RAISE YOUR OWN SILK (Dec, 1944)
RAISE YOUR OWN SILK
Here’s an easy, profitable, spare time job for several million Americans that can make the U. S. world’s largest silk producer.
by Roger Clay
HAVE you ever considered growing your wife’s silk stockings at home? Well, it can be done. That is, the silk thread can be produced at home, in your spare time, at very little expenseâ€”and it will pay you a nice profit.
John Ousta of New York City, a naturalized citizen of Turkish birth, with a 400-year family tradition of silk producing behind him, is convinced this country can make enough silk to meet the whole world’s demands. One-third of our farming population, raising only one ounce of eggs (30,000 to 43,000 worms) regularly in their spare-time, could do it! And a silk industry on that scale would employ a quarter of a million people in reeling factories alone.
Silk is playing a vital role in this war, but there’s not nearly enough of it for all needs. Everyone knows we were dependent on Japan for all our silk before the war. We were the world’s greatest consumer, taking three-quarters of the total supply. We imported 150 to 200 million dollars’ worth annually from Japan, but produced not an ounce at home.
It’s strange that silkworm-raising has never been practised in this country because, according to experts, it has the best climate in the world for it. The big obstacle up till now has been the cost of reeling the thread from the cocoons, but Ousta has invented a very simple but efficient machine for the job which can be built for $100 and can be operated by a child.
Raising silkworms pays a good profit as a side-line activity. Ousta estimates the profit on about a month’s work at $75 to $100. Aside from feeding the worms, the only work required is controlling the temperature and humidity around them. The only investment needed are a few dollars for eggs and mulberry leaves they eat. In many parts of the country mulberry trees grow wild. Worms from one ounce of eggs will eat 800 to 900 pounds of leaves during their 30 to 35 day life cycle. In the north, 2 or 3 crops a year can be raised; in the south, 4 to 6.
The eggs are hatched by gradually raising the temperature around them from a storage temperature of 36 degrees to 75 degrees and the humidity to 90, over a period of 10 to 12 days. Once they’re hatched, the humidity is dropped to 50 or 60. From this point on, the main job is keeping the worms fed with chopped up mulberry leaves while they grow from 1/8 of an inch to 1 inch long. After 30-odd days they are all set to spin their cocoons. This is where, under the Jap system, most of the work comes in, but Ousta has made an ingenious arrangement that reduces it to a minimum. Instead of laboriously transferring the full-grown worms from their beds to bamboo racks on which they spin their cocoons, Ousta has series of trays with chicken wire bottoms built two feet apart and running from floor to ceiling in his home. Here the worms grow, resting on newspapers. Then Ousta puts dried weed branches vertically between the trays, and the worms climb up them and spin their cocoons. The temperature is raised to between 75 and 80, the humidity greatly reduced, during the 6 or 7 days in which the worms are working. When they’re finished, the cocoons are steamed at high temperature to kill the chrysalis and any parasites. In order to get the silk out of the cocoons in threads, the cocoons are first boiled, then doused in cold water, finally plunged in water of 140 degrees. A brush stirred through the water picks up the naturally sticky silk threads, 5 to 8 at a time, depending on the thickness of the thread desired, and the thread is inserted into the reeling machine. One Ousta cocoon will give up to 3,000 yards of silk strand; 70 or 80 will make a pair of stockings. It takes 100 Jap cocoons to make the same thing.