The first witness to silk manufacturing dates back between 4000 and 3000 BC in China, where the first silk cocoon cut with a knife’s blade was found. No wonder, then, that countless legends on this yarn flourished in this country.
The empress Lei-Tsu
China discovered silk thousands of year before Europe, but the origins of this fabric are foggy. And foggy borders are the ground where legends take root. The first one we are going to tell you is focused on an empress.
Lei-Tsu, or Xi Ling Shi, was the young wife of the Yellow Emperor, who reigned from 2697 to 2597 BC. During his rule, he taught wandering hunters how to grow cereals and tame animals, as well as inventing boats, carts… and clothing. And his wife made a fundamental contribution to the last one.
Legend has it that Lei-Tsu was drinking tea in the garden, when a silkworm’s cocoon dropped into her cup. Lei-Tsu, annoyed, got hold of the cocoon to take it out of the tea but, due to the heat of the drink, too, it started to unfold. And, yard by yard, it covered the entire garden.
The discovery of silkworms
Lei-Tsu then took a better look at it and could see the thread was bright and resistant. She understood that the mysterious thread could be woven. Besides: when she removed the cocoon, she noticed that a worm was concealed within it, and that the worm ate the leaves of the mulberry tree growing in her garden. Instead of getting rid of those worms, she thus asked her husband permission to plant mulberry trees where she could grow silkworms.
This is how Lei-Tsu became the discoverer of silk, as well as the first sericulturist and inventor of silk looms. Indeed, she taught women at her court how to weave the silkworm’s cocoon. These discoveries were so important that Lei-Tsu became one of the Chinese deities, and was called “Silkworm Mother”, Can Nai Nai.
A tradition was born on which China had a monopoly for thousands of years. Until another princess decided to take it out of the country…