Silk History and Culture
Silk cultivation is called "sericulture," from the Latin sericum,
which means "cultivation of silk." The Chinese were the first to
develop silk and reel it from the cocoon, starting in about 2640 B.C. The most common legend credits silk discovery to a Chinese empress, who
accidentally dropped a cocoon into hot water, causing it to unravel. For almost 3,000 years, China maintained a monopoly on the luxurious
fiber, but their carefully guarded secret eventually leaked to Japan and
cultivation was introduced to the West in about 552 AD, when two
monks smuggled silkworms into
Constantinople. From there, the silk industry
spread to Italy, Spain and the rest of Europe, providing a financial
base for the Renaissance from about 1400 to the mid-1800s.
British were not successful at breeding silkworms, so they tried to
establish sericulture in the
American colonies. By 1838, the American silk
industry appeared to have a bright future, but it collapsed a year
later. The industry declined in Europe as well, and today, the main
sources of silk are the original
three that began it: China, Japan and India.
This lack of success by other countries is not surprising. Silk cultivation is a difficult
process, one that requires the right environment and a great deal of time and effort.