Thai Silk is a long, continuous filament produced by worms that feed on mulberry leaves. The worms spin their cocoons with their saliva when they change from larvae to pupae in their life cycle. The fiber which they produce can be reeled off the cocoons and spun into a fine thread and then woven into silk cloth. The cultivation of silkworms and development of silk weaving techniques started in China around 2700 BC. Thai Silk was a highly valued commodity then and a trade route from China to the Mediterranean was opened and named the Silk Road.
In Thailand, evidence from Ban Chiang excavations suggests that there was independent production of silk at that time. In 1902 King Rama V decided to improve the quality of Thai silk and invited a team of Japanese experts to teach villagers silkworm breeding and rearing as well as weaving techniques. A center was established in Korat and in Buriram to serve this purpose. The training, however, was not successful because villagers found it too troublesome to adopt the Japanese production techniques.
Thai silk has a relatively coarse texture with uneven lumps or knotty threads. This results from the fact that each step of production i.e. reeling, spinning and waving is done by hand.
Such characteristics make Thai Silk more appealing and unique. Thai silk had not been known widely until Jim Thompson used it to make costumes for the play The King and I.Jim Thompson is an American who settled in Thailand and set up a silk production house in Ban Khrua in Bangkok. Thai silk and, to some extent, Thailand were well-known to the world through this fabulous Broadway production.
Thai silk comes in different thickness. The light and medium weight or tie two-ply and four-ply silks are used for clothing items. Thicker materials like the heavy and extra heavy silks are good for draperies and upholsteries. Contrary to the popular belief that silk clothes need special care, in fact, they can be dry-cleaned or hand -washed with mild soap. Ironing is easier done when the clothes are moist.
Thai silk is mostly home products with different production techniques which result in different qualities of silk. The quality of Thai silk had not officially been certified and the different types of silk not been categorized. Many silk buyers were disappointed to find that the quality of Thai silk they bought was not up to their expectations. The Ministry of Agriculture, therefore, announced that from now on a peacock emblem bestowed by Her Majesty the Queen will be used to guarantee the quality of Thai silk.
The National Silk Commission divides Thai silk into four grades based on the types of silk and production processes, including weaving and dying. Buyers can use the emblem as a guideline when buying Thai silk. The quality of silk and production techniques are indicated by the different colors of the peacock emblems – gold refers to premium silk with traditional production methods; silver refers to classic Thai silk produced from specific silkworm breeds; blue refers to Thai silk with chemical dyes and green refers to silk which blends with other types of filament.