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 expense—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.

5 comments
  1. Don says: October 17, 20078:11 am

    Not a good idea today. My high school buddy got busted for growing silk in his basement! Oh. Different crop. Nevermind.

  2. Stannous says: October 17, 20077:29 pm

    Everything you ever wanted to know about raising silkworms:
    http://www.aurorasilk.c…

    How to raise them for your classroom:
    http://www.suekayton.co…

  3. RobertinSeattle says: October 19, 200712:07 pm

    Ha Ha – this is hilarious! Raising silkworms and producing silk isn’t like raising chinchillas or llamas for profit. I traveled extensively through Mexico in the early 70′s and ended up on the West Coast quite a bit. Often, when I went through small towns ad villages, the little kids would come running after me just to look at me or touch me as I was apparently the first Asian they had ever seen. Much to my surprise, I discovered that there had been a large Chinese population in those areas of Mexico as the climate in those regions was identical to areas in China where they produced silk. Apparently, the Chinese had had established a very large and sophisticated silk industry in Mexico at the end of the 19th century. The Mexicans thought that after a few years, they had learned enough to do it on their own and literally expelled all the Chinese merchants from Mexico. Big mistake – the art and science of raising silkworms and producing silk took centuries of knowledge and experience to develop and it was certainly not something that could simply be passed on casually over a few years. In a short span of a couple of years, the Mexican “silk industry” collapsed and they’ve never been able to start it back up again without Chinese knowledge. Which is why there are very few successful silk industries in most of the world outside of China.

  4. David On Esplanade says: February 11, 20098:27 pm

    The last comments by RobertinSeattle are wrong according to what I’ve researched about silk production. They’ve had silk industries outside of China since the Byzantines smuggled the industry out in the sixth century. The Greeks or inhabitants of Asia Minor (now Turkey) figured out how to grow the worms quite quickly without Chinese help. In fact, Turkey still has a thriving silk industry. The Thai’s got is at some point too. The Mediterranian silk production spread around the middle east to spain with the Muslims and then to the New World with the Christian Spanards. Mexico had a thriving silk industry in the 16th century, well before it had any Chinese immigrants.

    The problem is apparently a problem of labor; silk production just takes too much labor (I think thats why the silk plantation failed to develop as planned in the Colony of Georgia). The industry only last where there is a lot of cheap labor or a traditional attachment to the industry (such as in Turkey and China).

    Its would appear there is not an ancient Chinese touch envolved. I never heard this stuff about the late nineteenth century Sinomexicans, but I have heard of and seen examples of the colonial mexican silks in museums.

  5. elizabeth tabor says: April 16, 20098:46 pm

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