The history of silk is shrouded in glamour, mystery and adventure. Chinese folklore accredits the discovery of silk as a textile fibre to Empress Leizu, wife of the Yellow Emperor, who ruled China around 2640BC. Legend has it that when taking afternoon tea in her garden, a silk worm cocoon fell into her tea and started to unravel, and the resulting fibres could be stretched around the entire garden. She then persuaded her husband to give her a grove of mulberry trees to cultivate more silkworms and later invented the first silk reel and silk loom. Whether this story is true or not, silk was certainly being spun in China as long ago as 2,500 BC. For years, the Chinese emperor’s jealously guarded the secrets of silk weaving from their neighbours, imposing strict border controls, punishments for smuggling, and limiting sericulture to the remote areas of Sichuan, far away from the prying eyes of foreigners. Eventually, a Chinese Princess smuggled some silk worms and mulberry seeds in her turban to her new husband, the King of Yutian, and by 300AD sericulture was well established in India, before spreading to Korea, Thailand and other parts of Asia.
The European desire for silk led to the establishment of major trades routes for silk known as the silk road. Venice was the center of medieval silk trade in Europe and it was during this time that silk fabrics first started to be woven in Italy – even today, Italian-made silks are among the finest in the world are extensively used in the haute couture and luxury clothing industries.
Silk, like wool, is a protein, but while the wool protein is composed primarily of alpha-helices, the silk protein is made up of beta pleated sheets, which are held together by hydrogen bonds. The protein is predominantly composed of the four amino acids glycine-serine-glycine-alanine; around 50% being glycine. With only hydrogen as its side chain, glycine is the smallest of the amino acids and the high proportion of glycine in silk allows for tightly packed protein chains within the beta sheet, producing strong fibres that are resistant to stretching (call 020 3355 3560 for a chemistry lesson).
The size and the shape of the cross section if the silk fibre itself varies with the species of silkworm. The domesticated silkworm, Bombyx mori, produces fibres that are 5-10μm wide with a triangular cross section, the flat planes of which reflect light from many angles, producing the characteristic sheen associated with silk fabrics.
Silk also has a high absorbency, making it comfortable to wear in warm weather, and its attractive drape and lustre make in an attractive fibre for luxury clothing.
The labour-intensive nature of sericulture mean that throughout history, silk has been an expensive fabric available only to the rich. While it was extensively utilised in menswear throughout the medieval, renaissance and revolutionary periods, it fell out of favour at the end of the 19th century. The silk trade from Japan was then severely interrupted by the outbreak of the second world war, leading to the development of synthetic alternatives such as nylon, polyester and lyocell. While these synthetics quite effectively recreate the lustre of silk, there is no substitute for the real thing for drape, softness and absorbency.
Here at A Suit That Fits.com we have an extensive range of luxurious 20% silk 80% wool cloths . These fabrics are lightweight, soft, comfortable and have the characteristic drape and sheen associated with suit fabrics. The plain colours (mid grey, dark grey, brown and black) are perfect for weddings , parties and other special occasions, while the pinstripes make for an ideal luxury summer business sui t. For the bolder, we have the herringbones , available in mid grey with blue and violet pinstripes, light creamy grey with blue and browns tripe and brown with tan and blue stripes.
Stay tuned to the A Suit That Fits.com blog for announcements of new products in our silk range…