Institute of Khmer Traditional Textiles
A high standard of sericulture is vital for fine weaving. At IKTT we use the traditional golden variety of silkworm. This native silk breed thrived in Cambodia before the importation of the cheaper, white silk, used widely across the world. It is known for its strength and lustrous fibre, however, when Morimoto carried out his research in 1995 it was apparent that traditional sericulture had almost died out.
Cambodia imported the white variety of silk from China and Japan, due to the worm’s higher productivity. The cycle of a golden silkworm lasts for 45 days, so silk can be produced throughout the year, compared to the white variety that only produces silk twice a year. However there is a big difference between the amount of silk they produce, golden silkworms produce enough for 300 meters from one cocoon, whereas the white variety produces 1400 meters.
The rise in demand for silk meant that many white breeds had been artificially improved to meet the needs of mass production. While these 'improvements' increase the worm’s productivity, it also affects the fibre. Silk was once known for being a strong and durable fibre; however, these changes have made it significantly weak and fragile. Cambodia’s golden silkworms have not been tampered with in this way and keep their original qualities.
White silk is not native to Cambodia; therefore there are many problems involved in farming the silk due to differences in climate, disease, and insects of which they do not have immunity. As a result, man-made props are necessary to create the right conditions, such as fridges needed to raise the silk at the correct temperature.
Since the project's birth, IKTT has been working hard to revive the use of golden silk in Cambodia, believing that by breeding a variety suited to the environment the quality will be far higher, softer and more pliable. Silkworms live off a diet of mulberry leaves, to ensure the quality of our silk we must care for our trees as much as we do for our worms.
We spin all our silk by hand; the difference between hand and machine reeled thread is that hand reeled thread does not have a set tension, so every breath that person takes adds to the texture of the silk. When someone wears handspun silk, they can feel these subtle variations against their skin. This natural feeling gives our fabrics their soul, and anyone who wears them can feel this.