Silk Producing Countries
Silk is believed to have originated from ancient China, with the oldest samples dating as far back as 3,500 BC. Initially silk fabrics were the preserve of royalty but gradually they spread throughout the Chinese culture. From China, silk was transferred to neighboring Asian countries both the as a tradable commodity and the silk farming and weaving techniques. Silk trading from ancient China extended beyond the Indian sub-continent into Europe and north Africa, comprising a major and highly profitable commodity along the extensive network of trading routes know as the Silk Road.
The same fine luster and texture that made silk fabric of choice among aristocrats makes it a highly sought after fabric in the textile industry today. China today still produces silk and over 50% of silk worldwide originates from China.
Silk production is India has a long and ancient history. Archeological findings suggest that silk from wild silk threads was harvested in time periods simultaneous with the earliest known silk in China. India is the second largest producer of silk after China. India is the largest consumer of silk in the world today. There are many silk producing areas such as the south western state of Karnataka, the northern Bangalore regions and others. Each region has distinct styles and designs. India is the only country that produces all commercial varieties of silk. Traditionally silk was a status symbol worn by the upper class particularly for festivals and grand occasions. In modern times it is more widely worn especially on occasions such as weddings where the traditional bridal wear is a silk saree. The fabric was traditionally woven and dyed by hand, incorporating special techniques such as weaving in threads of pure silver. The quality of Indian silk is high and some excellent pieces last for decades if well preserved.
The Japanese learnt the art of silk production and weaving from China from around 300 AD. Until the 1970s Japan was the largest producer of silk in the modern times, before it was overtaken by China. Japanese raw silk is known for its exception high quality.
In Thailand, silk is harvested and produced throughout the year, typically after the rice harvest season. Different regions in Thailand have their particular types of silk which vary in colors and styles. Silk weaving is traditionally a woman’s job, carried out on hand looms with skills passed down the generations. It is a laborious process – half a kilo of Thai silk takes 40 hours of hand-reeling – but the results are exceptional quality. The threads are then bleached to remove the nature yellow tint of Thai silk, before weaving on traditional hand-driven looms. Modern silk production uses mechanized reels although there is still great demand for hand-reeled silk threads.
Arabs who conquered the Persian region in the 7th century acquired the silk farming and production skills which they brought back to their countries and also spread them into north Africa. The Moors then brought silk into Spain during their rule over the Iberian Peninsula.
Initially silk was brought into Europe as a textile from trading expeditions in the near and far East. By the 13th century, silk farming and harvesting was established particularly in Southern and Eastern Europe. King James I attempted silk production in Britain but failed due to unsuitability of the particular mulberry trees used. The industrial revolution transformed silk manufacturing in Europe through advanced machinery that allowed for faster and cheaper production of the textiles. Consequently, silk became a more mainstream fabric. However, the rise of synthetic fabrics in modern times has reduced the occurrence of silk in the fabric industry of Europe and globally. However, silk has not become obsolete and because of its natural beauty, remains a luxury textile in both the traditional producing regions and around the world.
This is the largest silk producing nation in South America and the industry has developed here in more modern times. Brazil harvests and exports raw silk and silk yarn, with Japan being its main market.