Silk on the Silk Road

Binding areas of silk to remain white and dyeing rest

Sunday 4 June

Ferghana

The Ferghana valley is known as the Uzbek fruit and cotton basket. This was evident when we walked into the market and the stalls were brimming to overflowing with the most delicious bright ripe cherries, nuts, dried fruits, apricots and bananas, plums, cheeses and vegetables of every description. We walked here from the Yodgorlik, a silkmaking factory. Here we were shown how they produced silk thread and the traditional Ikat patterned fabrics.

Silk worms in boiling water and threads taken up to be spun into one thicker thread
spinning the thread
Unwashed and washed silk thread

This factory was once owned by the Soviet government but since liberation in the 1990’s it is now privately owned and run. Uzbekistan sells its silk mainly to China and is looking to increase its production in the coming years.

We watched the whole process which hasn’t changed for centuries. The cocoons are plunged into a cauldron of simmering water. The hot water dissolved the saliva of the caterpillar, using a stick the operator gathers up 20 – 25 threads and connects them to a large wooden spinning wheel. Each cocoon produces a single long thread about 1500mts long. The factory collects the cocoons from farmers who feed the caterpillar mulberry leaves. To spin a cocoon takes about 40 days. The caterpillars which are left are feed to fish and chickens.

The spun thread is then spun into skeins, washed and stretched several times before being marked out and bound for the intricate dyeing process which results in a colourful Ikat pattern. One bundle of thread is about 240 mts long.

The silk thread can be mixed with cotton providing a thicker thread. A master weaver threads the looms for the women who weave the pattern on a traditional foot loom. The colours and patterns are intricate and colourful and the women can weave between 4 to 6 metres of fabric a day. This factory produces different types of silk, one is used for parachutes.

It is amazing to see what beautiful fabric one little caterpillar is able to produce.

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