When most people think of silk, they think of China. China has been the largest producer of silk throughout history. This is because the original wild ancestor of the commercially grown species of moth that produces silk was unique to China. So it makes sense that the Chinese invented sericulture, or the process of creating silk. Sericulture has since spread to all areas of the globe, namely countries in Southeast Asia such as Cambodia.
Yet silk production in Cambodia doesn’t have it so easy as compared to its counterparts in China, Vietnam and Thailand. Due to Cambodia’s turbulent history, sericulture has been put on the back burner – so much so that the government has recently listed silk as one of eight priority export items to be developed by the Ministry of Commerce. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is even helping to fund silk sector development. Cambodia certainly has the potential to develop this industry as experts agree that the quality of Cambodian handmade golden silk is far superior to that of the mass produced silk in other areas of Asia.
Creating silk is super interesting but also time consuming! The process begins with the breeding of butterflies. Male and female butterflies mate for about 12 hours. Females then lay up to 300 eggs and then die soon after breeding. The breeder will then gather the eggs on a sheet of paper and incubate these eggs for 12 days under a bell and a piece of wet cloth. Caterpillars then hatch out of these eggs and eventually turn into what we commonly know as silk worms.
Once the worm is fully developed it is ready to spin its cocoon of silk. Worms used to be individually placed into bundles of twigs to spin, but nowadays they can be placed in bamboo trays that have a spiral inside around which the caterpillar can spin its cocoon.
The process of spinning silk takes about 3-4 days, during which time the larva has gone through its entire growth cycle. The quality of the silk produced is dependent on the health of the worms and their environment as well as the quality of the mulberry leaves that they eat. Once the worm has finished spinning, the breeder has 10 days to unwind the cocoon before the worm completes metamorphosis and eats its way out of the cocoon in the form of a moth. Unwinding the cocoon can be quite a difficult process as the procedure is completed in very hot water. 10kg of cocoons produce just 1kg of silk yarn.
This intricate process makes us appreciate our beautiful silk products even more! Check out our online store to find more Cambodian silk items.