Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Story of Silk: From Worm Spit to Woven Scarves

The Story of Silk: From Worm Spit to Woven Scarves The Story of Silk: From Worm Spit to Woven Scarves by Richard Sobol (Walker Books)
HB RRP $ 29.95
ISBN 978-0-7636-4165-8
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is another book from the highly interesting and successful Travelling Photographer series. There is so much to say about this book that only to own/read it will do justice to the information contained throughout.

The book initially weaves the legend of how silk was first discovered on a mulberry tree full of cocoons. It talks about the history of the Silk Road, and how the many tales written in the Travels of Marco Polo informed Europeans about this wonderful cloth. It refers also to the origins of silk which was exclusively made in China and kept a secret for two thousand years.

During the dry season after the rice harvest, Thai farmers occupy themselves with silk worms, which aren’t really worms, but the caterpillar or larva of a silk moth. Its scientific name is Bombyx mori. To ensure that the worms have enough food to eat, the farmers grow mulberry trees for that specific purpose.

Through the lens and photographs of Richard Sobol, we enter the life cycle of the silkworm, and the regiment of silkworm farming of the people of North Eastern Thailand. We learn how after twenty-eight days of continuous eating, the silkworm is now a fully grown pupa. After spinning its cocoon through the pupa phase, the cocoons are boiled to release the silk strands of fibre that are woven together.  Before they are boiled they every cocoon must be washed. Children, who are the main workers for the ‘poop patrol’, wash every single cocoon, because their fingers are small and fast for this essential and most important task.

The Story of Silk presents the detailed process which extends to the tools used, how the thread is removed from the boiling pot, what the spinning wheels are made of and what becomes of the boiled cocoons after releasing the thread. We follow the weaving process and the hand-tying patterns, where the threads are tie-dyed using pigments harvested from native roots, tree bark or herbs.

There are maps on both end pages highlighting the farming areas. The photos show up-close all the procedures from beginning to end. This book will impress readers of all ages.

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