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Paperback: $25.00
ISBN-13: 9789385063077
Published: November 2018
254 pages | 273 illustrations

South Asian Ways of Silk: A Patchwork of Biology, Manufacture, Culture and History

  • Silk has been known and used in China, South Asia and Europe since ancient times. Its cultivation, based mainly on the mulberry silkworm, is also old, dating back over 4,500 years to the Chinese empress, Leizu, who according to tradition both discovered sericulture and invented the silk loom. Sericulture reached South Asia a few hundred years later. Throughout the region today, sericulture and silk production provide a livelihood to millions of people in the poorest strata of society, not least tribal women. Here India dominates, being the second largest producer of silk in the world after China.

    The history of mulberry silk is well known and much has been written on its cultivation and production, especially by and for specialists. The scope and purpose of this volume is quite different, however. Aimed at a broader readership, it presents the diversity and complexity of sericulture and silk production across South Asia and Myanmar within a single, highly illustrated book. A key wish is to make clear to people in the region what is happening in their neighbouring countries and to promote contacts and exchange of knowledge of silk and biological materials between the countries.

    In addition, the book offers the experiences of silk specialists and suggests ways in which the production of silk might be increased, in particular in the countries neighbouring India where there is potential for increased silk production. Significantly, it suggests alternatives to mulberry silk, which is not without environmental and ethical issues. Special attention is paid to Eri silk, which has similarities to soft cotton and is regarded by many as the most comfortable of all textiles. Its host plant (castor) requires only a fraction of the water necessary for cultivation of cotton and generally its silk moth is not killed during production (whereas harvesting mulberry moth cocoons involves killing the larvae inside).

    The result is a fascinating exploration of the world of silk in South Asia, a volume that will interest and intrigue not just hobbyists and silk lovers but also policy-makers and development specialists, while providing a useful handbook to silk specialists as well.

    • Now retired from his position at the University of Copenhagen, Ole Zethner is an international entomologist, agro-forester and agricultural and tree-planting development advisor. Resident for longer periods and travelling in South Asia over five decades, he has long promoted sericulture and both planned and evaluated thousands of Farmer Field Schools in three countries in the region.
    • Rie Koustrup has taught in Danish schools for more than four decades and been actively engaged in educational exchanges between Denmark, Kenya and Burkina Faso during this time. An accomplished sericulturist, she contributed the bulk of the illustrations to this volume.
    • Dilip Barooah is a textile technologist with more than 35 years experience in the industry in India, South Africa and Germany. He is founder of Fabric Plus Pvt. Ltd., a silk manufacturing (fibre-to-fabric) and exporting company that directly and indirectly impacts more the 50,000 livelihoods, mostly tribal women in rural Assam.