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According to Chinese legend, the culture and use of Silk originates 4000 years back on the banks of Hwang-ho or Yellow River. The empress Si-Ling-Chi learned how to rear the caterpillars on mulberry leaves and how to unwind the silk from cocoons. The secret of silk-making was kept close by the Chinese and was smuggled into Japan early in the Christian era and also reached India.

Raw Silk is now extensively produced in China, India, Vietnam, Russia and Japan.


Silk is a strong, soft, lustrous fibre extruded by certain kinds of moth and spiders. The cultivated silk variety is produced by the species Bombyx mori. There are other less-cultivated species, known as Wild Silk (such as Tussar feeding on Oak leaves, Eri on Castor-oil plant leaves and Muga on variety of polyanthus leaves like Som, soalu etc.).

Silkworm eggs (popularly known as seeds) are laid out on the mulberry leaves to hatch out into caterpillars about 2 mm long. They grow rapidly, eat voraciously and end up about 30 mm long after 4-5 weeks. During this time, they change skins 4 times. After final skin change, straw frames are provided in which silkworms makes its cocoon. Cocoon-making takes further 8 days, It takes the silkworm another 3-4 days to transform into pupa and another 15 days for the moth to emerge. Like all other moths, the insect passes through four stages in it's life : Egg, Caterpillar, Pupa (or chrysalis) and perfect insect. Female moth lays 200-500 eggs at a time, normally in the summer.

Twin silk threads (fibroin- in fluid form) are extruded through two glands together with a gummy substance -sericin, which binds the filaments together as well as forms the walls of cocoon. By moving its head from side to side, the silkworm lays the filament in a series of figure `8' gradually building from wall to wall. The sericin sets hard and cocoon develops into a shape like peanut with the chrysalis inside

Silk Varieties

India basically produces four different varieties of Silk:

Mulberry  |  Tussar  |  Muga  |  Eri

Certain other types Silks which are Bye-products of main process are also produced in India, namely,

Dupion Filature ::  Matka Katiya  :: Ghicha Balkal   :: Noil Spun

The main production centres being the states of Karnataka, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Maharastra, Assam and to some extent Kashmir.


The Cultivated silkworm, Bombyx mori feeds on the leaves of the mulberry tree. This variety of Silk is mostly cultivated in Karnataka and Kashmir.

Dupion An irregular, rough silk reeled from double cocoons or cocoons spun side-by-side which are interlocked, making it necessary to reel them together. The unevenness of the yarn confines its use.

Filature A raw silk which is reeled by machine as distinct from silk prepared by hand in cottage industry.

Matka silk is obtained from waste Mulberry silk by hand spinning without removing the gum (sericin). Cocoons required to produce Matka are mainly obtained from Karnataka and Kashmir but spiining is mostly done in the villages of Malda and Murshidabad districts in West Bengal by women by hand spinning. Some of the well-known villages such as Sujapur, Islampur, Dariapur have given their names to the Matka yarns produced in these villages.


Tussar Silk is produced by the larvae of several species of moth such as Antheraea mylitta, Antheraca proylei, Antherea pernyi and Antheraca yamamai.The insects mostly live in the wild on bushes and trees on which they feed. Tussar silk is spun by the worm in a single-shelled, oval cocoon, with a fine-grained, hard, non-flossy shell. The cocoons are generally yellow or grey and are hard & compact.

The cocoons are boiled in chemical solution or treated with enzyme to soften. Thereafter yarn is reeled either in dry process (by drying the cocoons) or by wet reeling process.

The portion of Tussar cocoons leftover after about 60% reelable silk is spun into Katiya yarn.

The pierced cocoons are spun into Ghicha yarn while peduncles are utilised for production of Balkal yarn.


Native of Assam and named after Assamese word "Muga" which indicates the amber (brown) colour of cocoon. It belongs to same family as Tussar. It is popular for its natural golden colour, glossy fine textures and durability. Muga silk is produced by Antheraea assama westwood which is an endemic species prevalent in the Brahmaputra valley and adjoining hills.

Muga silkworm is a polyhageous insect which feeds on leaves of Som, Soalu and other plants which grows abundantly in Brahmapautra valley.

Eri :

The word Eri is a derivative from Sanskrit nomenclature for Castor Plant, eranada. Castor leaf is the main food for the Eri silkworms and so named as Eri. This is the only completely domesticated non-mulberry variety. Its silk is spun as it can not be reeled.

Spun Silk A Silk yarn made of short lengths of silk obtained from silk wastes, pierced cocoons or floss which gives yarn its characteristic brilliance. There are two grades of yarn Schappe and Bourette. It is spun on special machinery which in some ways is akin to cotton and worsted.

Noil Short fibres removed in combing operation of yarn making of Spun silk is spun into Noil yarn. Noil is mostly produced in Karnataka and Madras.


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