Please Explain: Silk

Friday, February 25, 2011

The first silk textiles were created some 5000 years ago. This week's Please Explain is all about silk, and how fibers made by worms create versatile fabrics and have helped shape the culture of much of the world. Mark Norell, Chair of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, who is currently finishing a book on the Silk Road, talks about the history of silk; Ingrid Johnson, professor of Textile Development and Marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology; and Rebecca Robertson, Decorating and Home Editor for Martha Stewart Living join us to discuss how silk is produced, processed, used, and how it should be cared for.


Ingrid Johnson, Mark Norell and Rebecca Robertson

Comments [20]

dovid from brooklyn

silk does smell!
Happens when silk isn't processed properly before dying and weaving. When silk moths are spinning their cocoons they coat the silk with a gum called sericin. If the fiber isn't properly de-gummed, it has a "fishy" smell. (Some people think it smells like unagi...) I don't think there IS any way to get rid of it. I always "sniff test" silk when I purchase it.

Mar. 03 2011 12:47 AM
oscar from ny

funny..i liked when some lady in the phone said that they gather a bunch and cook them alive or something..she said she was a vegan ?..vegans dont kill bugs?

Feb. 25 2011 08:51 PM
Michele from brooklyn

they only just barely touched on the vegan silk options-- here is something vegans may care to read before buying silks of any kind:

Feb. 25 2011 02:02 PM
mary ellen from long island

would you sew a garment of silk fabric with silk thread, polyester thread or cotton thread?

Feb. 25 2011 01:57 PM
Hal from Brooklyn

The woman who said she could smell silk was dismissed rather abruptly. She may have a synesthesia, or actually have an acute sense of smell.

Feb. 25 2011 01:57 PM
Maria from nj

think guests are misinformed about the odor of silk--like one of the callers, i too have a huge problem wiht smell of silk there is a distinct smell not sure it's the thread or if all silk uses a particular dye base or processing chemical....but the odor is there!

Feb. 25 2011 01:55 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Any chance silkworms could be bred with a tropism that leads them to exit their cocoons through one end, leaving the rest of the thread intact?

Feb. 25 2011 01:54 PM
h l from brooklyn

these speakers aren't informative at all! there are so many unanswered questions. they're just giggling and giving one word answers. i think i learned more from the callers.
i still am waiting to hear how exactly the silk is created. how is the worm killed? what about the spiders that they mentioned? ugh.

Feb. 25 2011 01:48 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Ben Franklin's kite string was silk? Makes me wonder how good a conductor for electricity it is. Is that relevant to any of silk's industrial uses?

Feb. 25 2011 01:47 PM

The silk industry figured very prominently in the history of Paterson NJ which was known as the Silk City. The labor unrest, Silk Worker's Strike, brought into prominence the WWW (wobblies). It's a story unto itself.

Feb. 25 2011 01:46 PM

My hometown of Mansfield, CT was the center of the American silk industry in the 18th Century. Nearby Manchester, CT is still known as Silk City. Henry Ford bought and moved the last remaining silk mill in Mansfield to his Dearborn Village, a sort of Sturbridge Village recreation of a Colonial town.

Feb. 25 2011 01:44 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Does silk need to be bleached before it's dyed? *Can* it be bleached safely (not necessarily w/chlorine!)?

And Jack, I think that was Paterson, NJ. There used to be a store called Paterson Silks in NYC.

Feb. 25 2011 01:41 PM
kdan from Uptown

Interesting coincidence: Mulberry Street is one of the main streets in New York's Chinatown, although I presume the street was named before the neighborhood.

Feb. 25 2011 01:40 PM


Feb. 25 2011 01:39 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I've heard of "peace silk," but I think vegans still have a problem w/it--maybe it's not cruelty-free even though the worms aren't killed in the actual process of unraveling the cocoons?

Feb. 25 2011 01:34 PM
Jack from NYC

Wasn't a place in NJ once the "silk capital of the world"?

Feb. 25 2011 01:33 PM
geo from downtown

You said something about spider silk before.. Do they make clothes out of spider webs? If not why? and if they do where can i get one..

Feb. 25 2011 01:32 PM
Scott from Flatbush

I heard that the Gypsy Moth problem we have in the US was an attempt by a New England Businessman to create a Silk industry in the United States is there any truth to this?

Feb. 25 2011 01:32 PM
troy from Carroll Gardens

I'm vegan and I know a lot of vegans don't wear silk because they consider it cruel to the silk worms. Can you address the ethics behind the process? They die in the process, correct?

Feb. 25 2011 01:22 PM
Kristin from New Brunswick


Sad that I can't listen today, but I heard the promo for the silk story. Then, this morning at work, I came across this article. Thought you might want to include it in your discussion. Even better than 'dyed in the wool'!

Feb. 25 2011 10:54 AM

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