Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cambodian Silk Production

I've always wanted to know how silk is made and at the Artisans of
Angkor Silk Factory in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I got my chance to find

The factory is surrounded by fields of mulberry bushes, which are
harvested to feed the silk worms.

The building in which the silk worms are kept stands on foundation
blocks that are surrounded by small pools of water. This design
prevents ants from coming in the building; ants would soon kill the
silk worms if they got in.

The mulberry leaves are chopped up and fed to the worms, which grow
rapidly into caterpillars from only a millimeter to well over 5 cm
long in about 3 weeks.

Then the caterpillar starts to spin its cocoon from a single strand of
silk that emerges from its mouth. The silk strand is eventually 400
meters long. The cocoon must then be placed in the sun to kill the
caterpillar inside before it transforms into a pupa; otherwise the
moth that develops will break the silk strand when it emerges from the
cocoon, rendering it useless for harvesting the silk. About 20% of the
pupae are left to develop into moths which will lay eggs for the next
generation of caterpillars.

The cocoons to be harvested are placed in hot water where they soften.
A wire whisk is used to find the end of the silk strand. For the first
100 meters, strands from many cocoons are bundled together and drawn
up to form the thread of raw silk, a courser form of silk than fine

The remaining 300 meters is used to make fine silk; here strands from
each cocoon are drawn up separately.

Originally the silk has a yellow color and is very stretchy. To make
the silk fibers suitable for making fabrics, they must be bleached and
colored. The bleaching process also makes the fibers much less
stretchy, which is essential for weaving textiles.

The silk is then wound onto bobbins. Silk being selected as warp
threads for weaving are threaded though special combs and wound onto
large reels where they are cut to length and prepared for the loom.

The factory we visited has about 30 looms on which silk textiles are
made, using several different methods. The women doing the weaving
seem to have incredibly keen eyesight and boundless patience. The
fabric they produce is stunningly beautiful and remarkably soft to the

The silk from this farm is sent to many women who weave in their homes
in rural villages in northern Cambodia.

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