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Thai Silk - Sacrificing the silk worms

Article by - Your travel partner in Indochina, Myanmar and Thailand.

Unlike the uniform and perfect texture of machine-made fabric, hand woven silk is unique, filled with the spirit and emotions of its creator.

In 1947 the Thai silk industry had all but died our then Jim Thompson, an American living in Bangkok, sent a sample of Thai silk to Vogue magazine in New York. Since then with the support of the Thai royal family and entrepreneurs like Jim Thompson the Thai silk industry has undergone a massive revival and today over 10 million metres of silk are produced each year.

These beautiful fabrics begin with humble silk worms, moths that feed on mulberry leaves located in the Korat Plateau and Chiang Mai. As the silk worm prepares for its transformation from a larva to a pupa, it spins a cocoon of silk that is produced from its salivary glands. Unfortunately, the silk worms in their cocoons never make it to the next stage, as after they are lovingly cultivated, they are dropped in boiling water to unravel and separate the raw silk threads. The silk cocoon, rough and irregular, golden or green, is made from a single strand of thread, between 200 and 1,500 metres long. Many threads are combined for a thicker fibre before they are washed, dyed and wound into drums.

At the weavers, hand looms are used to create natural blended patterns and textures unique to Thailand. One weaver can sometimes spend one day creating just four metres of silk, which will be used to make handkerchiefs, blouses, scarves, bathrobes, suits, jackets, bed sheets and decorative umbrellas and fans.

How to recognize real silk

  • It should be more expensive and cost anywhere from 600 to 2,500 baht, while the same item in fake silk, or polyester, would cost between 100 and 250 baht.
  • It is handmade of natural fibres and should have small flaws and bumps.
  • When held up to the light, its colour tone should change depending on the angle of the light; fake silk will shine white.
  • It should have the printed pattern on one side and an outline of the print on the other side.
  • Burn a few stands; it should smell like burnt hair and leave a fine ash.

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