THE HISTORY OF SILK

What is behind this amazing and valuable fabric?

The history of silk didn’t start with an exact date, but recent studies trace its processing back to about 8500 years ago. Legend tells that in 3000 B.C. while the empress Xi Ling Shi sipped hot tea in the shade of a mulberry tree, the cocoon of a silkworm fell into the cup and she was able to obtain a very long thread, thanks to the heat of the drink. In ancient China, silk was the prerogative of emperors and empresses, who wore precious yellow robes. Silk was also worn by court people and priests, but over time the use of silk spread to all wealthier social classes. Silk was a luxury commodity, and the emperors jealously guarded the secrets of its cultivation and processing.

Later, silk fabrics began to travel along the trade routes that connected East to West. The ancient Romans were fascinated by this fabric and became great users, although they knew neither the composition nor the origin. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, began to dominate trade in the Mediterranean and the Byzantines established economic ties with China, which remained the largest producer of silk. The Eastern Roman Empire began to produce and process silk, which became a flourishing sector of the Byzantine economy.

In the thirteenth century AD, with the expansion of the Islamic world, the silkworm arrived in Sicily and progressively, Italy developed its own production of the precious fabric becoming the most important European center. Unfortunately, during the two World Wars, silkworm farming began to decline and after the Second World War, it disappeared completely.

This disappearance was caused by two factors: the production of synthetic fibres; the change of the agricultural organization.

With urbanization and industrialization, foreign competition became unsustainable. Nowadays, Asian countries are massively industrializing, and their technological and qualitative level adapts to Western needs, their competition has become unsustainable: many Italian manufacturers only sell products made entirely abroad. One of the causes of the massive decline in the production of cocoons was the decline in the agricultural population, the diversification of farming practices, and the relationships in the management of agricultural companies. Despite everything, Italian silk has returned to be a very popular product for fashion and luxury companies.

The history of silk is a thousand-year history and just like a precious thread, it puts together cultures, peoples, and traditions.

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