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The origin of silk is shrouded in legend. Its production is traced back to China in the third millennium B.C., but there is evidence of its appearance as early as a few millennia earlier. From the beginning it was a luxury good, intended for royal families and high dignitaries. From China, production began to spread to neighboring countries, Japan, Korea and India. During the Roman Empire it also made its appearance in Europe through the caravan routes, those routes that in the nineteenth century would take the very name “Silk Road.” During Justinian’s empire (mid-6th century CE) two monks brought silkworm eggs hidden in their traveling sticks to Constantinople, starting a European manufacture of the yarn. 

How is silk obtained? From the silkworm cocoon of a particular species of butterfly (Bombyx mori). The insect creates it in three to four days with a single thread, which can be up to 1,500 meters long. The cocoon is used by the silkworm to carry out its metamorphosis, first into a chrysalis and then into a butterfly: thus in nature the insect makes a hole to exit the cocoon, damaging the integrity of the thread.

Therefore, in traditional production, the silkworm is killed before metamorphosis, usually by placing the cocoon in a dryer. For three meters of silk, about 2,800 cocoons must be used and as many potential butterflies killed.

This is why the production of a silk that does not eliminate insects, an “ethical” silk, also called “peace silk,” is becoming more popular. The cocoon is used only after the metamorphosis is complete and the insect has emerged; of course the thread is no longer intact, but it can be twisted as it is for other fibers. In India then many breeders create small cuts on the cocoon from which the silkworm can exit without creating any particular damage to the yarn (Ahimsā silk).

From another type of silkworm, Samia ricini, also found in Italy, which feeds on castor plants instead of mulberry like Bombix mori, Eri silk (northeastern India) is obtained using the same procedure that safeguards the insect. This type of silk is also produced by the large “Ailanthus silk moth” (Samia Cynthia), whose wingspan can reach 16.5 centimeters. This butterfly is widespread in Italy because it was imported in the 19th century to Piedmont for local silk factories.

We at Kurinji care about quality and style, but we also want to preserve for future generations the environment and the living things that inhabit it.

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