Mulberry - a Silk That Sells the Most & Its Rustic Cousin - Eri Silk

When you think of silk a shimmering luxurious material will come to mind. Most likely that would be Mulberry silk. According to International Sericulture Commission, Mulberry silk contributes to 90% of silk production in the world.

Eri Silk – Its Rustic Cousin That Deserves Recognition

Muezart promotes a silk variety called Eri silk that is produced by artisans in the Northeast Part of India.

Eri silk is also known as Peace silk | MuezartEri silk has an open-ended cocoon (as shown in the picture). The moth is able to emerge from the cocoon to mate and lay eggs.

Totally hand-made, it is a cottage industry that is a source of additional livelihood for many farmers in this region.

You know that silk yarn is spun from cocoons of moths, right?

How Are Mulberry Silk and Eri Silk Different?

First, how are they similar? Both are natural fibers. Both are produced by silkworms.

Both the silks are hypoallergenic and have thermal properties – cool in summer and warm in winter.

Eri silk and Mulberry silk | MuezartOne fact about Eri silk is that Eri it's easier to keep since it feeds on 3 types of leaves like castor, tapioca, and kesaaru unlike Mulberry silkworm who feeds just on Mulberry leaves.

The two are different too. Let us find out in what way.

Mulberry silk, as the name suggests, is from a variety of moth (Bombyx mori) that feeds on mulberry leaves.  Small, tiny silkworms gorge themselves on Mulberry leaves, till they become very large caterpillars. They eat only mulberry leaves. They are fully grown in about 3 weeks and then they get busy rotating their heads pretty fast, secreting a fiber from their mouth (a protein)  to build a cocoon around themselves. The cocoon is like a closed room where a magical transformation happens - the caterpillar turns into a moth.  In the next 10 to 12 days the moth will be ready to emerge, but they are not allowed to. Human beings have mastered the art of extracting quality silk fiber from these cocoons just before the moths emerge, by boiling the cocoons in water, which kills the moth, but yields good quality silk.

Eri silk and Mulberry silk in a nutshell | MuezartThe Mulberry silk cocoons are small (left in picture). It is a white or yellow thick oval capsule which is slightly wider in the middle. The cocoons of the Eri silkworm are much bigger than that of the Mulberry silkworm. The shape is irregular (right in picture)

The story of Eri silk is a little different. These silkworms, of the Samia Cynthia Ricini moth, are not fussy. They prefer castor leaves but are fine with leaves of Tapioca (or Cassava) and Kessaru. These caterpillars too are a hungry bunch, they eat, grow and build their cocoons the same way as the Bombix Mori variety. The cocoons are larger and not as uniform as the cocoons of Bombix Mori, the mulberry silk moths.  

The story changes here. The Eri silk yarn is spun from a cocoon that is not reeled. The fiber is a short fiber compared to the filament of other silk cocoons. With Eri the moth may leave their cocoon. Or the worm is extracted from the open-ended cocoon before metamorphosis. Eri silk does not have the same sheen as Mulberry silk but is easy to maintain.

Meghalaya is our local context. Here is how we collated the differences in the two silks:

Mulberry Silk Fiber

Eri Silk Fiber

Come from the cocoon of Bombix Mori moth

Come from Samia Cynthia Ricini moth or Philosomia Ricini moth

To get ready for spinning yarn, the cocoons are boiled in water to remove a gummy substance, before the moths emerge, thus killing them

Cocoons are boiled in water to remove a gummy substance after the moths emerge. Hence called Peace Silk

The caterpillars eat only mulberry leaves

Caterpillars prefer castor leaves, but also eat Kessaru and Tapioca (or Cassava) leaves. Pre-made food has been tested and work too.

Mulberry leaves need to be cultivated

These leaves grow in the wild in Meghalaya.

Cocoons are uniform, small and white in color.

Cocoons are large and uneven. Can be white,  off-white or reddish colored

The yarn is not suitable to crochet

The yarn can be used to crochet or knit

Mulberry Silk cloth is both hand-woven and made by machines

Eri Silk cloth is largely made by hand. It continues to be a cottage industry

Silk cloth is soft but needs extra care

Silk cloth has a cotton, wool-texture finish, with a silky touch. It is sturdy and easy to wash and maintain.

The mulberry silk tends to generate static electricity

Eri silk cloth does not generate static electricity. Which means the cloth will not stick to your body at times.

Less breathable fabric than Eri silk

More breathable fabric

Has thermal properties – Cool in summer and warm in winter.

It has better thermal properties than mulberry silk – cool in summer and warm in winter.

Dyeing can be both natural and chemical as it is a highly commercialized industry

Mostly dyed using natural dyes as this cottage industry has kept local practices alive.

Considered a luxury material. Consumed more by the well to do.

It is widely used even now by the local communities. across economic strata. It is not cheap, but the shawls are sought after and treasured.

Ultimately both are natural fibers, environment-friendly and sustainable. Both are heritage fabrics as they have been in use for generations. Totally up to you which you prefer to buy! 

Eri silk and Mulberry silk | MuezartEri silk yarn (left) looks more like cotton, whereas Mulberry silk yarn (right) looks silky and has a shiny texture.

Know more about the different types of silk.

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