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Silk: Historical Background
The discovery of silk was made in China
about 2640 BC. There, since prehistoric times, silkworms had lived on mulberry
trees that grew wild on hillsides. For a long time, no one paid any more
attention than to the other kinds of caterpillars that tattered the leaves with
In ancient times, silk was both rare
and expensive. Only those of royal or noble birth were permitted to wear it and
were found only among the ruling families and also in temples and shrines.
In olden times, silk had special
religious values. For example, the Chinese temples that honored the spirits of
the earth and sky were hung with shining silk banners. The Temple of Heaven was
hung with blue silk, the Temple of Earth in yellow, the Temple of the Sun in
red and the Temple of the Moon in white. What a bright and shining sight it
must have been to see the emperor and empress and their lords and ladies, each
in brilliant silken robes making a procession into a silk temple.
Long ago, silk became a symbol of
royalty, of culture, of wealth and power. Artists made paintings of delicate
panels of silk. Poets wrote verses on silk.
Chinese knew how to get the silk strands from silkworms, they had plenty of
silk for use in their own country. The silk that was sold outside China brought
in much gold. The emperors of China did not want other countries to find out
how to grow their own silk.
For thousands of years, silk was a
mysterious fabric. It was beautiful, greatly desired and almost priceless. It
is still beautiful and greatly desired. However, it is less mysterious and for
less expensive than ever before. Still now, every inch of silk fiber is spun by
a mulberry fed silkworm that has been reared and cared with great interest.