Sericulture: The Process of Silk Production
Rearing of silkworms for silk production is called sericulture.
It is a very complex and lengthy process. The healthiest moths are chosen for breeding and laying the eggs. The first step involves washing the silkworm eggs that had been stored; the eggs hatch only once a year in spring.After the eggs hatch, the larvae are spread out on trays to grow. They are fed chopped mulberry leaves for 20-35 days.
Racks or twigs are placed on the trays where the worms spin the cocoons. Spinning may take about 3-7 days, after which the cocoons are put in hot water; this kills the worms and loosens the filaments. The filaments are taken out from the cocoons by a process called reeling or filature. Filaments from several cocoons are twisted together to make a strong thread, which is wound on a reel. The threads are then dyed and woven into silk fabric.
There are different varieties of silk moth, which produce silk of different quality and texture, e.g., tassar, mooga, and kosa silk. Sometimes, artificial silk is sold as natural silk. The difference between the two can be found out by burning a small piece of the fabric. Artificial silk when burnt smells like burnt paper. Natural silk when burnt smells like burning hair.
Health Hazards In Sericulture
Some of the health hazards associated with sericulture are:
- Handling of dead worms with bare hands contributes to infection and illness. Workers generally need to dip their bare hands into the hot water, and judge, by touch whether the fine threads of silk have loosened enough to be wound. This causes blisters and open wounds/ injuries, leading to infection.
- Standing almost continuously for about 12-16 hours a day, reeling the fine silk threads, may lead to health disorders like backaches, spine and vision-related problems.
- Vapours from boiling cocoons and diesel fumes from machines may lead to respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis.
- Continuous exposure to the noise made by spinning and winding machines and looms, where the fabric is woven, may result in hearing disorders.