laborious than that of traditional silk.
- Rayon: Rayon, also known as viscose or artificial silk , is a synthetic fabric made from cellulose. It perfectly imitates the properties of silk, it is of vegetable origin, it can be mixed with other types of fabrics and its price is quite accessible.
- Acetate: is an artificial fabric created from cellulose acetate. It is very shiny and closely resembles natural silk.