Silk farm and training centre in Kanchipuram

This week I visited a silk farm and training ground with RIDE; an educational initiative brought about by the Tamil Nadu government to support silk farmers or those who wish to convert. The scheme helps farmers in making the right decisions to get the most profitable and sustainable yield, from choosing the right silkworm to managing different diseases.

The silkworm eggs are as small as a full stop when they are laid. They are kept in a rearing room and are hatched after only 10 days. Once hatched they are transferred to trays which contain the mulberry leaves for them to eat.

The mulberry trees form a major part of the farm, they are kept at every stage of growth so that there are fresh new leaves available and ready to be picked when needed. Unlike in the wild, where the silkworm would live on the mulberry tree, these silkworms have their food picked and fed to them. During the next 25 days the silkworm produces silk larvae to form a cocoon. This is the moulding stage and the silkworm will shed their skin 4 times during this period. Then the silkworm will enter the pupa stage, this is where the silkworm wraps itself up in the silk cocoon while inside it turns into a moth. The moth will take 10 days to hatch after commencing this stage.

The silk is unravelled from this cocoon, creating a long, fine thread; one cocoon can produce a single thread of up to 1,200 metres long (depending on the variety of silkworm).

In order to preserve the silk thread, most cocoons are boiled before the moth gets the change to hatch – when they hatch the silkworms release an acid substance which burns a hole in the cocoon, thus turning the long thread into many short ones. However, there are producers who preserve the life of the moth by allowing it to emerge from the cocoon. They then use the broken thread to make ‘peace silk’, this is the same as wild silks where the cocoon is harvested from the wild once the moth has hatched.