Until a few months ago I thought all silk came from silkworms that lived on mulberry trees! Being in the silk business, my ignorance is exposed. I have learned that besides China, India is one of the largest producers of silk. Unlike other countries, India has a range of indigenous silk produced from various silkworms. Heirloom silk shawls and saris make up the age-old silk gifting traditions across India.
In my silk yarn research, I have discovered that yarn and thread stores across the world do not differentiate the type of silk the yarn is made from. This surprises me because the differences are vast. That’s why I created this comparison table:
Compare Silk Yarn Types Made From 4 Categories of Silkworms
|The most common silk is typical in the fashion industry. Naturally, white yarn is produced. Fabric can be woven into a shiny fine finish.||Muga is synonymous with Assam pride. Naturally brownish-gold color with a papery feel. When finely spun it shines beautifully beyond gold.||Eri is known as the soft wooly white silk. When finely spun it has a smooth rustic look. A chunky yarn produces a soft wooly feel without the tingle||Tasar has an uneven texture. When spun it can give an uneven streaky color. It lacks the durability of the other 3 yarn types.|
|Bombyx mori silkworm||
Antheraea assamensis silkworm
|Philosamia ricini silkworm||
Antheraea mylitta, Antheraea proyeli, Antheraea pernyi
|Predominately raised in Karnataka, Andra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Jammu & Kashmir (India)||Raised in: Assam, India||Predominately raised in Meghalaya and Assam India||Raised in various states throughout India and China|
|Completely domesticated silkworm.||semi-domesticated silkworm||Wild and Domesticated Silk Worm||Wild|
|Voltinism: Uni, Bi, Multi||Voltinism: Multi||Voltinism: Wild: Uni, Bi Domesticated: Multi||Voltinism: Uni, Bi, Multi|
When the Zizira team got inspired to create a business around Eri silk we knew very little about the fabric. We started asking questions to the Sericulture Department of Meghalaya, village weavers, and of course, we dove deep into Google and Youtube for exhaustive learning. Is our knowledge quest for Eri complete? NO! We will continue to learn and iterate our learning through experimentation with yarn. Many of our early questions about silk are similar to those people ask us. Here are the answers to those questions...
7 Common Questions Asked About Eri Silk
How Does Eri Silk Compare to Other Types of Yarn?
- Eri is not a filament, with a long continuous thread emerging from the cocoon. Instead, Eri is an open mouth cocoon that must be flattened after washing.
- The de-gummed washed and flattened Eri silk hankie is then hand or machine spun into thread.
- Mulberry, Muga, and Tussar silk yarns are made from the threadlike fiber. Eri silk yarn is made from short fibers, more like cotton or wool, and spun into thread. Thus making the production process from cocoon to thread longer.
A filament naturally reels out of the cocoons of Mulberry, Muga, and Tussar.
The Eri cocoon is a shorter fiber, similar to wool. There is no continuous filament.
Instead, the cocoons are washed and pounded flat and dried.
The photo shows processed cocoons ready to hand spin.
What Type of Silk Yarn Is Good for Knitting?
That is a question we asked ourselves. We didn’t know the answer. We started by asking Khasi weavers in the villages of Meghalaya. The weavers said, “No one knits with Eri silk yarn. We only use it for weaving.” Our CEO asked, “Have you tried?” To our amazement, they were not interested and seemed to believe it was impossible.
A clear example of tradition causing a barrier to innovation. The weaver's mindset was fixed. So we took discovery into our own hands and quickly uncovered a clear YES – Eri is a good yarn type for knitting. It is soft, rustic, similar in texture to wool fiber, but even softer. Look at the creations the Muezart maker team made:
Beanie cap knitted with natural Eri silk 60/6 yarn.
Pancho made with hand-dyed speckled Eri silk yarn (2 ply) 20/2
Fern green beanie knitted with 4 ply 60/6 Eri silk yarn.
