There are four types of commercially produced natural silk around the world, the most popular, representing 90% of silk production is mulberry silk. This is referred to as such because the worm that produces this type feeds only on the leaves of the mulberry plant. These worms are entirely domesticated and ‘farm-raised’.
Raising of silkworms for production of silk is an industry that is known as sericulture. “Sericulture can help keeping the rural population employed and to prevent migration to big cities and securing remunerative employment; it requires small investments while providing raw material for textile industries.The major silk producing countries in the world are; China, India, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Japan. The major silk consumers of the world are; USA, Italy, Japan, India, France.”
Conventional silk is the ‘cruel’ route, as this process boils the pupae of the silk worm, with the worm still in it. This process does not enable the larvae to live out its full life cycle, but enables the worker to keep the prized single strand intact for production. Brit at Green Cotton Word Press shines some light on the chemicals involved in mulberry silk production; “One mile of filament sounds like a lot, but it takes thousands of silkworms, and many pounds of mulberry leaves to make a dress. 1 acre of mulberry trees produces over 11 tons of leaves, which will feed 240 lbs of silkworms and their cocoons, and will yield just 37 lbs of raw silk… Chemicals can also be used on the silkworms to increase the amount of silk produced.
Methoprene is an insecticide and hormone disrupter which may be applied to silkworms to slow their growth rate and extend the time they spin silk.“ This type of silk is the most coveted because of the ability to be able to unravel the cocoon in one single strand, it’s illustrious sheen, and smooth texture. My personal rating for this type of textile, including it’s production process, would be a “B”. I am certainly not thrilled about the larvae being boiled alive, I know I wouldn’t want to experience that myself (or anything else for that matter. No, I’m not vegan), but I am fond of the cultivation of an item that is being naturally produced, rather than man made.
‘Peace silk’ or ‘Ahimsa’ (cruelty-free) production involves allowing the worm to follow through with its natural process of leaving its cocoon, but since it is broken, the strand is not continuous and leaves the silk less smooth or less shiny than that of conventional silk. Producing silk in such a way takes into account the ethical standards that we hope to find throughout the textile and garment industry. I give this product an “A”. I love that this is a naturally produced fibre that does not interrupt the natural life cycle of the being that produces it. Also, there is no chemical processes involved as the people who work the cocoons into silk weave the fibres together entirely by manual labour. This type of silk is less popular due to the fact that the threads are not continuous, creating a ‘rougher’ texture and a duller shine compared to conventional silk.
There are 8 different types of non-mulberry silk, 2 of which are of a non-insect variety derived from spiders (arachnid) and mussels (clams). Tasar silkworms are all wild and produce the largest amount of non-mulberry silks in the world. There are many varieties throughout China, India, and Japan.