What is Sericulture?


Sericulture, or silk farming, is the rearing of silkworms for the production of raw silk.

Traditionally sericulture has been a secondary occupation among farm households in Thailand as their major focus is rice cultivation. For many years farmers produced silk yarn for weaving into silk fabrics for their own use or for sale in the local market.

In recent years some of the farmers have started to sell their cocoons for reeling in factories instead of reeling by hand. However, total production of machine-reeled silk yarn is not sufficient for even domestic demand. So in Thailand we have great potential for increasing domestic silk yarn production.

 

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The Caterpillar – A Real Eating Machine!

Silk yarns come from the cocoon of the silkworm. The caterpillar hatches from a very small egg and is an eating machine. Their diet of continually eating mulberry leaves results in a semi-liquid protein called fibroin.

When the silkworms start its spinning process in the cocoon, the worm’s head is coated with a gummy protein called sericin. The silkworm rotates its body thousands of times extruding one continuous strand of silk the length of 12 football fields. The silk adheres to itself, forming the cocoon.

Silk Cocoons

Cocoon gathering must be done quickly because if the pupa is allowed to mature, it will want to escape the cocoon. It does this by producing a brown juice that makes a hole in the cocoon and breaks the fibers into short pieces. These short pieces of fiber cannot be reeled or used for silk yarn.

Cocoons are gathered all the year round but mostly after the rice harvest by women from the villages in the northeast parts of Thailand.

 

 

Hand Reeling Thai Silk – A Labour of Love

A single thread filament is much too thin to use on its own so the village women combine many threads to produce a thicker, usable silk yarn. They do this by hand-reeling the threads onto a wooden spindle to produce a uniform strand of raw silk yarn. The process can take 30 to 40 hours to produce a half kilogram of silk yarn. At Thai Silk Magic we have a group of enthusiastic grandmothers who perform this very labour intensive yet vital task. And they can catch up with all the village gossip at the same time.

A lot of silk yarn operations use a reeling machine for this task, but there are still many silk threads that are hand reeled. The difference is that hand-reeled threads produce three grades of silk: two fine grades that are ideal for lightweight fabrics and a thick grade for heavier material.

Why is Sericulture Still Important to Thai Farmers?

There are several reasons why sericulture is still attractive for Thailand farm households:

it requires relatively little investment

it is a traditional activity with skills often being passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter

it is practised mainly by women

it can be an important source of income

silkworm rearing, reeling and weaving silk fabrics are often carried out near the home

it can be easily coordinated with other household and farm tasks

it can provide employment and generate income throughout the year

it can reduce the seasonal pressures to migrate to the cities

Sericulture is an important part of our Thai lifestyle but it is also something that can be further improved.

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