AHIMSA PEACE SILK
Ahimsa Silk, also known as peace silk, cruelty-free silk and non-violent silk, refers to any type of silk that is produced without harming or killing the silk worms. (It is also, erroneously, called vegan silk. As an animal product, however, it is not.)
This is in contrast to conventional silk, whereby cocoons are steamed, boiled, or dried in the sun, killing the silk larvae inside. According to PETA, 3,000 silk worms are killed to produce one pound of silk; 10,000 silk worms are killed to produce one silk sari.
Ahimsa silk is made on a very small scale as a cottage industry in India, and its production supports a wide community of rural silk farmers (usually women), spinners (women) and weavers (women & men).
The word “ahimsa” itself derives from Sanskrit and translates as “noninjury”. Ahimsa is an important ethical tenet of three major religions originating from the Subcontinent: Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism. It concerns doing no harm against any other living things.
Ahimsa is the attribute of the soul, and therefore, to be practiced by everybody in all affairs of life. If it cannot be practiced in all departments, it has no practical value.
The origin of ahimsa silk
The creation and commercialisation of ahimsa silk is credited to Kusuma Rajaiah, a 60-year old government officer from Andhra Pradesh in India, who holds the patent and trademark for Ahimsa Silk. Inspired by Ghandi, Rajaiah applied his 40 years of sericulture experience and the theories behind the ahimsa way of life to the making of silk.
He found that it was possible to create silk without killing the silk worms and began weaving ahimsa silk in 1990. In 2001 his company began marketing the silk and it continues to gain popularity both in India and abroad.
“The silkworm caterpillar builds its cocoon by producing and surrounding itself with a long, continuous fibre, or filament. Liquid secretions from two large glands within the insect emerge from the spinneret, a single exit tube in the head, hardening upon exposure to air and forming twin filaments composed of fibroin, a protein material. A second pair of glands secretes sericin, a gummy substance that cements the two filaments together.
Silk is a continuous filament within each cocoon, having a usable length of about 600 to 900 metres (2,000 to 3,000 feet). It is freed by softening the binding sericin and then locating the filament end and unwinding, or reeling, the filaments from several cocoons at the same time, sometimes with a slight twist, forming a single strand. Several silk strands, each too thin for most uses, are twisted together to make thicker, stronger yarn in the process called throwing, producing various yarns differing according to the amount and direction of the twist imparted."
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica
This is the only way to weave the most common type of silk fabric - which is smooth, fine and lustrous - and can be woven from mulberry, tussar or moga silk.
Ahimsa silk production is a humane alternative to this conventional silk production. It can be produced from any type of silk. In this method, silk cocoons are only harvested and processed after the moth has hatched the cocoon. The moth secretes a liquid to dissolve a hole from which to hatch, breaking the long, continuous silk fibre into shorter staples. These shorter staples must be spun together; just as wool or cotton staples are spun into yarn. The high sheen and lustre of the silk are exchanged for a thicker and more textured cloth.
From an economic perspective, ahimsa silk is around double the price of regular silk. An extra 10 days are required to allow the larvae to grow into moths and hatch. Moreover, ahimsa silk cocoons yield around one-sixth of the fibre volume.
Know your silks
There are 4 main types of silk made commercially in India: mulberry, eri, tussar and muga. Here we explore these plus several rarer types of silk.
Description: From the moth Bombyx mori which feeds on mulberry leaves. Mulberry silk is a domesticated species of silk and accounts for around 90% of global silk production. 70% of this comes from China; India is the world’s second largest producer.
Is it non-violent? Both ahimsa and non-ahimsa mulberry silk are produced commercially. Ahimsa mulberry is produced by allowing the moths to hatch the cocoons before harvesting. Therefore, ahimsa mulberry silk is a spun silk, not a filament silk; making it very different in texture and lustre from 'typical' silk.
Non-ahimsa mulberry, which represents almost the entire global production and is usually made at a very large, commercial scale, is produced by boiling cocoons with the lava still inside. Single, continues filaments are pulled off the cocoon to create very long fibres. A few of these fibres are twisted together and woven to create highly lustrous silk.