Sericulture is the name given to the process of producing silk cocoons and silk-based textile materials. The silkworm is a very rare insect with specific characteristics and amazing benefits. The silkworm, as any other animal, requires time to grow and survive as part of the process to produce the so-desired raw silk material.

This is the Artisan's step-by-step process:

Everything starts with a silkworm egg. In a very small container, 20,000 eggs can be fed and cared for. But it is not as easy as it sounds. The whole process actually takes 45 days and lasts through five stages. Here it is how it works:

Stage 1
Initially the worm (a really small dot) has a gray color and its size is 3mm. It is only after 3 days that they have reached the 1st stage.

Stage 2
To get to the 2nd one, the worms need to grow up to the size of 1 cm, and
the color turns from gray to dark beige.

Stage 3
From the 1st to the 3rd stage, the care of the silkworm can be done by one person and only requires a space of about 3 x 4 square meters.

Stage 4
It is from the 4th stage that these 20,000 worms need the care of four to five persons. In the 4th stage, the size of the worms is about 7 cm and they need, of course, more space and food.

Feeding is a major challenge for this community, because of the specific food consumed by these worms and because of the quantity and need for food from the 4th stage onwards.

To feed 20,000 worms 800 kilos of mulberry leaves are required.

Growing this plant in an extremely varied climate in the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca is not easy, and these crops are all grown separately as people grow the leaves in their backyards or in their own fields. The community interferes in the egg development process to delay their growth to larvae. This is in order to match growth with food availability given the challenges of growing sufficient mulberry trees for optimal worm development.

In the 4th stage the worms need a space of 6 x 8 meters, which is usually provided by a special 4-tier container of 2 x 1 meters each. This distribution allows the breeders to perform several very important activities for the insects such as cleaning the spaces to avoid contaminating the growing worm, and other types of insects such as flies.

25 days pass from the first stage to the 4th stage

Stage 5. In this stage, the caterpillar builds its cocoons in 3 days, remaining inside them for 15 days to finish its cocoon. Before this crucial stage of cocoon creation, the caterpillar gets rid of its wastes such as urine, for example. In these last days the worms do not stop eating, they require a lot of energy to achieve a perfect cocoon.

It is necessary to provide them with adequate space for the construction of these cocoons...

When the cocoons are ready, they are all placed in a "petate", a kind of blanket made of palm that is placed on the ground and serves as a base so that the insects can detach from the cocoon and continue reproducing.

Finally, once the moths emerge from the cocoons, they are removed for processing, and the moths are collected to start the reproduction of the new larvae.

After collecting the cocoons, the material must be cleaned and prepared to create the silk thread, followed by another beautiful process: the weaving of the garment.

Author: Alma Cristina Gómez Macfarland

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