Is there anything better than silk?! Soft, breathable, and available in a number of finishes, it drapes beautifully and is often used for making luxurious and high-end clothing. It's also been used as fabric for a very long time; remnants of silk fabric have been found in Chinese tombs which are over five thousand years old.
Once a nationally protected secret, the art of silk making eventually spread globally from China and has been practiced and perfected over the course of millennia. Despite having such a strong presence in the world, silk holds the potential to be revolutionary even in the modern day – the rise of ethically conscious fabric consumption and slow fashion has led many to question commercial silk production, and led to more interest consciously produced silk, like the "wild" eri silk we're now offering in the shop.
How Mulberry Silk is Made
Most silk in use today is known as mulberry silk, and it comes from the cocoon filaments of the Bombyx mori, a silk moth which feeds on mulberry leaves as a caterpillar and has been domesticated for the purpose of silk spinning. Unfortunately, thousands of years of domestication have left these moths unable to fly, as their primary purpose in the silk industry is to lay eggs. Once these eggs are hatched, silk farmers begin to feed the growing silkworms a large volume of mulberry leaves – a group of 3000 silkworms will eat roughly 100kg of mulberry leaves during their lifespan. It takes all 3000 of these silkworms to produce just a single yard of silk fabric.
Once the silkworms have completed their cocoons, they are boiled and washed in order to clean and loosen the fibres, which are then unraveled from the cocoon in a single strand. These strands are twined together for strength before being woven into the flowy silk you see most commonly today.
Ethical concerns with the silk industry include issues that affect the majority of the fast fashion textile industry such as labor practices, water consumption, and dye runoff into groundwater. In addition, silk production is considered cruel by some since the silkworms die when the cocoons are boiled in preparation for spinning.
Enter peace silk, varieties of which include tassar, muga, and eri silk. Peace silk is collected from abandoned cocoons of wild (known as wild silk) or domesticated silkworms, and is in direct dialogue with many of the ethical concerns brought about by mulberry silk.
How Eri or Peace Silk is Made
Our new line of Eri Silk comes from a woman owned and operated co-op centering sustainability in the pursuit of luxury and comfort, focusing on environmentally conscious practices to create fabric. Let's look at how they produce it!
Peace silk starts out much like the more common mulberry silk, with the hatching of silkworms. However, it quickly deviates in ways that drastically change the environmental impact of silk production. Eri silkworms feed off local castor leaves for about a month before building their cocoons. Castor plants are drought-resistant, and can survive off less than 10 inches of natural rainfall a year, whereas the mulberry plants fed on by Bombyx mori silkworms require the equivalent of 2 inches of rainfall per week.
In contrast to the cocoons produced by the Bombyx mori moths, Eri cocoons are larger, and are created with an opening at one end, enabling the moths to safely leave before their cocoons are processed. Because the silkworms are removed prior to the washing and boiling of fibres, the silk that is then produced is known as “peace silk”. The silkworms that produce our Eri Silk are reared on-site, so there is no shipping or transportation of the cocoons to the spinning factory.
Because this silk comes from castor-fed locally raised silkworms, the total GHG emissions for the finished fabric are 40% lower than that of mulberry silk.
Once the cocoons have been washed and loosened in boiling water, the silk fibres are collected and spun into yarn that is then dyed with natural dyes and woven into beautiful fabric by collectives of fairly paid weavers and artisans across India.
Properties of Eri Silk
If you’re familiar with mulberry silk, you’ll immediately notice some differences when it comes to eri silk. Because eri cocoons have an opening for the moths to leave, silk harvesters cannot unravel the cocoons in one continuous strand. Instead, they process the fibre in a similar fashion to cotton and spin it into yarn for weaving. This means that eri silk has shorter fibres, making it more breathable and giving it a soft, slubby surface with dimension and texture.
On a microscopic level, eri silk fibres (like all silk fibres) are triangular in shape and reflect light from multiple angles, which gives the silk its unique sheen and colour intensity when dyed. Much like the hollow, round fibres of wool and linen, this triangular shape traps air when woven together and creates an isothermic fabric which stays cool in the summer and warm in winter.
This spectacular silk embodies so many of the qualities Core Fabrics celebrates: There is minimal water consumption involved in its production, our supplier fairly compensates for labor and supports artisan weaving communities, and the dye used does not contribute to any water pollution. On top of that, the colours are stunning, the fabric shines beautifully, and the silkworms who made the fibres get to live a complete and natural lifespan.
It’s hard not to love a truly quality silk that has been thoughtfully created, from cocoon to finished garment!