Nearly every tour of Beijing takes visitors to enormous showrooms where all manner of jade, gems, pearls, wood carvings, ginsing and silk items are shown by clerks eager to make a sale. The showrooms include educational displays that help visitors understand the arts and crafts.
Our tour of the Yuan Long silk factory included a salesroom for silk mattresses, duvets and comforters, along with a step-by-step exhibit of the production process.
It is amazing that an insect can provide the material to make such fine, soft fabric. And who first figured out that the fiber in cocoons could be extruded to make silk thread?
Some cocoons are soaked in water, then opened, the worms removed, and the silk hung over frames to dry.
Silk fiber is stronger pound for pound than steel. It is also pliable, so after the cocoons are stretched over frames, the silk is laid out over a mattress-sized surface in thin layer upon layer. About 4,000 cocoons are used to create a 2,000 gm duvet.
The thin layers of silk filament are covered with cotton, resulting in an incredibly soft duvet, created by worms grown on mulberry leaves.
Silk thread is used to make fine carpets. The finest have 1,000 knots per inch, all hand-tied, as this woman is doing below.