Importance of Silk
A fabric with a thousand years of history, silk is acclaimed for its smooth, lustrous texture that makes it comfortable to wear in both winter climates and warmer seasons. Silk is also one of the strongest natural fibers and today, has many uses apart from garments. It is used in parachutes and also as blanket filling and nowadays, it is used as a material in surgical sutures and bicycle tires. Always regarded as an item of luxury and one of the most important commodities traded in the ancient world, silk was the tie that brought together Ancient China and the West.
A Most Precious Fabric
Beginning in the Han Dynasty, silk was a major catalyst in bringing China out of isolation and a significant factor in the development of not only Chinese culture but in all of the cultures along the Silk Road including India, Persia and Ancient Rome. Because the Chinese guarded the secrets of silk for many centuries, silk was perceived as a miraculous fabric and everyone who could afford the material coveted it far above any spices or raw materials that could be found and traded during this period. Silk was so highly desirable that it was often used as a currency with equal value to gold, silver and precious stones. Such was its allure that it managed to reach the furthest corners of civilization and solidified the trade routes between China and India in the East and Europe and Persia in the West. Because of the extensive trading of silk between these societies, this network of trade routes became known as the Silk Roads.
The Luxury Standard
Since its beginnings silk defined a lifestyle of luxury attainable to only a few. In fact, when silk was first discovered, its use was reserved for the Emperor and the Royal Family. The supple, lustrous material changed the way people dressed, influenced the way luxury was perceived and paved the way for the Chinese to gain the upper hand in trading. While China held the monopoly of sericulture, silk fabric weaving and silk embroidery, they gained prominence with the economic powers that were already established in the West. During this period which spanned centuries, China held the entire market of silk and set the standard for luxury in fabrics. Even in Europe and the West, silk was a fabric available for only the most affluent members of society due to the high costs and only the most skilled of seamstresses and embroiderers were employed in creating garments and textiles that were made from silk.
Today, silk is more than just a luxury fabric for the rich and famous. The qualities of silk that make it suitable for textiles and threads also make it ideal for items such as surgical sutures where the strength of the silk and its organic composition enable it to act as a strong suture thread that is non-absorbable by the human body. Furthermore, because silk does not trigger a response from the autoimmune system, it has been used to engineer ligaments and bones from people who have sustained damage to these parts of the body. The silk fibers can be used to provide a repair structure for muscles, bone, cartilage and tendons. But the modern uses of silk do not end in the medical field.
Silk is also being used in the fields of photonics and optics as well as in electronic applications. While still a dominant player in the textile industry, silk is quickly making its way into other areas of our modern lives.
Today, China continues to hold the record for being the largest manufacturer of raw silk and is the center for the creation and production of silk embroideries worldwide. Silk has since lost its status as the most coveted luxury material but still holds the aura of beauty and decadence that it held in times past. It is continuing to change our lives today with its innovative applications in the world of science and medicine. Silk remains a treasure of China but its importance in shaping both Eastern and Western civilizations yesterday and today is a testament to its timeless beauty and strength.
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