We love silk, the clue is in the name! It is a delightful medium to work with. Soft and strong with a history of intrigue...
Around 3000 BC the Empress Xi Ling Shi (also known as Xilingshi, Lei-Tsu or Leizu), wife of the Yellow Emperor, Emperor Huangdi, was sitting under a mulberry bush drinking tea when a silkworm cocoon fell into her cup and started unravelling, the Empress realised the result was a single thread and intrigued she wondered if the thread could be used for cloth.
The empress is then said to have studied and with help from a scientist, bred the silk moth and silk worm and developed not only sericulture but the loom to work the cloth on.
Silk was the preserve of the elite, and the colour it was a clue to class.
Although the Chinese managed to keep the secret for many centuries, it was inevitable that the teachings of silk production would gradually spread: Chinese migrants, international marriages and subterfuge all played their part. When the Byzantium Empire learned sericulture, in around AD 550, the church and state kept control of their own industry establishing silk production in the Middle East, India had learned around AD 300, each culture was determined to keep sericulture a closely guarded and profitable secret.
At the time of the Second Crusades 2000 silk weavers from Constantinople were established in Italy, and silk production reached several areas in Europe. Italy began to produce high quality silks and were able to become a major player on the silk producing stage, there are still high quality silks produced in Italy to this day.
James I of England tried, unsuccessfully to start sericulture in England, but although his failure (due to the English climate and the fact he imported black mulberry bushes instead of white mulberry bushes for the silkworm to feed on) meant the silk had to be imported the skills of the silk worker were abundant in the UK with immigrants from other areas of Europe.