Discovery of silk…


Originating in China, silkworms have been cultivated for thousands of years to produce fine mulberry silk – the world’s most luxurious natural fibre.  Legend has it that in 2640 BCE, Lei-tzu (the wife of Emperor Huang Di) was drinking her hot tea under the shade of a mulberry tree when a cocoon fell from the tree, landing in her cup.  When she pulled it out, she found it unwound into a long, delicate and iridescent filament.  She discovered that by twisting together silk fibres from several cocoons, she could make a soft thread that was strong enough to be woven into a ceremonial robe for the Emperor.

She took this discovery to her husband, who was enthralled by the fibre and enthusiastically helped his wife develop methods for raising silk worms, reeling silk thread and weaving the thread into fine fabric.

For her discovery of the silk-making process, Lei-tzu is also sometimes called Si Ling-chi or Lady of the Silkworm and is often identified as a goddess of silk-making.  (Huang Di – the “Yellow Emperor” who ruled from 2698 BC to 2599 BC – is credited as the founder of the Chinese nation, as well as the founder of Taoism, the creator of writing and inventor of a range of tools including the compass and the pottery wheel!)

The Chinese were able to keep their silk-making secret from the rest of the world for more than 2,000 years, creating a monopoly on silk fabric production.  This monopoly led to a lucrative trade in silk fabric and the advent of the “Silk Road” 

About 400 CE, another Chinese princess is believed to have smuggled some mulberry seeds and silkworm eggs in her headdress on her way to be married to a prince in India, thus allowing silk production in her new homeland.  It was then only a few centuries later that the secrets were revealed to Byzantium, then another century later, to France, Spain, and Italy.