The humble silkworm

We all know what silk feels and looks like, but how many of us know anything about its extraordinary history. It was first developed over five thousand years ago in China and was initially reserved for the emperors. It came from the tiny silkworm, which feeds on mulberry leaves, whose cocoon was made of a silken thread which could be unravelled. Over time silk spread throughout the country and finally began to be heard of beyond China's borders. The Emperors were desperate to keep the skills and secrets of silk making secret, but inevitably it seeped out. By 300 BC the Korean people had begun to manufacture silk and five hundred years later the skills had reached as far as India.

Although the Romans are believed to have traded in silk, the secrets of the industry were not to reach Europe until five hundred years after Christ. It is said that monks working for the Emperor Justinian were the first to bring silkworm eggs to Constantinople in hollow canes.

Merchants from Venice traded extensively in silk and encouraged silk growers to settle in Italy. By the 13th century, Italian silk was a significant source of trade. Since that period, the silk worked in the Como region has been the most valuable silk in the world. Italian silk was so popular in Europe that Francis I of France invited Italian silk makers to France to create a French silk industry. Mass emigration during periods of religious dispute seriously damaged French lingerie industry and introduced the various textile skills, including silk, to other countries...

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