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Chinese Silk


Silk History
Chinese silk has its world fame for the nice characteristics, beautiful colors and patterns, and profound contents. It is well known that silk is discovered in China as one of the best materials for clothing - it has a look and feeling of richness that no other materials can match. However, very few people know when or where or how it is discovered. According to archeological evidence, silk and silk fabric emerged in China at least 5,500 years ago. There are many legends about the discovery of silk; some of them are both romantic and mysterious.
Legend has it that once there lived a father with his daughter, they had a magic horse, which could not only fly in the sky but also understand human language. One day, the father went out on business and did not come back for quite some time. The daughter made him a promise: If the horse can find her father, she would marry the horse. Finally her father came back with the horse, but he was shocked at his daughter's promise. Unwilling to let his daughter marry a horse, he killed the innocent horse. And then miracle happened! The horse's skin carried the girl flying away. They flew and flew, at last, they stopped on a tree, and the moment the girl touched the tree, she turned into a silkworm. Everyday, she spit long and thin silks. The silks just represented her feeling of missing the horse.
Another less romantic but more convincing explanation is that some ancient Chinese women found this wonderful silk by chance. When they were picking up fruits from the trees, they found a special kind of fruit, white but too hard to eat, so they boiled the fruit in hot water but they still could hardly eat it. At last, they lost their patience and began to beat them with big sticks. In this way, silks and silkworms were discovered. And the white hard fruit is a cocoon!


The Chinese Silk Road
Silk Road was constructed under the western Han Emperor Wudi who felt it imperative to build an alliance with neighboring countries to guard against military threats. In 119 B.C., Emperor Wudi sent Zhang Qian to build an alliance with India and China¡¯s neighboring countries. The mission lasted from 138 B.C. to 126 B.C. Silk was an instant hit in India, and so, trading more silk became a priority for the Emperor. The Silk Road was constructed for this purpose. The Chinese Silk Road started from Chang¡¯an (or Xi¡¯an) across Middle Asia, South Asia and West Asia. It went still further and was connected to many countries of Asia and Europe. Chinese silk and many other inventions came to Europe via the Chinese Silk Road. The Romans were especially captivated by the luxurious fabric. Chinese silk became a symbol of wealth among them. An Indian monk who lived for a long time in China and who came to Rome was believed to have brought the technology of raising silkworms and silk production to Europe.
Thousands of years have passed since China first discovered silkworms. Nowadays, silk, in some sense, is still some kind of luxury and silk was, still is, and will always be a priceless treasure.


Silk Production
The business of raising silkworms and unwinding cocoons is now known as silk culture or sericulture. It takes its lifespan of 25 to 28 days for a silkworm, which is no bigger than an ant, to grow old enough to spin cocoon. "A silkworm spins all its silk till its death and a candle won't stop its tears until it is fully burnt." This Tang poem accurately describes the property of the silkworm. Then the women farmers will pick them up one by one to piles of straws, and then the silkworm will attach itself to the straw, with its legs to the outside and begin to spin.
The next step is unwinding the cocoons; it is done by reeling girls. The cocoons are heated to kill the pupae, this must be done at the right time, otherwise, the pupas are bound to turn into moths, and moths will make a hole in the cocoons, which will be useless for reeling. To unwind the cocoons, first put them in a basin filled with hot water, find the loose end of the cocoon, and then twist them, carry then to a small wheel, thus the cocoons will be unwound. At last, two workers measure them into a certain length, twist them, they are called raw silk, and then they are dyed and woven into cloth.
An interesting fact is that we can unwind about 1,000 meters long silk from one cocoon, while 111 cocoons are needed for a man's tie, and 630 cocoons are needed for a woman's blouse. This is why silk is a much prized and valuable fabric up to now.
World silk production has roughly doubled during the last 30 years in spite of the availability of man-made fibres. China and Japan have been the main silk producers, together manufacturing more than half of the world production each year. Chinese silk is highly prized throughout the world. Silk is used for suits, coats, trousers, jackets, shirts, ties, lingerie, hosiery, gloves, lace, curtains, linings and handbags.
According to the different weaving skills and silk fabrics, silk goods are divided to many types, such as brocade, satin and so on. Historically, most of these silk goods served as clothing material and decorations.


Silk Goods (Chinese Embroidery)
Embroidery always accompanies silk and its development. The most famous embroideries in China are Su embroidery in Jiangsu, Xiang embroidery in Hunan, Shu embroidery in Sichuan and Yue embroidery in Guangdong, namely Four Renowned Embroideries.

  • Su Embroidery
    Suzhou Embroidery appeared in the Northern Song Dynasty and was briefly named Su embroidery. According to history records, Su embroidery was so popular in the Song dynasty that people even named their lanes with names concerned with silk and embroidery. Almost every family raised silkworm and embroidered. Su embroidery reached its peak in Qing dynasty.
    Su embroidery has wide range of themes. Its techniques include single face embroidery and unique double-face embroidery, which looks the same from either side. Simple composition, clear theme, vivid image and gentle color are basic features of delicate Su embroidery. Now it even absorbs some western painting techniques.
  • Xiang Embroidery
    Combining merits of Su embroidery and Yue embroidery with local embroidery, Xiang embroidery came into being in the later Qing dynasty. However, Hunan's local embroidery had a long history. Archeologists have discovered fine silk embroidery items in the Chu and Han Tombs, which were both more than 2,000 years ago.
    Compare with the other embroideries, it is unique in style. Its unique embroidery techniques facilitate tiger patterns embroidery, which Xiang embroidery is famous for. Although it features techniques of painting, engraving, calligraphy and embroidery, it is generally based on the Chinese painting. Now, it has developed a new unmatched embroidery product - Double-face and Different Images Embroidery, which features different images and colors on each side of the transparent chiffon.
  • Shu Embroidery
    As it is mainly produced around Chengdu, Sichuan province, it is also called Chuan Embroidery. It has a long history although it formed a style in the middle of the Qing dynasty. The materials adopted for such embroidery are local-produced soft satin and colorful threads. The threads are neatly and thickly used and the colors are elaborately arranged. It is characterized by even stitches, bright threads, closeness and softness in texture, delicate needling. Its theme covers mainly animals and plants in the nature, especially adept at embroidering pandas and fish. The embroidered products include mirror curtain, wedding dress, hats and shoes etc., with the main themes of auspicious happiness.
  • Yue Embroidery
    It is also called Cantonese Embroidery for it is produced in Guangdong province. It is said that it was created by a minority people in the middle and at the end of the Ming dynasty. A variety of threads are used, including thread twisted from the peacock quill and down thread from the horsetail. The whole piece is bright in color with gold thread as the contour for embroidering complicated patterns, looking splendid. Such themes are usually employed as A Hundred Birds Displaying Homage to The Phoenix, marine products and melons.



 
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