Silk is a type of natural fiber widely used in circular knitted fabrics. Its origin is of legend status.
In a large garden, there was a mulberry tree. Thousands of years ago, a Chinese empress had the habit of strolling through this garden. One day, she sat down to drink a cup of tea and rest under the said mulberry tree.
According to legend, that was when a silkworm cocoon fell right in the center of her cup. First, the empress was startled, but then she watched the cocoon and the silk thread unravel in the hot water.
Curious, she picked up the string and spread it along her garden. It was a long, thin, shiny thread. It was unique. For a long time, the empress studied the cocoons and their threads. She learned how to take care of them, and sooner or later she learned how to spin silk.
Although a legend, we know that silk originated in China a long, long time ago.
For thousands of years, the caring process of silkworms and the production process of silk were kept as a state secret.
Considered one of the most valuable products of the Chinese market, it was thanks to its luxury that the famous Silk Road was born – a historical and decisive commercial route for the cultural approximation between East and West.
Its secret was only discovered at the beginning of medieval times, around 3000 years after an empress sat down to rest in a garden. In Portugal, it is during the 12th century that we find the first reference to the caring of silkworms, in Trás-os-Montes. However, what is considered the cradle of silk in Portugal was born only 200 years later, in Bragança.
Silk is produced during a specific stage of the silkworm's life cycle, between the caterpillar and the butterfly phases. When forming its cocoon, the silkworm expels a single continuous, viscous strand, which solidifies when in contact with oxygen in the air.
After being removed and completely stretched, this thread can measure up to more than a kilometer and a half in length (approximately 1 mile). Sometimes it can even reach three kilometers (or 1.8 mi). The whole process involves the caring and feeding of these animals, promoting an uninterrupted cycle between the moment they are born and the moment they form the cocoons.
These cocoons are then removed, dried, and selected, in order to obtain a homogeneous set of threads. Then, these are spun and used to create unique circular knitted fabrics: light, very soft to the touch, and with a very distinguishing glow.
Given its characteristics, circular knitted fabrics made from silk are considered luxury items and are used to create the most varied types of goods for the textile industry.
One would think there would only be one single type of this kind of fiber. However, such is not the case. There are four main types of silk fiber.
To these, we can also add Sea Silk (which is extremely, extremely rare); Spider Silk (very difficult to obtain); and the so-called Art Silk (also known as artificial silk).
Naturally, each one of these has its own single characteristics. One might be rarer than the next, whilst another might be more suited for a blended mix.
With exception to the last three types of silk, all others come from some kind of silkworms, cared for in different manners.
Spider Silk comes from spiders but is very difficult to extract and process, while Sea Silk comes from an extremely rare giant mollusk found under the sea called Pinna Nobilis Byssus. Of course, Art Silk refers to any synthetic or artificial fiber created to resemble silk.
Circular knitted fabrics made from silk are knitted from a very thin and glowing thread.
After being spun, an exceptional circular knitted fabric is created. Its main characteristics are its delicacy and, precisely, its well-recognized appearance.
This appearance derives from the very properties of the natural fiber of the threads extracted from the cocoon of the silkworm.
Therefore, it is a fiber of animal origin, with a triangular structure – very similar to a prism – that refracts light. Furthermore, this is an extremely resistant fiber, capable of absorbing both moisture and sweat. This makes these circular knitted fabrics perfectly suited to withstand hot and cold temperatures.
The result is elegant and refined, not only due to its quality, but mainly due to its millenary reputation and the noble weight it has been carrying for a long time.
This is one of the most precious raw materials in the industry. Of legendary origin, it was responsible for bringing together two opposing cultures. It began by dressing empresses and decorating palaces; it was used by the highest classes of nobility and was even capable of finding military use during the Second World War.
These days, it is much more accessible to all citizens, with the fashion industry being the one that makes the most use of these types of circular knitted fabrics.
It is available at ITJV only through catalogue requests and sample validation.
This text was written and published in 2021