The History of Silk-Cashmere

    Ask anyone what they think the most luxurious fibre in the world is and chances are, they will reply with either cashmere or silk. We so decided to combine the two for the design of our silk-cashmere collection, which is crafted from an ultra-soft blend of luxury silk and cashmere from the Cariaggi Jaipur Collection. 

    To mark this stylish new addition to our line-up, we thought we’d explore why these regal fibres became so revered. We have already explained all you need to know about cashmere, so we now explore the history of silk and it’s journey on the extraordinary Silk Road.

    Silk still retains a strong connection with Chinese culture and its discovery is embedded in the very fabric of Chinese mythology. Legend has it that it was stumbled across by the Empress Leizu, who was taking tea beneath a mulberry tree around 2700 B.C., when a silkworm cocoon fell into her teacup.

    The threads of the cocoon unraveled in the warm liquid and when she went to remove it, noticed the lustrous sheen of the fibres. This was the supposed fortuitous discovery of what would become one of the nation’s most prized commodities and the Empress was later deified as the goddess of silkworms, styled with the title “Seine Than”.

    Song dynasty women, shown working with a bolt of silk

    Silk cultivation eventually evolved into an elaborate art, known as sericulture, which involves the farming of silkworms, which aren’t worms at all, but the caterpillar larvae of the silk moth. It’s a particularly high-maintenance caterpillar, too, existing solely on a diet of the leaves of the mulberry tree, which is native to China. Once the caterpillar has had its fill, it begins to spin a cocoon to metamorphosis into a winged moth. It’s the fibres of this protective shell that provide the raw components of silk. The cocoon is one continuous thread, which can yield a total of 2000-3000ft of useable material. A single thread is too thin to spin, so several threads from separate cocoons are wound together to form a workable strand. The result is a lustrous, strong yarn that is also moisture-wicking, making it very comfortable to wear in hot climates.

    Silk also gave its name to one of the most famed trade routes of the ancient world – the Silk Road. The route was a series of networks running through China, India, Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Africa, Greece, Italy and Western Europe. It was on these routes that teams of merchants took exotic commodities west by camel caravan to feed the luxury appetite of well-heeled Europeans, which included tea, porcelain, medicinal unguents, incense, spices, gunpowder and of course, silk. In exchange, the Europeans sent gold, silver, furs, woollen cloth, glassware, grapevines and armour to the East. This elaborate trading network lasted from 130 B.C., having been established by Emperor Wu during China’s Han dynasty, until 1453 A.D., when the Ottoman Empire imposed a trading boycott on the West. Despite the cessation of the route and consumer goods being transported by sea, rail, and air today, the romance of the Silk Road still lives on in the popular imagination.

    The Silk Road.- Mongolian Hills

    Now that you know how these two precious fibres are obtained, how is our own exquisitely soft silk-cashmere cloth produced?

    We went to one of the best producers of cloth in the business – Cariaggi – founded by Aurelio Cariaggi in 1958 in Cagli, a medieval village located in Montefeltro hills in Italy’s Marche region. As you’d expect from a family firm with more than 60 years of experience, everything is about attention to detail.

    Modern weaving techniques at the Cariaggi mill

    “We start with the finest raw ingredients – we source our cashmere from Mongolia and our Mulberry silk from China. These countries have a long history of cultivating these precious fibres, so it made sense for us to obtain our fibres from there as we can rely on their expertise” explains Venusia Galeotti at our supplier Cariaggi.

    And it’s not just the quality that’s a key point of note here, the fabric itself has a very practical advantage, proving that luxury and functionality can go hand-in-hand: “Silk-cashmere yarn makes an extraordinarily light cloth, which can be worn throughout the year. It is particularly suitable for travelling as it isn’t bulky, is lightweight and can handle a variety of temperatures” adds Galeotti.