Soft and delicate but immensely strong; that’s almost certainly how you feel when you drape a silk garment over your shoulders and it’s also an extremely accurate description of the material itself. Silk is the strongest natural textile in the world but it’s the soft shiny texture that has placed it as one of the hottest commodities on the planet throughout history. Silk has been the reason for the construction of multiple trade routes and culture shifts across the globe and it’s not too hard to see why.
A brief history
Due to its rarity and beauty, silk was reserved for the Emperor of China and his family for a very long time. It is said that he would wear clothes made of white silk when inside the palace and yellow silk, when he went outside. Gradually, restrictions on who could wear silk clothing and buy other silk adornments faded. Silk could be afforded by those with money and it became a reasonably, commonly used material in Chinese high fashion and décor.
The Silk Road’s establishment in 200 BC meant that those who lived far away from China and other silk-producing countries could finally get their hands on this most prized material. There was a thriving silk industry in Italy during the medieval period with France following not long after. In the 16th century, Lyon became the centre for unique European silk products that differed in style from those in Asia. By the middle of the 17th century, over 14,000 looms were used in Lyon.
During the Industrial Revolution, production began on a piece of new machinery named the Jacquard loom which would allow silk designs to be mass-produced with ease -much to the distress of silk workers of whom it put out of a job. However, silkworm diseases such as pébrine, took hold and halted the industry in the 19th century. There was also the matter of silkworm cocoons getting more expensive and the demand for silk from the upper classes declining that effectively ended European silk production. So, silk went back home. Now it is once again China that provides the vast majority of the world’s silk, producing six times as much as India, its closest competitor.
Nature and uses of silk
Silk mainly consists of a protein called fibroin, which is secreted by larvae who exclusively live on mulberry trees. The larvae are scientifically known as Bombyx mori or ‘silkworm’ to non-Latin speakers. Silk is produced as the silkworm constructs its cocoon before it transforms into a silkmoth. It is the residue of being in between a transformation, which is actually hugely significant to its role in trade history.
The silkworm itself is the subject of many East Asian myths and folktales. In China, an ancient empress called Leizu was said to have discovered silk, when a cocoon dropped into her tea, as she was sitting underneath a tree. When she fetched it out, she wrapped the silk around her finger and experienced a feeling of warmth before realising that there was a small larva attached to it. She went on to shout about her discovery to the people and that was how the Chinese people learned about the existence and value of silk. If you ever heard of a better story involving a ruined cup of tea, we’d like to know it!
Silk has a prism-like fibre structure so in certain lights, it shimmers. Just like a glass prism, the fibres reflect light at different angles, and it can result in a stunning rainbow glow that gives it yet more glorious natural beauty. You could almost believe that it really is a product of a beautiful magic from another world entirely.
Silk proved itself to be quite versatile and it came to be used in things such as fishing lines, musical instruments, and bowstrings. At one point, it was even used as paper and documents were written on it but paper manufacturers eventually discovered a more affordable way of producing shiny, luxurious paper by mixing silk rags with other natural fibres. It became such a staple in Chinese life that even today, 200 of the 5000 most used characters in the Mandarin language use the symbol for ‘silk’ as their key, proving that silk is still very much embedded in Chinese culture.
Today, silk is still used to produce beautiful, comfortable garments and home furnishings that have a special, satisfying gleam to them. One of its most useful properties for fashion design is that silk has fantastic insulation properties. It stays warm in winter and cool in the summer, making it an excellent choice both for lightweight summer clothing and the insides of winter coats and jackets. It also takes dyes well, meaning that there are plenty of beautiful, vibrant silk items on the market. The modern sophisticate could definitely furnish their whole home with colourful, silk patterns!
Our Dhay hand made silk cushion in 100% silk go here
Taking care of silk
Now that you know the true value that silk has held throughout history, you probably want to know how to look after it, right? Your Amechi silk cushion should always be dry cleaned but this isn’t the only way you can care for your silk products. Read on to find out how to keep your silk looking its very best for as long as possible.
There is a widespread myth that silk can only be dry cleaned but you can wash it at home if you’re patient and gentle enough. Here is a step-by-step guide to washing your silk.
- Check to see if its colourfast first. Lightly dab a small spot on the silk with a clean damp cloth. If the colour stays put, you can wash it yourself but if the colour comes off, it needs to be dry cleaned.
- It prefers to be washed by hand with a mild detergent in lukewarm water for 3-5 minutes, gently moving it from side to side.
- After it has been rinsed, roll it in a towel to squeeze out the excess moisture but be very careful because wet silk is extremely delicate.
- Do not wring it dry as this could damage the fibres.
- Hang it up to dry away from the sun or direct heat -so, no tumble drying.
NB: For darker or printed silk, you shouldn’t let it soak; simply wash it quickly in cold water and wrap it in several layers of towels before hanging up to dry.
You should never boil, soak or bleach silk and hard rubbing will damage the fibres. It’s best to not let it get too dirty before washing it, so that you can be gentle with your cleaning. If you really don’t want to hand wash your silk, you can put it on a delicate machine cycle at around 30-40 degrees.
It is essential that you keep your silk out of strong sunlight in order to preserve its colour. You should also never spray it with perfume or deodorants, as these cause the silk to matt.
- Any marks on your silk should be gently rubbed with a sponge or brush. Press very lightly otherwise your silk could become fluffy and lose its smooth finish.
- You can make a very gentle silk stain remover by mixing two tablespoons of white wine vinegar or lemon juice with two tablespoons of lukewarm water but this should only be used for small, wet stains.
- Never use steam or dampen it, as it could incur water stains. To get rid of water stains, you should dip the silk into warm water for a couple of minutes, dry it and iron.
- Always use a cool iron and iron on the back side to avoid damaging the sheen of the silk. Much like your hair, silk is a protein structure and heat can severely damage it.
- If your cushion becomes badly stained, you should take it to a dry cleaner. Don’t try to use a strong stain remover on it at home -this one is for the professionals!
And there you have it. If you follow these instructions, you should be able to enjoy your cushion for a very long time. We hope you enjoy your smooth, shiny, beautiful Amechi silk cushion!
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