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Chinese Silk

China is the cradle of world silk civilization. The ancient Chinese people began to plant mulberry, breed silkworm and reel silks around 6,000 years ago, creating an early silk civilization and conceiving the rich Chinese silk culture. Silk also become an important part of the Chinese civilization. Since the 4th and 5th centuries, the gorgeous silk productions were spread to Asia, Europe, and Africa through the "Silk Road" and became one of the symbols of China.

History of Chinese Silk

First Appearance and Early Development of Chinese Silk

The earliest silk fabric ever found around the world is the mulberry silk residues from the Wanggou site of Yangshao Culture (5300 B.C - 5500 B.C) in Puyang, Henan province, indicating that the Chinese ancestors already mastered the technique of silk making in Neolithic times. In the early dynasties of Shang and Zhou Dynasties, fractions of silk fabrics were also discovered. From these limited pieces of silk, the figured silk already appeared at that time. In Zhou Dynasty, the silk producing techniques were further developed and the silk road on grassland was pioneered. During the transition times of Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period, the silk fabric making skills were bettered and reached a high level.

Development of Silk Road

During Qin and Han Dynasties, the silk production was further advanced and the areas of middle and lower reaches of Yellow River became the major production base. After the Eastern Han Dynasty, the Shu Silk in southwest Sichuan became famous in China. After Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty controlled the Hexi Corridor connecting the western world, he sent Zhang Qian to expedite to western China and dredged the communications between east and west. Since then, the Chinese silk fabrics were exported to Middle Asia, Western Asia, and Europe. Along with the silk, the silk production technology was brought to these places. In late Eastern Han Dynasty, China fell into chaotic and divided situations, which made it a time for silk development. At this time, northern China was still the main production area and Sichuan silk was still very developed. In addition, the silk industry in southern China began to develop.

Prosperity of Silk Trade and Development of Maritime Silk Road

The prosperous Sui and Tang Dynasty greatly promoted the development of silk clothing and brought the silk trade to a new level. The silk production was not limited to northern China and Sichuan anymore. In addition, the southeastern China in lower reaches of Yangtze River became one of the important silk production bases. In addition, besides the Land Silk Road opened up in Han Dynasty, Maritime Silk Road was opened up. Therefore, numerous silk productions were sailed to the Korean Peninsula, Japan, Southeast Asia, India and the silk techniques were brought to these countries as well. Since the 7th century, silk manufacturing appeared in Japan, southeastern Asia, India, and even Europe.

State-run Silk Industry

In Song Dynasty, China fell into a state of separation and division again. The silk production began to shift from north China to south China, but the former still held an important position in producing the high-quality silk fabrics. In Southern Song Dynasty, the silk production basically became exclusive in south China and Zhejiang became the "Home of Silk". Meanwhile, the state-run silk workshops began to scale and the booming economy also boosted the development of silk. In terms of silk trade, the blockage of the Land Silk Road drove the drastic development of the Maritime Silk Trade. In Yuan Dynasty, the silk economy was damaged and the silk production in northern China declined, leaving the south China the only base for silk production. The Yuan rulers set up a lot of government funded workshops to manufacture the silk fabrics in a large scale.

Decrease of Silk Trade

In Ming Dynasty, the silkworm breeding and silk production scale decreased and south China became the silk center. There were five important silk towns, namely Suzhou, Hangzhou, Songjiang, Jiaxing and Huzhou. There were also over 20 government-run weaving and dyeing factories. In the 16th century, the Portuguese opened up the direct trade between Europe and China. The maritime prohibition policy of Ming court limited a lot of silk trade. In the middle and late Ming Dynasty, the policy loosened a little and the Chinese raw silk and silk clothing were traded to Europe in a considerate size. In Qing Dynasty, the silk production was reduced and the constant prohibition on maritime trade also greatly hindered the silk export.

Silk Production

Silk Raw Materials - Cocoon Fiber

The raw material of silk came from the silkworm. Breeding silkworms is a lengthy process that requires great carefulness. The young silkworms must be fed with tender mulberry leaves and these leaves must be replaced constantly. Around 28 days later, these silkworms will grow bigger enough to spin and cocoon. The cocoons are the raw materials for silk fabrics.

How to Process the Cocoon?

Step 1: Choose the best cocoons.

Step 2: Boil these cocoons at a high temperature.

Step 3: Reel the silk off the cocoons and wrap onto spools.

Step 4: Spin these silk filaments into threads and weave into fabrics.

