Do you know that there are actually many types of silk, and that, even some of the experts are not able to name them all or identify their quality with naked eye? A magnifying glass is often required for inspecting its quality. So it’s common to get overwhelmed when you are buying silk fabric or clothing.
The most commonly held belief is that silk comes from the silkworms. This is like believing that we get milk only from cows. So what about the buffaloes, goats, and camels? Similarly, silk fabrics are also made from mussels and spiders. Actually, spider silk is considered to be one of the best fibers. There are also many types of silkworms apart from the famous Bombyx mori silkworm.
However, having said this, there are mainly 5 types of natural silk that is produced commercially. They are Mulberry silk, Tasar silk, Eri silk, Muga silk, and Anaphe silk. The last 4 are all non-mulberry silks. 90% of the world’s production though, is mulberry silk so this is the most common and popular.
We get this silk from the Bombyx mori, which feeds only on the mulberry plant leaves. The worms can be reared indoor as they are completely domesticated. Silk is generally referred to as mulberry silk as this constitutes 90% of the world’s supply. Extra care is needed for maintaining its smooth texture. Mulberry silk is popular throughout the world, particularly in Japan, China, and Korea.
Worms from the genus Antheraea are all in the wild. The Japanese and Chinese taser silkworms feed mainly on oak leaves. Chinese worms are known to produce the largest quantity of non- mulberry silk. The Japanese worms produce green threads, which are unique. There are Indian taser worms too. Their cocoons can be reeled into raw silk. Also called tussah silk, the quality and feel is distinct from mulberry.
Also called Errandi or Endi silk, this variety comes from two species – Philosamia ricini, which is also known as the castor silkworm, and Samia ricini. P.ricini is reared on the leaves of the castor oil plant, and makes brick red or creamy white silk. There is a definite matt appearance. It is sometimes also called “peace silk” as the worms are not destroyed in the process, unlike Taser or Mulberry silk. Eri silk is extremely durable. It can be used for soft furnishing and clothing.
Muga silkworms too are from the genus Antheraea, but they make unique golden yellow threads, which is both strong and beautiful. However, the production quantity is small. It is produced only in the Indian state of Assam, where it is used for making traditional dresses. The worms are semi-domesticated.
This type of silk is produced in central and southern Africa by the worms from the genus Anaphe. Tribal people collect them from the wild, and then the fluff is spun into raw silk. The fabric is stronger and more elastic that mulberry silk. It is used for making light seat covers and velvet.