The Best Yarn Type for Knitting - Our Conclusion:
We like the results of the 60/9 mill spun Eri silk. But we all agreed that a handspun chunky yarn for knitting some hand-dyed beanie caps would look amazing. We will post our results here for you to see.
Why Is This Type of Silk Yarn More Expensive Than Mulberry Silk?
Sericulture is the product of silk through the farming of silkworms. The process of creating Eri silk thread types has a unique production compared to Muga, Mulberry, and Tussah. The process becomes more expensive because the thread does not directly come from the cocoon.
Village sericulture is alive and practiced in villages today. The process is 100% by hand. This is the ecosystem that we want to ensure doesn’t die. Eri cocoon production is manual and silkworm rearing is done in homes across hundreds of villages of Meghalaya. Muezart team wants to improve this sustainable regenerative manual production process.
How Is Eri Silk Yarn Made?
- Silkworm rearing is done in homes
- Twice a day feeding of the worms
- Harvesting the cocoons
- Harvesting the egg brood for the next cycle
- Processing the Eri cocoons by boiling for one hour in ph balance environmentally safe soap.
- Rinsing and washing and rinsing the cocoons.
- Flattening each cocoon into an Eri silk “hankie”
- Drying the cocoon hankie.
- Hand spinning by spindle, chakra, spinning wheel, or solar/electric spinning wheel.
- Plying the yarn if necessary
- Warping the yarn into yarn hanks, skeins, balls for weaving, knitting and crocheting.
The handmade slow-made process makes Eri silk yarn highly unique and more expensive.
This traditional Khasi shawl was made on a handloom using:
Eri silk handspun yarn in the weft and 60/2 mill spun yarn for the warp.
Is Eri Silk Yarn Vegan? Yes & No
- The Eri silkworm lifecycle is continuous and 100% natural.
- Eri silk yarn can be made naturally and not kill the insect during production.
- The Eri cocoon is open on one end.
- The Eri moth emerges from her cocoon to fly out and lay hundreds of eggs.
- The Eri moth dies naturally after laying her eggs.
- The natural life cycle of the insect continues.
- When the above process is followed, Eri silk is a non-violent sustainable yarn.
Eri silk yarn in most cases is NOT 100% vegan because the rearers of Eri silkworms benefit from multiple income sources:
1. selling the cocoon to fiber companies to spin yarn
2. selling the silkworms in the local village market for consumption
The silkworms are an age-old source of protein in the local diet. The moths, after dyeing, are composted into the soil. The eggs that the moth lays before dying hatch and the cycle continues.
We have read many articles that state silk is not sustainable. We prefer to look at the circular economy of this amazing fiber. The green footprint of Eri silk from Meghalaya is extremely tiny. That is why we emphasize it as sustainable silk over peace silk.
Are Silkworms Boiled to Make Silk?
- Mulberry, Muga, and Tussah cocoons are closed cocoons.
- The pupa does not mature.
- To spin the silk filament, the pupa is killed in the production process. Stopping the natural lifecycle of the insect.
- Eri silk does not boil cocoon with the pupa inside. The moth either emerges naturally or the village people extract the worm from the open-ended cocoon before boiling.
Is Silk Eco-friendly?
Yes, silk yarn is earth-friendly if it is 100% pure natural silk. Be aware that every item that says, “silk” does not necessarily mean “natural silk”. We stand by Muezart’s yarn brand. Our mission in part is aimed to protect Meghalaya’s long and deep history of weaving with natural Eri silk yarn.
“The first Indian silk, spun as early as 1725 B.C., was produced not by the domesticated Bombyx mori silkworm, fed on mulberry leaves, but from the cocoons of indigenous Tussah, Eri and Muga moths." ~ Dr. Narasimha Reddy
What is not indigenous to India yarn types is mulberry silk. The bombyx mori silkworm came from China and was introduced into India’s textile industry. Today 80% of silk textile fabrics are mulberry silk. We believe the fashion world and the maker world is missing out on creating with the world's most sustainable soft wooly silk: Eri.