PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: What need or urge propelled human spirit more than 5000 years ago to domesticate Bombyx mori, the silkworm, the way we have domesticated cows and cats and corn? Was it refined tastes that sought out that delicacy or the need for a fiber of unmatched strength? Or was it merely the need to unwind mystery? Silkworms, like spaniels, only survive through cultivation. Whatever the motivation, it took a patient, observant and creative imagination to see in the fragile thread of the silkworm's discarded chrysalis shroud, implications that led to a fiber unmatched in nature for beauty and strength.
Plant fibers are, comparatively, an easy accomplishment, and furs, and the vision to shear the sheep. But those who found the way to silk kept it a secret for two thousand years. It is a finger trick, they say, the tedious softening and scrubbing of each moth's cocoon and to patiently unwind the larva's delicate dance; to slowly bathe the cocoon and unwind the single filament of protein spun from the silkworm's two spinnerets and wash it clean.
It takes unwinding 2000 to 3000 cocoons to make a pound of silk or about a thousand miles of filament, enough for a kimono. It seems an unlikely journey for mind to travel, from watching the larva slowly spinning its figure eight, to this supremely strong, polished thread of a hybridized moth, woven into fabric that glides over skin, wicks perspiration and makes colors glow like no other. Was the invention of silk a cultural phenomenon, or is the mind that imagined silk fundamentally the same as the Enlightenment-rased, DuPont mind that imagined nylon?