Silk is a wonderful fabric, an ancient cloth with a unique lustre whose delicacy has always been seen as something special.
From soft and lightweight, through to coarse and heavy, silk offers options to suit every taste. It has the capacity to maintain a fresh coolness on a hot day and to keep us toasty warm on a cold one.
As a fibre silk has a triangular prism-like structure which allows silk cloth to reflect incoming light at different angles. A single silk thread is only 1/10th the thickness of a human hair. It is said to be the strongest natural textile in the world!
Silk is the most luxurious of textiles, the ideal bedsheet or blouse, the best summer shirt or sarong and the ultimate lingerie.
A natural fabric, containing 18 amino acids beneficial to the human body, silk is naturally hypoallergenic and antimicrobial. It is a protein-based fibre made by silk worms at the cost of their lives as they spin their cocoons. The silk moth Bombyx Mori is both blind and flightless and lives a short life of 5-10 days during which it lays 500 eggs. The silk moth caterpillars feed solely on Mulberry leaves, hence the importation of Mulberry trees to many European countries in the 17/18C.
There is much speculation as to when silk was first used. Most people agree it was around 2500-3000 BC. Legends have it that Silk came about due to the wife of the Yellow Emperor around 2696 BC. Her name was Leizu and she discovered silk when a cocoon fell into her lap while sitting in the garden. As it unravelled, she noticed it was made of a long fine thread.
Production as we know it probably originated in China around the 27th C BC and it was farmed solely by women. For hundreds of years, it was worn as a status symbol and produced only for the Chinese imperial family. Silk was also used to make paper for a while and became so valuable it was used as trading currency in China.
During the 13th C Italy became a major silk producer and finest quality silk is still made there to this day.
I enjoy working with silk for many reasons. Initially the movement, grace and source of the natural fabric interested me. In time its varying textures and weights offered new prospects for artistic creation. The various weaves which give us Chiffon, Georgette, Charmeuse, Crepe de chine and Organza each bring a new cloth and reaction to the application of dyes.
As a medium for painting, it is versatile and offers a wide range of possibilities for use. The woven fabric itself is so very different to canvas or paper, the way it responds to the application of dyes and resists is always fun and remains challenging.
When I paint dyes on silk the action is one of movement, spreading through the fibres in all directions. This can be influenced, controlled, or slowed by the use of water, antifusant, or resists. It is this particular difference, the way in which the colour reacts into the silk as opposed to paint on canvas that gives me such pleasure.
That I have to manipulate and control the flow of dye keeps me fully engaged when creating, I enjoy the fact that i have to keep on working at it, never taking it for granted. The pleasure of experimentation, exploration and new found techniques reap rewards time and again, year after year.
Silk comes in various forms, many weights and textures are available, each one works well for specific tasks or particular items of clothing. There are four main types of silk currently produced worldwide. Eri silk, Mulberry silk, Muga silk and Taser silk, of these Mulberry is the most widely used.