The commercial cultivation of the silkworm is also known as Sericulture in scientific language. Production of silk through sericulture is a tedious process and involves many stages.
Tasar is a type of pure silk is also known as Vanya (forest in hindi) silk because it involves a partial process of outdoor (forest) cultivation. A coarse yet valuable fabric for the manufacturing process it involves is very tedious and requires a lot of attention. Its beauty is not comparable to no other hand woven fabric or otherwise. Tasar silk is a tropical, wild silk, indigenous to India, has positioned the nation as the 2nd largest producer of pure silk in the world (number 1 being China), and about 60% of which is produced by Indian state of Jharkhand.
It is important to grow right kind of trees and to provide favorable conditions in order to allow the cultivation of the silk worm. Sericulture or cultivation of silk worm may involve a lot of outdoor (and controlled indoor) process. For example -- cultivation of Tasar silkworm is more like a forest based activity. The very famous Tasar worm is cultivated on the trees of Terminalia Arjuna (also called Arjun), Terminalia Tomentosa (Aasan) and Sal. The worm feeds on the tender leaves of these trees. Tasar is the only wild silk among the four natural silks namely - Tasar, Eri, Muga and Mulberry. Raw or Mulberry silk worm is cultivated over Mulberry plants under protected and controlled environment.
Jharkhand’s natural climate and diverse flora and fauna is favorable for silk worm cultivation. The state government has introduced some really scientific procedures to back the sericulture in Jharkhand. Jharkhand is not only a major producer of Tasar silk but it also produces mulberry silk in ample quantity every year.
Production of Eggs and Hatching
Eggs are a phase in the life cycle of the silkworm. After feeding on the tender leaves of trees, the female moth (an adult butterfly) mates with male and lays about 300-400 eggs at a time and dies shortly after laying eggs. Eggs are then incubated under a very controlled temperature and humidity for one week to ten days.
The small larva comes out of the egg after hatching in a controlled environment, starts feeding on tender leaves as soon as it comes out of egg. The caterpillars (another version of larva) keeps feeding on leaves until two weeks. And after that start secreting a sticky liquid protein sericin from its two sericteries for about 3-8 days. This phase is called pupating. After forming a cocoon around itself, the caterpillar goes into a complete hibernation. During the season, these cocoons can be seen hanging on the trees in huge numbers.
Collecting the cocoons
Handpicked cocoons are collected in baskets made of wooden sticks with pupa still inside the cocoon. After collecting them at one place, workers sit and separate heathy and clean cocoons from the bad ones. To get a continuous, long thread, it is important to collect it before the pupa cuts the cocoon and comes out to enter the next stage of it's lifecycle -- the moth.
Spinning the Cocoon
To collect uncut silk yarn from the cocoon, they are boiled or blasted with steam or hot air. This kills the pupa inside the cocoon and also softens the sericin so it becomes easier to collect the yarn without breaking it.
a). Machine Spinning - where machine and manual work is involved. About 4-8 cocoons can be spinned at a time while spinning on a machine. It is easier and less time taking process.
b). Manual Spinning - the spinning is done manually by separating the yarn by hand. This is a rather tedious and time taking process as one could understand just by looking at the picture given below.
Reeling and Weaving
The weaving process may involve - manual weaving, machine weaving or both types of weaving.
Raw silk is made using the yarn that still has some part of unsoftened sericin in it. It is considered a completely different type of silk and beauty of this silk lies in its imperfect weaving. This silk has natural sheen of the silk and knots of raw silk here and there.
Saving the seeds for next cultivation
It is important to let a good number of pupa become the moth by cutting the cocoon and coming out of hibernation. This new generation of pupa would turn into a healthy moth after metamorphosis. The weaker ones will die, of course at some phase of their life. The healthy couples would mate and lay eggs to give birth to a new generation of silkworm.
As the name suggests, Ahimsa (non-violence in hindi) silk is obtained without killing the pupa inside the cocoon. But one should not confuse that this process doesn't harm pupae at all. The world is divided into two for the conflict that is born in the process of Ahimsa silk extraction. Many people don't want to buy silk at all while some would buy only specific kind of silk made using ethical means and through less violent ways.
Other Types of Silks
Eri Silk | Muga Silk | Crepe Silk | Chiffon | Chinnon | Tobby | Matka | Bhagalpuri Silk | Organza | Charka
Please read what other people (and experts) say about the process of harvesting Ahimsa silk:
"Still, things may be looking up for the humble silkworm. Some kindly researchers have recently discovered a method to harvest long filaments without killing the creature. Noticing that when injured the caterpillar will engage in self-paralysis in order to give itself time to heal, the scientists found a way to isolate the biochemical used by the insect to reach that state. By extracting it and injecting it into healthy worms, the researchers were able to induce partial paralysis, after which, one end of the worm’s silk was attached to a slowly winding reel, which successfully gathered the silk. In its paralyzed state, the worm was unable to bite off the thread (as it otherwise would do). The record for gathering silk this way is 500 meters, or about half of that acquired through the traditional method."
Source -- TodayIFoundOut
"I think that Ahimsa Silk doesn't really equal non-violence to insects, once you understand the process and do the math. I think that a lot of vegans and vegetarians want to find a way to rationalize using silk - I can certainly understand wanting to wear silk, it's a wonderful fiber, and none of the synthetics even come close. The thing that many peopledon't do, is look carefully at how the whole system works. If some vegetarians make the determination that it's OK to let the living eggs dry out and die, or ignore the fact that the caterpillars will starve, then that's their business. That's a moral question, and it's not my morality. I'm a bug-baker myself; I make reeled filament silk from the cocoons I raise. I just want to make sure that the peace-silk folks think through the whole process with a clear understanding, especially if they're planning to email me and call me a monster and ask me how I can sleep at night with the blood (or hemolymph, actually - the goo that passes for blood in insects) of so many helpless moths on my hands, etc."
Source -- wormspit.com
"However the silk is NOT ahimsak because the moths that emerge are all deformed, are unable to fly so writher and die. Each and every punctured cocoon used for this so-called “Ahimsa Silk” or “Ahimsa Peace Silk” represents suffering and death of one moth. It is no different to conventional silk for which each cocoon boiled also represents the death of one life. And let it not be forgotten that to obtain as little as a hundred grams of pure silk, approximately fifteen hundred live chrysalises are boiled and in the case of punctured cocoons almost twice as many moths die.
There can be no difference between boiling a developing life inside a cocoon, crushing fully grown moths to death or torturing (by storing in refrigerator) and then discarding them in the dustbin to wither and die."
Source -- Beauty without cruelty
While we would like to bring the truth behind the production of Ahimsa silk to you, we don't want to discourage (or encourage) you from buying those exquisite pieces of rare silks. As a fabrics and craft supply store, we keep variety of silks and other fabrics in our stock. The discussion could go a long way -- from vegan - vegetarian - meat diet to Himsa that we do in day-to-day life. Ahimsa is a lifestyle and while practising it we must understand that:
"Ahimsa is not hurting humans and animals unnecessarily. Ahimsa is showing kindness to others in all aspects of life."