On a hot, Provencal’s morning we beat the heat by traipsing over to the Silk Museum in Taulignan, France. Summering in Europe is hard. Our lovely tour guide explained a few things about Sericulture, silkworm cultivation. In a nutshell this is what I gathered:
The Bombyx butterfly, who looks like an ugly white moth, lays her eggs. The eggs hatch and feed only on mulberry leaves four times a day. After about 30 days the worm stops eating and starts to climb to spin their cocoon. The worm firmly attaches itself to a branch and in 2-3 days it produces 800-1500 meters of continuous silk! That’s where the harvester comes in.
The worm, who is now a Bombyx, is removed from the cacoon by the harvester to prevent silk damage, cruel cruel world.
The cacoons are dipped into hot water and are brushed to reveal the beginning of the silk strands, which I imagine in arduous and frustrating work. In the 19th century, when the silk industry was taking off in France, convents were built alongside silk factories and hundreds of local women could find work there. I imagine it’s a combination of Oliver Twist meets The Magdalene Sisters.
Once the thread end is found, each cacoon is unwound onto a spool. The product is then called raw silk. Throwing the silk consists of twisting the silk thread onto a second spool to create the desired strength and texture of the silk. Oftentimes this is also the point at which the silk is dyed. It is now ready for use on the loom.
All good things must come to an end and the lucrative French silk industry experienced just that in 1853 when the Pebrine epidemic wiped out much of the silk worm population. Though some silk production still occurs in France, its day in the sun can still be relived through some of the beautiful garments the museum has on display, like this knock-out turn of the century wedding dress.