I thought all worms were slimy!
In this case, it’s still true because Silkworms are not actually worms and they are not at all slimy! Silkworms are the larval form of a silk moth, Bombyx Mori (don’t worry, this is as scientific as I’ll ever get!).
Another attraction that I was looking forward to visiting in Suzhou was the Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory. State owned and operated since 1926, this is a working silk manufacturer that offers an up-close-and-personal look at their facility.
I found a nifty chart online that explains the lifecycle of the silkworm better than I ever could. Refer to it as you follow along with my photos!
Imagine that the female moth has layed her tiny eggs and they begin their life as a little black caterpillar who grow up to look like this…
This worker is sorting out the smaller caterpillars to be moved to another tray. She kindly allowed me to touch and hold the caterpillars, and to my surprise, they felt velvety and soft like silk!
Their food of choice are Mulberry leaves and they are quite the voracious eaters! I can relate. Heh.
Now comes the time that the caterpillar creates his cocoon. What’s amazing about this process is that the silkworm creates its cocoon out of one single silk thread that is continuous for approximately 3,600 feet!
They showed many different types of “homes” for the caterpillars while they’re busy spinning away their cocoons.
This was my favorite. Isn’t it fabulous?? It’s like organic art.
Next they put the cocoon in an oven/high heat to kill the silkworm inside, but not damage the cocoon. No visuals necessary, right?
Here, the cocoons go through a grading process. “First choice” cocoons are chosen for their clean and white color, good luster, uniform layer of thickness and neat shape and size. These are the ones that are used for silk reeling, which is the next step.
These workers are operating this old-style machine that spins the silk filaments into skeins, this is called “Reeling”. Each cocoon is attached to each spindle. Do you see the fine filaments working up from the clusters of cocoons (in the water) to create the skeins of white silk thread above?
This is how they prepare and capture the filament from the cocoons…
…the cocoons are stirred vigorously in hot water and then the filaments are pulled up and captured to be attached to the silk-reeling machine.
You can appreciate how laborious this all is and how many cocoons it takes for just one skein of fine silk!
The main aim of this Re-reeling machine is to rid the skeins of moisture but at the same time to retain elasticity, strength and elongation rate. Then the skeins are made into hanks of certain specifications to be baled and packaged for storage and transport.
At the factory they demonstrate how the silk is hand-pulled when making their silk comforters.
All in all, it was a really nice tour. It is self-guided unless you are part of an organized tour group. Doesn’t it give you a much better appreciation of all of your silk goods?