This was a stop on my ride from Da Lat to Mui Ne Vietnam.
I never really associated silk with Vietnam before I came here, or even for the first few weeks I was in the country. Actually, not until my motorbike driver pulled over on a random street in the Central Highlands and pointed to two wooden structures covered in what appeared to fake halloween spider webs did I give it a thought.
As I got closer to the structures, I realized that though seasonally appropriate, this was no artificial spider castle. When I suddenly heard a squelch under my foot and looked down to see a oozing worm, I really knew that I had been wrong.
The structure contained a bunch of silk worms, doing their silk worm thing. Regardless of the fact that I had already eaten fried crickets that morning, this was the worst part of my day. I have always hated worms and caterpillars, and these ones really gave me the creeps.
...but when in Vietnam, eh?
The silk tradition in Vietnam (apparently) dates back to 2000 BC. For a majority of its history it was strictly reserved for aristocrats, but throughout the years it has transformed into a more accessible fabric for all strata of society.
The process is extremely exhausting, and is not completed in one spot. Many families take part in different stages of the process, from feeding the worms to selling the silk. The family that hatches the egg sells the worms to the feeding family, which sells the silk cocoons to the factory.... you see how it goes.
After hatching (which is a process in itself), the worms must eat. and eat. and eat. and eat. I think silk worms are the creatures I related to most on this planet. For almost a month straight, these tiny creatures continuously munch on mulberry leaves until they are ready to spin.
This is when the wooden structures come into play. The worms spin their cocoons for three days, one continuous strand of silk the entire time. The strand is close around 400 meters long upon completion! The worms must be watched the entire time during the spinning, day and night, because if they get too close to each other and conjoin cocoons, both strands will be useless. If this starts to happen, the owner has to pull them apart and put them in different places to start over.
It would take around 3 weeks for the moths to emerge, but the farmers don't let this process happen because their escape would harm the single strand silk used to make the cocoon. Instead, they bake the cocoons in an oven to kill the larvae.
Then, to the factory! We went here after seeing the structures used to spin the cocoons. The pods arrive to the factory and are soaked in hot water to loosen up the silk. The workers find the start of the thread, which is very impressible considering I can never even start a roll of scotch tape.
To make the strands stronger, the silk from about 5 pods are put onto the same winding bobbin to form one strand of silk. Some more processing, drying, shipping, and boom! You have strands of silk.... which then can be used to make fabric, which I assume is another exhausting process.
It is interesting to observe the families that are integral cogs in the process of getting silk to consumers. When you see a tag that say something like "Made in Taiwan" or "Made in Vietnam," and you picture slave labor factories, the process may actually be a little more than you realize.