Day 6, Tuesday morning continued

Silk Factory, Suzhou

Photo by Lucie Field

Photo by Gene Field

After visiting the Lingering Garden, we got back on the bus and headed for a silk factory. Suzhou is famous for its silk and we visited the Silk Institute. We were told this was the largest silk factory in China. However, there appear to be several very large silk factories. This one seemed to be more of a tourist operation with several floors - two for shopping and a restaurant on the top floor. The ground floor had the "factory" where we were shown how the silk was spun or handled.

We were not shown silkworms eating or growing in their various stages. I don't know where they do this. All we saw was the process of removing the silk from the cocoon. The cocoons were soaked in boiling water to kill the pupa inside and soften the cocoon.

Then one of many skilled workers found the beginning of the silk filament and attached it to a bobbin so the silk could begin to unwind. Several filaments were then joined together to make one strand or silk thread. This was a noisy process and the workers had to stand the whole time. The silk thread was then used to make everything from silk scarves to underwear. What we saw looked more like a display for tourists than an actual factory as there were not rows and rows of workers, silk, bobbins, etc.

We were then shown how twin cocoons were processed. Because twin cocoons have two filaments of silk and they are tangled together, the silk cannot be wound onto the bobbins. So these are stretched, while wet, over a hoop and then dried. Once dry, they are stretched and stretched until they are the size of a comforter which is what they are then used for. It takes several cocoons for one layer of batting for the silk comforter.

Starting from the size of the hoop they were dried on, the silk takes several workers to pull it to the size needed for the comforter. The silk is very strong and it looks deceptively easy watching the women workers doing this. When we were given a chance to try, we could immediately see how difficult this was. One stretched layer is piled on top of another stretched layer until there are many layers. The more layers, the warmer the comforter. Silk is a wonderful insulator and is perfect for those with allergies.

Photo by Lucie Field

Photo by Lucie Field

After trying our hand at stretching the silk, we then went into a salesroom where there were all sizes of quilts, packaged and ready to go. Then there was a multitude of comforter covers to choose from: silk or cotton, plain or print, and many colors. I think everyone bought at least one comforter and cover, some bought more. They were then compacted in a press and strapped for easy carrying. This made it possible for us later to put them in a suitcase.

Then we went up another floor to the salesroom for more silk items - clothing of all kinds as well as accessories.

Following the shopping spree, we went up another floor to a large restaurant for a buffet lunch before heading down to the bus.

27 May 2006 [China Trip index |next]