Silk Culture

Chinese silk is not just the gorgeous clothing, it's more like a symbol of the splendid civilization of China. After thousands years of development, a unique silk culture is formed.

Four Famous Embroideries in China

Su Embroidery

Su embroidery is the first and the most famous one among the four famous embroideries in China. Originated in Suzhou, Su embroidery is praised as the "Oriental Pearl".

Shu Embroidery

Shu Embroidery has a long history. It can be a small piece like handkerchief or a big picture with various animal patterns, every piece of Shu embroidery is a work of art.

Xiang Embroidery

It refers to the embroidery works produced in Hunan province. It's the first Chinese embroidery work that had won the international award.

Yue Embroidery (Cantonese Embroidery)

Originated in Guangdong, Yue embroidery has a long history and became a unique branch in the middle and late Ming Dynasty. In addition, Yue embroidering workers were mostly men.

Three Famous Brocades in China

Yun Brocade

Rooted in Nanjing, the Yun brocade got its name from its cloud-like texture, gorgeous and glossy  color. It was particular famous in old times that it became the appointed materials for clothes of imperial families in Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Shu Brocade

Together with the Shu Embroidery, Shu brocade belonged to the specialties of Sichuan. It used to dominate the brocade world in Qin, Han, Sui and Tang eras and was one of the most important traded commodity.

Song Brocade

Based on the Tang era Shu brocade, the Song brocade appeared in the late Southern Song Dynasty in Suzhou. It is soft but firm in texture, abrasion-resistant and can stand the repeated washing. Therefore, Song brocade has a wide range of applications.

Properties and Functions of Silk

1.Environmentally-friendly: silk is completely made out of silkworms, which is very environment-friendly.

2.Good for Human Skin: silk contains about 18 kinds of useful amino acids that can help human skin to maintain the metabolism of panniculus and keep skin moisturized and smoothed.

3.Glossy and comfortable: the silk fabrics are glossier and softer than any other fabrics.

4.Germproof: the silk can filter the poisonous air and prevent the ultraviolet ray.

5.Static electricity-free: the silk protein is poor conductors that hardly create static electricity.

2 Ways to Buy the Quality Silk Fabric

By Touching

The quality silk fabrics are soft, glossy, bright, smooth, cool, and even in color. While the rayon silk fabrics are too bright, gummy, boardy and not cool.

By Listening

Rub the silk fabrics with your hands and listen to the sound. If there is hiss sound, the fabric is the authentic silk fabric.

Tips on Cleaning and Maintaining Silk

How to Clean Silk?

1. Hand washing is recommended and the temperature should be around 35 degrees celsius.

2. Silk is not alkali-proof, therefore, the neutral detergent or special detergent for silk is recommended to use.

3. When washing the silk, the washing powder or suitable soap tablet should be dissolved into hot water first. Then, put the silk into the cooled water and soak for about 20 minutes. Remember to rub gently.

4. Hang the silk in a cool and ventilated place and make sure it's not exposed to the sun directly. Otherwise, the ultraviolet radiation in the light will embrittle and discolor the silk filament.

5. When the silk is dried to 80%, cover the silk with white cloth and iron it at a temperature around 100 degrees. Do not use the steam or spray water. Otherwise, there will be water stains.

Maintaining Silk

Tip 1: Make your silk clothes is thoroughly cleaned before storage. It's best if it can be dry cleaned so that the texture and shape of the garment are better protected and the clothes is better sterilized.

Tip 2: When storing your silk clothing, make sure the white pieces are wrapped with bright blue paper to prevent them from yellowing and the colored pieces are wrapped with dark colored paper to avoid the color fading.

Tip 3: Silk clothing is thin, light and easy to wrinkle. It should be stored or placed separately or on the upper layer of the closet.

Tip 4: Velvet garments like pleuche must be hung up. Otherwise, the velvet will be deformed.

Tip 5: If the mildew emerged on the silk clothing due to the dampness, use a piece of flannel or new towel to wipe it gently. If the mildew is sizable, spray a little ammonia water on the spot and iron it to eliminate the mildew. If the white silk happens to have small mildews, a little alcohol will be very helpful.

Admire Chinese Silk with Lilysun China Tours

If you are a fan of Chinese silk, this Silk Tour might be great for you. You can sign up for our 3-hour Chinese Silk Exploration Tour in Suzhou and Shanghai, during which you will know all kinds of silk fabrics and learn how to differeniate them and choose the best one for you.

If you want to experience the Silk Road and see what it was like to travel thousands of miles to the west, check out the handpick Silk Road Routes of Lilysun China Tours.