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INDIAN TUSSUR SILK AND OUR SERICUL
By Miss L. N. BADENOCH.
The true establishment of our manufacture of silk we owe to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Deprived by it of freedom of worship, a million people were driven to their death, or to foreign shores, chiefly to England. These refugees, including among them no fewer than fifty thousand of their country's ablest workmen, settled in several of our northern manufacturing towns, and at Spitalfields, and planted upon a firm footing the industry, which is justly considered the most artistic in the world. Alas ! this happy tide, so beneficial to our interest, for over a hundred and fifty years, once again has retreated whence it came, carrying with it not the workmen, but their trade ; while France owns a development, with which none probably is to be compared.
The reason of our disaster may be summed up in one word, neglect. We have neglected the progressive and scientific spirit of the times, and to fall behind in this age of competition, is-extinction. While France has her Lyons Chamber of Commerce, with a Laboratory for the scientific study of silk, her Syndicat de l'Union des Marchands de Soie, and similar institutions, as well as her important silk Journals, England, for long, had not even a silk journal, and has trusted far too much to individual enterprise. Her technical education until lately has been nil, while the artistic exigencies of the subject, have been left entirely out of reckoning. No doubt, a more immediate cause of the decline of the English industry is to be found in the French Treaty of 1860, giving France the opportunity of sending her goods to our markets duty free, which rapidly ousted the home manufactures, because they are cheaper and more suited to modern taste. But, in reality, this cause is involved in the larger one of our want of knowledge and exertion. Had we been armed with these, our goods would have stood their ground better in emergency. Delay in removing the tax would have simply kept us the longer ignorant of our own ignorance, as compared with the work of foreign rivals. · That competition in the matter of cheapness must entail a keen struggle to us, it is only fair to admit, since the cost of the living of our poor, and the wage that they demand are great, and the hours of labour are short, in relation to the more cheaply - producing Continental centres. With frequent strikes, with the high duties imposed abroad on our exports, and with the freaks of fashion, we have likewise been heavily handicapped. But these evils are not insuperable, as it has been amply proved in other directions ; besides, they show a tendency to lessen. And such evils do not touch our national pride in the same way as the discovery of our inability to cope with the ingenuity of others, and our defeat in the match with our more skilful and better-informed Continental confrères,-even. though that skill be occasionally a species of "black-art,” which is in principle antagonistic to the English manufacture. As to fashion, she is a fickle goddess, for there is every chance that what is not the mode may again become so.
There is, in fact, no adequate reason why we should not resume, and extend, the fair share that we once held in this beautiful branch of imperial industry. We have a climate all that can be desired, more humid perhaps than any, we have machinery surpassed by none, and brain-power, and technical instruction, of science, and the arts, is slowly beginning to be felt.
There is one department beyond our powers, however, that of silkgrowing, or sericulture proper. It has been tried several times in England and Scotland, and in Ireland once, but without success, as might have been foretold, for nothing but failure can be expected in a country where the worms are hatched ere the leaves that constitute their food are ready. As for the subsequent operation of reeling, the price of female labour in silkproducing districts is too low to encourage the idea of carrying on this work in England.
But these failings need cause little regret, with India to depend upon as the nursery of our requirements, which owns the vastest silk-producing fauna in the world,—it is a very silken Paradise. India ours, no country is so rich in sericultural wealth as we, being in certain respects in advance even of China, which is restricted to a limited variety of moths. India, on the contrary, has her numerous species of Bombycidæ, both wild and domesticated, which are distinguished from all others by the circumstance of the larvæ that produce the silk feeding upon the leaves of the mulberrytree. She has besides her jungle broods of many sorts, which feed upon the leaves of trees and plants which grow wild in the jungles. One of the most wide-spread, and important, of these is the Tussur Moth. It is the one that is likely to do much towards building up once more the English industry.
Turning to the natural history side of the question, nothing could be more interesting than the actual production of the silk. The silk-moth has to pass through various phases, in the mysterious ordering of its life. It is born as an egg, and it changes to a larva, or caterpillar, or worm, as in this instance it is usually called. The third stage is the dormant chrysalis, or pupa ; and eventually from this form issues the perfect moth, in its turn to lay eggs, and to perpetuate the race. The general formation of all silk is the same ; let us briefly follow the life-story of the Indian Tussur Moth (Antheræa Mylitta).
It is a handsome creature, and is distinguished by four remarkable naked spots on the wings, which are larger in the female than in the male, windowlike, and almost of the transparency of glass, and are surrounded by a purple circle, -being due to the absence of wing-scales, or dust-like particles, with which otherwise the whole wing is covered. From this circumstance, the insect is regarded as sacred by the natives, who believe the spots to resemble the chakra or discus of the god Vishnu, or to have originated by the imprint of Vishnu's fingers. A few days after the insect's "exclusion," the moth lays her eggs, 50 to 100 in number, and then dies. In 8 to
12 days the young caterpillars are hatched. At first they are about 4 inch long, and in weight only the fifth of a grain. They are of a beautiful green colour, and marked with reddish spots, and a reddish-yellow band running lengthways. They make haste to feed, increase in size, and repeatedly cast their skin; in 40 to 45 days they have attained a length of from 4 to 7 inches, and they weigh about 370 grains. The end of the larval existence of the insect being reached, it makes ready for transition to the chrysalis, or all but lifeless pupa.
