A Peaceful Silk
Most of us think of a rather unpleasant process of making silk yarn. This involves the killing of the silk worm which must remain in its cocoon in order to get an unbroken filament. Of course, the effect of this unbroken filament is the very soft touch of silk. However, the silk worms unfortunately have to die which makes it not a very sustainable way of obtaining fiber.
But luckily, there are alternatives for the animal-conscious among us! A type of silk which is non-violent and does not require to kill the silk worm is called Ahimsa silk. It is derived from the Sanksrit word Ahimsa which translates as 'not to injure'. This peace silk can be made from all kinds of silks such as tussar, mulberry, muga and eri. This is either done by cutting the cocoon open or letting the silk worm hatch and fly out of the cocoon. As a consequence the filament is broken and the process of making silk yarn is different.
Especially eri silk is an interesting one as it is a type of silk which is rather unknown and can only be made peacefully“. Eri, or endi derives from the Assamese word “era” for the castor plant which is the main food of the eri silk worm. It is mostly found in Northeast India as the humid weather is very favorable for the eri culture. For around 30 days the silk worm grows and munches on castor leaves until it reaches its final size. Then it starts to spin its cocoon which is a process of another 15 days. Once the butterfly leaves its cocoon, the silk is processed. In some states, the silk worm is also eaten. The empty cocoons are degummed by boiling in water, then made into small cakes which resemble cotton pads, and dried – they are often thrown against the mud houses for drying. Once the cakes are dry, they are used for spinning which is done like spinning wool. The fiber is quite long and strong, so it is a nice raw material to use for spinning by hand.
Eri silk has excellent qualities: it is very strong, yet soft and elastic. The more it is worn, the softer it gets which is quite astonishing once observed on a piece of clothing or a scarf! It is great to wear around the year as it is cooling in summer and warming in winter. It is one of those textiles which just feels cosy and one doesn't want to take off. Its texture, especially when woven with handspun yarn, is beautiful and profound – always changing with the charismatic touch of imperfection.
Also, eri silk is a great fiber to use for natural dyeing. It absorbs the dyes very well – no matter if using extracts or whole plants. The tone is deep and has soft transitions. Eri cocoons exist in two different natural colors depending on the food the worms eat: one is reddish and the other one cream.
Eri silk is a very popular fiber among Vegans and Buddhists as well as everyone who appreciates a soft, yet strong fiber made to last for a long time.
Our social enterprise we are KAL is working with eri silk in the Indian state of Assam.
we are KAL collaborates with eri silk farmers, spinners and weavers to create natural and chemical-free textiles. All the yarn is handspun and handwoven. To see some of the products made from eri silk, have a look at www.wearekal.com. To find out more about the process of eri silk, take a look at this video: