The commercial production of silk (or sericulture) is a long and complex process involving a variety of skilled people at different stages of its production. About 60 lakh people in India are engaged in various sericulture activities throughout the year. Here is an outline of the different steps involved in the production of mulberry silk and the people employed at each step.
1. Silk rearers: The process starts with rearing the silkworm, Bombyx mori, in a controlled environment. The female silkworm lays eggs in a box which are incubated for a few days until the eggs hatch into larvae. They are now ready to be fed mulberry leaves.
2. Silk farmers: Mulberry saplings are planted in nurseries and take about 6 months to grow. The leaves of the mulberry trees are then harvested to be fed to the silk larvae.
3. Silk rearers: The larvae are fed huge quantities of chopped mulberry leaves for about 6 weeks. During this time, they shed their skin 4 times and grow to about 4 inches long. Once it stops eating, the silkworm is now ready to spin silk. The worm is attached to a frame, where it rotates its body continuously, secreting saliva. The saliva hardens in contact with air, forming a pair of silk filaments. It also secretes a gummy fluid, sericin, which binds the filaments together for protection. Over the next 4 days, the silkworm spins about 1 km of filament, constructing a cocoon and encloses itself completely within it, growing into a pupa. From every batch of cocoons, a small portion of the male and female pupae are kept aside until they grow into moths and are mated for producing the next generation of silkworms. The remaining cocoons are sent for processing into silk.
4. Silk reelers: The cocoons are boiled in water, killing the pupae and softening the sericin. The silk filaments are unbound from the cocoon and carefully wound onto a reel. Filaments from several cocoons are wound together to create a single thread of raw silk. About 2500 silkworms are required to produce a pound of raw silk.
5. Silk twisters: The raw silk still contains the sericin gum. It is removed by washing it with soap and boiling water. The resulting silk is soft, light and lustrous, and is twisted to produce the strands of silk yarn. Different methods of twisting are used to get the various types of silk yarn: crepe, organzine, singles, etc. The yarn is dyed at this stage in baths of dye colours.
6. Silk weavers: In the final step, silk fabric is woven from the silk yarns using looms (handlooms and powerlooms). A variety of looms employ different ways of holding the warp and weft yarns in them and apply various weaving techniques to produce the diverse range of silk fabrics that we can find today.
“Silk Making & Silk Production”, Retrieved 26 Sept 2016, from https://texeresilk.com/article/silk_making_how_to_make_silk
"Sericulture" Retrieved 26 Sept 2016, from www.csb.gov.in/silk-sericulture/sericulture/