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Friday, May 14, 2010

A Brief History Of Como Silk

Como is about a half hour drive from Milan. It is nestled between verdant mountains and a tanquil lake. It sits on the divide between Italy and Switzerland. Como is also the home of Italy's finest silk production and the last remaining hub for silk in Europe. It is also where Le Noeud Papillon predominantly sources its silk from.

The silk worm (Bombyx Mori, or Mulberry Worm) is a very small worm measuring roughly one millemetre in length. In it's short life of approximately 30 days, it multiplies its own body weight approximately 8000 times to reach a length of almost 9 centimetres.

For example, 30 grams of silk worm eggs will consume approximately 1000 kilograms of Mulberry leaves, then forming cocoons which will make approximately 6 kgs of raw silk.

The worm itself ingests the Mulberry leaves, not by chewing, but by tearing the leaves into strips small enough to be ingested.

When the worm is ready to form its cocoon, it does one last big poop and then heads out onto the branch to begin secreting the silk from two different glands at a diameter of around 15 one thousandths of a millimetre. The worm then spins approximately 2000 metres of filament around the cocoon over a 4 day period.

The worm then metamorphises into a butterfly (correction - a moth), first forming into a chrysalid. Then it forms into a butterfly which melts the glue which binds the cocoon. Of course, because silk worms have been cultivated over thousands of years, the butterfly cannot actually fly. And the cocoons are boiled before this stage, stopping the chrysalid from developing further. The threads are then collected from the hot water and spun into a raw silk.

These days, most of the raw material purchased by Como silk houses comes from China or Brazil. This raw material is then processed into yarn by Italian manufacturers. It is carefully dyed and treated to ensure quality before it goes onto a silk press. The magic comes not from the initial yarn, but the processing and finishing which the Italians are famous for. This will be shown in the next blog entry.

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