The Spider and the Silkworm
Having received an order for twenty yards of silk from the Princess Lioness, the Silkworm sat down at her loom and began to work. She worked slowly and deliberately but with great ardour and passion. Spider soon came around and asked to hire a web-room nearby.
The Silkworm agreed, and the Spider began to spin and weave with great speed. She worked so fast that in a short time the web was finished. "Just look at it," she said, “see how grand and intricate it is. You cannot but acknowledge that I'm a much better worker than you. See how quickly I was able to finish."
"Yes," answered the Silkworm, "but your work is designed only as base traps, and they are destroyed whenever they are seen, and brushed away as useless dirt. Mine are stored away, as ornaments of Royalty."
Sericulture, the art of raising silk producing silkworms, has been an industry for so long the moths have evolved to become flightless and completely dependent on humans for food and reproduction. Silk weaving in Cambodia has a long distinguished history dating back to Angkorian times. Stone carvings record stories of textiles traded for land and slaves, and fabrics, the details of which are suggestive of the same motifs and symbols used today. There is evidence silks were used to, and still often are, clothe Angkor’s sculptured deities. During its peak Cambodia was a trading centre along the famous Silk Route between China and India.
Sericulture in Cambodia is primarily and proudly done by women and is a skill often handed down through families. This was however halted by the Khmer Rouge who completely obliterated the industry and destroyed all but 15 hectares of vital mulberry bushes, the food of the silkworm. Once peace and stability returned to the region various attempts were been made to revive the industry. Much of the inherited knowledge was gone, women had to relearn the art of silk making. In 2006 the revitalised silk industry was estimated to be worth about four million in export dollars with an impressive five year goal of 25 million. Exported silk goes primarily to France, Italy, Japan and Switzerland, Australia, Germany and Singapore. Our friend has shown her silk in France and has had interest from some pretty swanky designers.
The silkworm eggs hatch into tiny black worms who gorge themselves on young tender mulberry leaves so their hatching must time with the availability of the new leaves. They eat and grow multiplying to 10 000 times their hatched size. They turn from black to gray and then white moulting 4 times as they grow.
Equal numbers of male and female moths are placed in a container to mate. On the left of the picture are some spent moths. On the right if you look closely you can see a huge hole in one of the cocoons. Look at their beautiful colour though!!
When they are ready to cocoon a tray is placed over the worms, which they attach themselves to, and then they begin to spin. The cocoon of the silkworm is spun in one long continuous thread sometimes more than a mile long. When the moth hatches out of the cocoon the thread is broken and thus rendered useless.
The silk is then degummed to remove the sericin the natural substance that protects the fibre in a similar way to the way lanolin protects wool. This sericin, mostly discarded with the waste water in Cambodia, is often used as a protective protein and antioxidant in hair and skin products, medicines and food and used as a antibacterial coating for air filter filaments and in products such as disposable nappies and wound dressings to protect skin from the natural or artificial fibres of the material.
The ‘washed’ yarn is then spun on homemade wheels and dyed using natural dyes, from bark, berries and fruit, to produce a range of colours that are used in unique designs.
Looms are set up according to the particular pattern of the silk being woven. The loom is 'warped' (strung with the warp threads) and pulled tight. Heddles, in this case white cord you can see in the picture, are used to separate each warp thread. As there is one heddle for each thread of the warp there can be a thousand heddles used for fine or wide warps. The warp threads are strung through the 'eye' of each heddle so that when raised or lowered the heddle brings its warp thread with it. The shaft, the long wooden pole at either end of the heddle, is what is used to move the heddles. The warp is threaded through heddles on different shafts in order to obtain different weave structures. The shaft is raised or lowered according to the pattern. Raising the shaft pulls warp threads up so that the weaver can pass the shuttle with the weft thread on it through the gap.
Weaving! This one is a scarf judging by the width of the warp and finished fabric. The girls make bed covers too which are woven on a huge loom with a warp the width of a queen size bed.
A finished ikat. Ikat is an Indonesian word literally meaning to tie or bind indicating the manner in which the pattern is created. A double ikat is when both the warp and the weft threads have been dyed.