The Tradition of Silk Making in Cyprus

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The process of cultivating silkworms to make fabric is thought to have been introduced into Europe from the east during the Byzantine era. The best quality silk is made from worms that feed on the leaves of the mulberry tree; as it turns out, the climate of Cyprus is perfect for growing mulberries. Under Venetian and Ottoman rule, the island emerged as a key supplier for silk in Europe. Organised production continued here well into the twentieth century (Cyprus is said to have contributed silk for making parachutes during World War II). While silk making is an industrial art, it has also been pursued as a folk art in villages. Villagers would set aside hibernating silk eggs over the winter. In the spring, they would warm the eggs to hatch the worms. The worms would then be placed in a bundle of sticks, reeds, and mulberry leaves. Eventually the worms would weave a cocoon. At this stage, villagers would use hot water or air to stop the worm from becoming a moth and exiting the cocoon. The cocoons were gathered in a sack until the silk maker arrived in the village. The silk maker heated the cocoons in a cauldron and then unwound them, looping the silk on a wheel to make silk thread for weaving. Weaving could be done on looms in the village. Though nowadays we consider silk a luxury material, impoverished villagers found making silk an economical way to supply clothing and linens for their families.

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