Nature crafting fashion
Silk and Wool
Not only does nature provide motifs and patterns for fashion. It also supplies the raw materials to create accessories and clothes that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional.
One of the most precious materials is surely silk, whose history dates back many thousands of years to China, where craftspeople developed secret techniques to produce the finest quality of silk. Recent archaeological finds along the banks of China’s Yangtze River suggest that the first silk could have been made between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago.
Silk production starts with cultivating silkworms (Bombyx mori) from the egg stage through to the completion of their cocoon. This process is called ‘sericulture’. Once the collection of the cocoon is done, its silk threads are extracted. Processes of dyeing, spinning, weaving and finishing lead to the final product, which can then be further embroidered and embellished.
Silk produced in China was transported via the Silk Road, bringing this precious material to the West. From ancient Romans, such as emperor Caligula, who famously dressed in silk impersonating female gods such as Diana and Juno, to the elegant and established diplomats at the court of 18th century France, silk has been widely used to signal wealth and status.
Wool is certainly one of the most widespread materials, and not only in fashion: its intrinsic qualities make it perfect to protect from both heat and cold, and this is why it has been used for centuries and at different latitudes.
The techniques used to produce different wool and woollen garments have been perfected over time, and are at the basis of a heritage shared by communities in many different locations around the world.
The process for creating wool consists of several steps: shearing, washing, carding to straighten the fibres, and finally spinning to turn the raw material into yarn. Different kinds of yarn come from different spinning techniques: worsted spinning makes a thin yarn used for suits and other finer garments; woollen spinning makes the thicker yarn used in knitting.
Thanks to its ability to absorb water quickly, wool is easy to dye and can be dyed with both natural and artificial colours. Designers have taken advantage of the qualities of wool and pushed the boundaries of fashion with it.