WorkingsRaw Materials: Protein fibresRaw Materials: Cellulosic fibresRaw Materials: Synthetic fibresMaking textiles without threads: felt and bark clothMaking Thread: combing, carding and spinningAdding ColourMaking textiles without looms: braiding, knitting, knottingLaceMaking textiles with loomsTextiles to clothe the worldPutting the pieces together: piecing and quiltingEmbroiderySurface PrintingResist Patterning: batik, plangi, ikatMaking Baskets

Chair cover

Two types of protein fibres are commonly used to make textiles. Animal hair, fur and feathers are one type. The other type is silk, reeled from the cocoons of certain kinds of moths. Four thousand years ago, the Chinese found silk could be used to make cloth that is shiny, soft and strong. This discovery remained a secret until the 6th century AD, when two Persian monks disguised as Christian missionaries smuggled some moth eggs in a hollow cane to Byzantium – and the secret was out.

Where was this textile created?

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Raw Materials: Protein fibres

Chair cover
Asia: East Asia, China
Ming Dynasty, 1675 - 1725
Silk satin, with silk and gold brocade
190 cm x 55 cm
Gift of Fred Braida
T89.0300 Textile Museum of Canada

The attached fringe of this chair cover shows two of the essential characteristics of silk yarn: it can be dyed in brilliant colours and it is slightly sticky. The strands catch on themselves and on your fingers as you stroke them.

In its caterpillar phase, the domesticated Bombyx mori moth spins a single filament from the spinneret below its mouth and wraps the filament around itself to pupate. Before the emerging moth breaks through the cocoon, the silk filament can be unwound in one long thread. This thread’s tensile strength exceeds that of steel. Spider silk, however, is even stronger and more elastic, and has long been used for the crosshairs in gun sights and microscopes. Researchers at Nexia Biotechnologies Inc. in Montreal, Canada, are experimenting with a spider silk gene, which is inserted into a goat. The goal is to produce goat milk proteins that can be extruded into a filament having some of the properties of spider silk.

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