Welcome to a new year and the start of a new decade. Can you believe it’s 2020… we sure can’t. Here at Jasmine Silk, we thought what better way to start the year than to look back through the wonderful history of our favourite material, silk.

Before we dive right in, have you ever asked yourself, what is silk? Well, silk is a natural protein fibre that is produced by a mulberry silkworm and is used for textile manufacturing. The silk fibre itself has a triangular prism-like structure in which allows for any light coming on to the material to refract it at different angles, which can also then create the effect of different colours.

Where History Began

One of the first-ever appearances of sericulture appears in the archaeological record of China in the year 3600 BCE. Diggings from a site at Hemadu in Zhejiang province revealed Neolithic tools that would have been used for the likes of weaving and silk gauze. The earliest ever known examples of woven silk are from 2700 BCE and come from the site of Qianshanyang, which is also in Zhejiang. New archaeological evidence suggests that there was a subcontinent from the north of India names the Indus Valley civilisation that also made silk contemporary with the Neolithic Chinese. They used Antheraea moth to come up with silk threads that could be used for weaving. 

However, silk production reached another level it was required on a larger scale. New methods of weaving were brought in and would only be seen from the Chinese Shang and Zhou dynasties in the 2nd millennium BCE. In Ancient China, silk then quickly became one of the most important and traded goods. With discoveries of Shang dynasty silk in an Egyptian tomb also speaks volumes as to what the estimated value of the material must have been in its early international trade. 

Chinese Silk Industry. Date: circa 1840


During the Han dynasty, silk further improved massively, going on to become finer, stronger and often including multicoloured embroidered patterns and designs of different people and even animals! Of many examples that have survived all this time, they also include designs of Chinese characters. The weave of some of these pieces was extremely fine at 220 wrap threads per centimetre. The cultivation of silkworms themselves became more sophisticated in the end, as it was discovered they were able to speed up or slow the growth of production by adjusting the temperature of the worm’s environment. Different breeds were then used and then crossed to create new and different threads which in turn had different qualities.

Silkworms were well fed and on their favourite diet, which would include chopped mulberry leaves. It was also important that they were warm enough to spin thread for their cocoons. As silk began to grow and the demand for it did also, large workshops were set up where both men and women would work. Great aristocratic houses also had their private silk production team where anywhere up to 700 employees would be working to create different silks for resale. 

Unfortunately, China could no longer keep in the secret of their beloved material, silk and it eventually grew out to the likes of Korea and Japan where it would later become state-controlled. Some other states and cultures that learnt the skills of sericulture, like India 300 CE, in which it then spread to other places such as Byzantium, Arabia, the Levant, and Italy. 

Beautiful smooth elegant wavy beige / light brown satin silk luxury cloth fabric.

The Silk Road

As the fame of the Chinese manufactured silk began to grow and spread across the globe, the route gained a famous name that you may have heard of before, the Silk Road. The Silk Road itself was a huge network of overland camel caravan routes that would connect China to the Middle East, which is why many historians refer to it as Silk Routes. While initially exporting to neighbouring countries such as Korea and Japan, it didn’t just stop there, as eventually, it reached bigger empires such as India, Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. 

The silk trade would then remain the biggest and number one export for China for centuries, which, however, was then overtaken by Japan as the largest producer of silk.

Beautiful Curvy roads on Old Silk Route, Silk trading route between China and India, Sikkim