1. Have You Heard About Eri silk?
Belonging to Meghalaya, is a place where Eri silkworm rearing is a common practice.
Well , I never knew much about the special features that Eri silk has , how it is darker and heavier than other silks, how it can be spun into finer and shinier material giving that natural textures which is coarse, fine, dense, strong, durable, and elastic.
After I discovered Muezart and their works, I came to learn more about Eri Silk.
Eri silk is the most respected fabric of the local tribal people of Meghalaya which is worn with most pride that is why it has always been the choice of fabric of Royalty and Nobility.
Interesting fact is that Eri silk blends well with wools and cotton and due to its presence of thermal properties it is warm in winter and cool in summer.
Let me take you on a deep tour about the whole processing of Eri Silk!
2. Cycle of Rearing Silkworms - From Egg to Cocoon!
The process of rearing Eri silkworms is somewhat interesting to know.
A Eri moth will lay hundreds of eggs, and after 10 days, these eggs hatches producing Eri silkworms which are then reared indoor and kept in baskets.
These baskets are then covered with castor leaves where the worms feed on for 21 days. When the Eri silkworm reaches its full size, it starts to spin its cocoon.
After 10 days, the moth evolves and peacefully breaks out from the open end of the cocoon and leaves the hole to start a new life. The moths mate and lay their eggs and the cycle continues.
Well, that is not just it!
Here are some interesting facts about Eri silk:
1) Traditionally, worms are collected for their high protein and nutritional content; others are left to form into moths and continue their journey. This process is a key component in Forest’s ecology, as it has been for centuries.
2) Do you know how Eri silk fibers are formed?
Little yuck! The silk fiber is the saliva of the silkworm. It is a wonder of nature.
The silkworms become caterpillars, which process the food they eat (mulberry silkworms eat mulberry leaves, and Eri silkworms eat castor leaves) and generate yards of uniform fiber exude from their mouths.
They use this fiber to build a place for themselves to hibernate in till they transform into moths. These special 'houses' are called cocoons.
So, the next time you're spinning from cocoon cakes or silk hankies, you know what you're holding.
3) Our Eri silk takes natural to a whole new level. There is no pollution or emissions in our environmentally friendly production process. We have reached zero waste of every single Eri cocoon.
The castor shrub that produces the leaves fed to our Ricini silkworms is a self-propagating perennial. The village and family production reinforce the preservation of a traditional, natural system existing in our culture for centuries. These regenerative steps, with minimum wastage of resources, makes this a model of a circular economy.
Every part of every resource that is gifted by the Earth is used, and in exchange something is given back. Planting trees, maintaining soil health and protection of wildlife. It is this harmonious and holistic relationship that is so important in reigniting the connection between cloth and Earth. There is so much to learn from indigenous communities. This is the Regenerative Fashion of the future.
3. How Are the Eri Cocoons Processed?
Many Spinners want to know how Eri cocoons are processed.
Do not worry, you will understand how the process works.
The cocoons are loosely placed in a cotton cloth and then boiled in hot pH balanced soapy water for one hour. This boiling is done to clean out the sericin which is a protein gum coating created by silkworms to holds the strands of silk together. This process is also known as Degumming.
After boiling, the cocoons are left to soak in the hot water until the water runs clear, then each cocoon is gently opened. Cocoons that does not easily opened are then hand pounded into flat rounds and left to dry in the sun.
After the cocoons are dried, the soft flat cocoons are then ready to be spun into yarn.
4. How is Spinning Eri Cocoons by Hand done?
Spinning silk with a spindle is one of the ancient methods used by most weavers throughout the villages of Meghalaya.
The spindle is occasionally rotated by the right hand in order to wind the yarn to the spindle. Through this traditional method, an individual spinner can produce around 40-60g of yarn in a day.
Presently, the Muezart team along with village weavers and our very own makers/artisans’ team are experimenting more improved and innovative methods for spinning Eri silk yarns.
5. How To Use Natural Dyes for Dyeing?
Did you know that an undyed Eri silk yarn creates a beautiful natural off-white colour?
Well, most of the traditional Khasi Eri shawls are woven in this classic natural colour.
In Muezart, we use plants to dye our Eri silk yarn taken from roots, leaves, flowers, fruits and even seeds.
Want to know more, what are the different shades of colours we get from plants?
These are the ingredients that we are using for different colours: -
- Turmeric to produces a bright yellow color.
- Onion skin produces nutmeg brown color.
- Sohiong (Blackberry from Meghalaya) produces peach color.
- Sapphire-berries produced Indigo color.
- Beetroot produces a reddish brown color
This way, we are reviving and regenerating a business model where we were practice something without harming the environment as well as partnering with the villages to continue and preserve the traditional art of dyeing with natural dyes.
We are still all eager to discover more how much color we can get by using plants and fruits that we got.
6. How is weaving with Eri silk done?
All Muezart products are woven using a floor/thrown shuttle loom or a fly shuttle loom. Fly shuttle loom is used for better quality Eri fabric and also for blended fabric.
The production quantity is 2.5 times higher than the throw shuttle loom. A Floor shuttle loom can weave about half 0.5m cloth/ day working whereas the fly shuttle can weave up to 5m.
The Muezart network of Eri silk weavers consists mostly of young women, mothers, and grandmothers.
Yes, women dominate the weaving livelihood but Eri silkworm rearing is a family thing!
7. Is Eri Silkworm rearing disappearing?
It is a fact, Eri silkworm rearing is not an easy task, it is a labour-intensive work which consume a lot of capital, manpower and time. Due to this problem and the inability to market the products and lack of equipment, these silkworm farmers faced a lot of challenges.
However, when others saw a problem, Muezart saw an opportunity for business. By partnering with Muezart, all Eri silk yarn and products made are sold through e-commerce platforms to customers who loved this rare, warm, rustic fabrics.
Through this Muezart is reviving village livelihoods that are slowly dying. Presently our team is working with many villagers who rear silk cocoons, hand spin yarn, dye with natural methods and weave traditional fabric. Thus, we are reviving the potential of the people to grow in this business and thriving for more.