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How we make our Sangdao shot Thai silk

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Mulberry Trees
Our story starts with a mulberry tree our family farm in Isan, in northeast Thailand. Isan is considered the silk country of Thailand, in the same way that Sonoma and Napa are considered the wine country in America.

New mulberry bushes are grown from cuttings. The mulberry bush does not require much water.

(Incidentally, the mulberry fruit is good for making juice or a pie. A popular tea, widely supposed to be a tonic, is made from the leaves, and paper is made from the bark.)
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Silk worms
Silk worms develop in about two weeks from an egg to a worm and are kept in bamboo trays, covered with a cotton fabric to protect them from insects.

The worms have a life of between 45 to 52 days. They start to eat mulberry leaves as soon as they hatch from an egg. After about 10 days they will stop eating and shed their skin. In Thailand this stage is called "mainon," which means "sleeping worm." After the shedding is complete they begin eating again. This process usually repeats itself 3 or 4 times.

The worm's color changes from a greenish white to a shiny golden yellow. They soon become shorter and stop eating completely. They are then transferred to a new tray with many concentric circles - called a "jaw" in Thai.

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Silk Worm Cocoons
After the worms are transferred to their new trays, they start to spin a cocoon around themselves.This takes six to seven days. By the 10th day it will be too late for our purposes, as the worm will change into a moth and break out of the cocoon. The damaged cocoon can no longer become reeled silk. It is now only suitable for being spun into noil silk, which is a much lower grade.

After the seventh day the cocoons are collected from the tray and put in a pot of boiling water so that they can be reeled by hand.This process is called "saomai" in Thai.

The person who does this must have a great deal of experience so that they can produce a high quality yarn. Every cocoon has different amounts of yarn. The silk filaments range in length from 400 to 1,350 yards on average.

The cocoons are stirred once with a bamboo stick to separate them. Then, one by one, the cocoons are picked up by hand and the end of the silk is threaded onto a bamboo fork. The cocoon is dropped back into the boiling water, and the silk hand reeled into a basket.
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Raw silk
This is what raw Thai silk looks like before it has been processed. Raw Thai silk is golden in color, unlike Chinese silk which is typically white.

After the silk is reeled into the basket, it is reeled by hand onto a large bamboo wheel. Next, the silk is slowly reeled onto a small bamboo wheel. At the same time the yarn is inspected and combed with fingers to take out the large slubs. Then the silk is again reeled onto a large bamboo wheel.

Finally, the silk is loosely twisted 80 times into a loop to form a skein of silk.


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Raw silk hanging out to dry
At this point the skeins are soaked in a mild soap solution to soften the silk for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Then the silk skeins are hung outside to air dry in the breeze. The silk is pulled hard by hand before drying to keep the yarn from drying in a clump.