Photo by Camille San Vicente
An integral part of ancient Cambodian history, silk production, and weaving has been a common practice among Cambodian women for centuries. The craft has been passed down from mother to daughter for generations, and many women still have weaving looms in their homes to make a living.
Silk originated in China and although the first documentation of silk in Cambodia was by a Chinese Diplomat, Zhou Daguan, in the 13th century, there are ancient bas-relief carvings of women wearing silk in the Angkor Wat Temple, which date back to the start of the 12th century.
According to Chinese legend, the origin of silk lies with the young Chinese Empress Xi Lingshi from 2640 BC. It is said that a silkworm cocoon fell out of a mulberry tree into her cup of tea only to unravel before her eyes into a beautiful translucent thread.
Along with a beautiful origin story and a rich ancient history, silk has a highly sustainable production process when ethically sourced, and holds many significant health benefits.
Silk is made by breeding silkworms and harvesting the cocoons. The cocoons are boiled until the threads unravel. They are then spun and woven into silk. The many health benefits that silk holds include improved skin hydration, sleep quality, and hair health, as well as offering relief from asthma and allergies, eczema, and fungal infections.
Keep reading to find out how silk is produced, where to buy sustainable silk products, and how silk can improve your health.
Sustainable Silk Production
Photo from MAP Cambodia
When factories are fair-trade and experienced, silk can be one of the most sustainably produced fabrics in the textile industry. It is biodegradable, organic and the production process produces very little waste.
Silkworms are responsible for creating the threads used to spin silk fabric. The worms rely on the leaves of mulberry trees to survive. Mulberry trees are easy to cultivate and provide other uses for farmers as well. The bark holds medicinal properties, and the fruit is edible and can also be used for dying fabric.
The silk threads are harvested from the cocoons of the silkworms. The worms spin their cocoons over three days and remain inside the cocoon when the silk is harvested. To harvest the silk, the cocoons are boiled until the threads unravel.
Cocoons are made with a single thread of silk fiber, formed by the saliva of the silkworm. Once the end of the long thread is found, it is removed from the water and spun into thread by hand or machine. The pupae from inside the cocoons are kept and fried into an edible treat served by street vendors. Nothing goes to waste.
Silk made by artisans in Cambodia is produced and dyed by hand. Once the silk fibers are spun together to form threads and dyed, the silk threads are hand-woven into fabric and used to make products like scarves and clothing. This is the process our ShopatMAP artisan, Chanthea, follows!
Photo by ivabalk
Here are a few interesting facts about Cambodian silk:
- It takes three to ten strands spun together to create a single thread of commercial-quality silk.
- Traditionally, silkworms spin their cocoons between bundles of branches, today, they spin cocoons in manmade basket trays.
- One worm can spin about 1.6 km (about 1 mile) of thread in only three days to form a cocoon!
- It takes about 3,000 silkworms to make 1 kilo (two pounds) of silk! To produce that much silk, the worms must eat more than 90 kilos (200 pounds) of mulberry leaves.
Choose Ethically Sourced Silk Products
Not all silk manufacturers hold the same standards. Make sure to only buy silk products from reputable, ethical sources that practice sustainable production methods.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, an estimated 350 000 children are said to work in the silk industry. The children complete tasks such as boiling cocoons, embroidering saris, and harvesting mulberry leaves. Child-labor supports abuse and must be avoided.
Thankfully, many companies sell ethically sourced silk products. You can find silk bags and scarves available in maroon, pinks, and gold in our ShopatMAP store.
Photo by Ata Rasekhi
All our silk products are sustainably produced in the BreakBond Village, Kandal Province in Cambodia, home to our MAPCambodia vocational training program. Each item is skillfully handmade by the village residents and our vocational training students. The silkworms are also farmed nearby!
Why Wearing Silk is Good For You
Photo by Alina Vilchenko
Silk is a wonderful fabric, rich with benefits for your whole body and mind. From helping you sleep better to reducing wrinkles, here are some of the top reasons why silk is an essential fabric to have:
Offers Relief From Asthma and Allergies
Silk is known for its hypoallergenic properties, meaning that it is very rare to be allergic to silk in comparison to other natural materials like feather down. With its tightly woven structure, silk combats the build-up of dust, bedbugs, and dead skin cells.
Sleeping under silk bedding can offer relief to asthma sufferers and those prone to allergies. The most common causes of asthma and allergies, particularly at night, are bedbugs, their droppings, and dust build-up. Silk's incredible ability to shut out these irritants can show a significant improvement in both conditions.
Reduces Hair Breakage
If you struggle with damaged hair you may have been told to switch out your regular pillowcase for a silk one. Silk is so tightly woven that it does not absorb moisture and does not have any loose fibers or gaps for your hair to get caught on.
Regular pillowcases wick up moisture from your hair and absorb the essential oils that your hair needs to thrive. A silk pillowcase will help your hair lock in its natural moisture and preserve it throughout the night.
As for breakage, regular pillowcases have gaps between the threads where your hair can stick through during the night. Tossing and turning while you sleep causes these strands to break off. Silk pillowcases are so smooth that your hair can glide over the surface without causing damage.
Keeps Skin Hydrated and Youthful
Photo by silviarita
The moisture-locking properties of silk can do wonders for your skin, reducing wrinkles and promoting a youthful glow.
Sleeping on a silk pillowcase is the best way to reap the benefits of silk for your face. Cotton pillowcases, for example, absorb a lot of moisture from the skin during the night and can cause the skin on your face to crease more while you sleep, worsening wrinkles.
The tightly woven fabric of silk keeps moisture locked into the skin while you sleep. Hydrated skin is more plump, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and giving you a natural glow. When you sleep on silk, the fabric is so smooth that your skin can rest freely without creasing, stopping new wrinkles from forming.
Offers Relief From Eczema
The build-up of dust, dirt, and mites in bedding can contribute to eczema and other skin conditions like dermatitis. People with skin conditions often have highly sensitive skin prone to allergic reactions and rashes caused by certain fabrics.
Thanks to its organic protein structure, silk fabric is hypoallergenic allowing it to be compatible with all skin types, including people with eczema. The fabric’s ability to ward off allergens such as dust mites and dirt build-up is another reason why it can work wonders for keeping eczema under control.
If you suffer from eczema, you can sleep with silk bedding or pajamas, or soothe your skin with silk clothing items like our ethically sourced silk scarves handmade in MAPCambodia’s vocational training program.
Improves Quality of Sleep
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Bedding is a known factor contributing to sleep disorders and poor sleeping patterns. The silky smooth texture of silk bedding and sleepwear relaxes your nervous system helping you to have a better night's sleep.
The fabric is light and allows the body to move freely under the covers. With temperature regulating abilities, silk fabric can help keep you cool in a variety of climates.
Support Sustainable Silk Artisans
Photo by MAP Cambodia
There is no denying that silk is a highly sought after fabric with a seemingly endless list of health and beauty benefits. The silk production industry is huge, employing millions of people from rural areas, predominantly in Cambodia, India, and China.
Make sure to buy silk products from sources that have the artisan’s best interest at heart and support the organizations that give back to the disadvantaged silk-weaving communities.
Written By: ShopatMAP