All silkworms have two stores of silk, one on either side of the alimentary canal, and two orifices for its ejection, situated below and on each side of the mouth. To protect and conceal itself during the momentous crisis that is approaching, the larva spins, or rather secretes, around it a few layers of silk,-a silken chamber, so to speak. A slender parallel filament is thrust simultaneously from each orifice, forming in fact a double thread, which on exposure to the atmosphere solidifies, and becomes silk. The caterpillar deposits it by sweeping its head from side to side, and as the matter exudes, the larva coats it with a somewhat yellow varnish, technically called gum. The quantity being thick enough to ensure privacy, the insect discharges some kind of cementing fluid, imparting the drab colour peculiar to Tussur silk. By a muscular action of its body, it causes the fluid to thoroughly permeate the fibres, and to harden the walls. In this manner, depositing layer after layer of small loops of silk, and cementing them at intervals, the caterpillar continues until its stock of silk is exhausted, and the cocoon has become so hard that a sharp knife is required to cut it. Wonderful to say, this nest is suspended from a tree, by a long stout cordlike pedicle, which at its upper extremity closely clasps a twig or branch. Round the branch, for hundreds of times, the manufacturer carries its silken fluid, and thus at last a strong ring is formed. The seriposition is then prolonged into the pedicle, and to the end of this the cocoon is attached, the manner of suspending the structure reminding one of that of some fruits. The arrangement is amply justified, by reason of the worm's long
Were the cocoons fastened to the leaves alone, like those of species whose chrysalis state is of short duration, they would fall with the leaves, and would be liable to injury. They resemble the shell of an egg, they are of an egg-shape, and their size is on an average if inches long with a diameter of 11 inches. It is these silken chambers, which in the case of the Bombyx mori, the ordinary silk-worm of commerce, have for generations and for centuries been wound off into thread, and have been transformed into fabrics of wonderful charm and variety in India and the further East.
As soon as the cocoon is complete, the caterpillar changes to pupa or chrysalis, and in this shroud it rests, until the time for its appearance as a perfect moth. This may be in a few weeks, or it may be delayed even for eight or nine months. No wonder the abode needs be firm and impenetrable, in view of such lengthened probation of the inmate, necessitating its weathering the hottest sun and occasional thunderstorms. As the emergence of the moth draws near, a moist spot is observed at one end of the cocoon. The pupa secretes an acid fluid, which has the effect of NEW SERIES. VOL. VI.
life in pupa.
softening the cement, enabling the fast-coming insect, by aid of its legs and wing-spines,-it has neither teeth nor mouth proper to assist it,-to separate the fibres till the hole allows of its creeping out. Its wings have but to expand and dry, when it enters into its perfect state.
There is little doubt that Tussur Silk has been utilised in India from time immemorial, and it has been largely exported in a native-woven undyed cloth, in pieces of ten yards. It is now long since the attention of English naturalists in India was first drawn to its possible capabilities. But not until 1858 was its fitness perceived for better things than those that fell to its lot to accomplish in the East. But the West would have none of it. Even only fifteen years back, Europe regarded it with supreme contempt. With this “rubbish,” she said, nothing could be done. The manufacturers had given it trial, it had proved unworthy, and nothing should induce them to raise expectations which could never be realised.
The difficulties lay in the fact, that whereas the cocoon of B. mori is soft, and when macerated in water the silk is easily reeled off, and then easily dyed,--the hardness of the Tussur cocoon presents an obstacle to the reeling of a continuous thread, while the hindrances to dying the silk were deemed well-nigh invincible. The native reeling was excessively amiss; in the villages especially, the system employed was primitive. In fact, the rough and filthy state of the raw material as it came into this country, consequent on the skilless and uncleanly methods of its preparation for the markets by the native workers, not only furnished a silk of poor quality, but constituted one of the chief factors in its resistance to tinctorial matter. This want of adaptability of the silk also arises in great measure from its very nature. The fibre of B. mori is round and homogeneous, like a glass-rod, and it is without structure; thus it is readily dyed, since it takes the tinctorial matter with regularity; and it has a chemical affinity for dyes and tans of various sorts. The Tussur fibre, on the other hand, is more or less flat or tape-like, and moreover, fine as it appears, it is made up of a number of lesser fibres or fibrillæ, lying longitudinally, and united together by a hardened fuid. This structure is far less dye-absorbing than the other. The fibrillæ are extremely impervious, and they have a tendency to split, making the silk swell out when it is subjected to severe dyeing processes.
This property renders Tussur particularly difficult to dye black. The striking flatness of the fibre makes the task harder than it would otherwise be, because it compels an unequal diffusion of reflection of light.
The natural lustre of the silk is thus seen in scintillations, unlike the mulberry-fed silk, which, being round, reflects the light in all directions, giving the Tussur a kind of speckly aspect, or producing little white sparks or glares of light from the angle of incidence on the flat surface. Obviously, the darker the dye, the more perceptible is this singularity; in pale shades of colours it is scarcely visible. This defect can of course never be improved, it is part and parcel of the silk. But shall we consider that a defect which is a distinguishing quality, one that has a charm all its own, and a variety, different to, but not impossible to appreciate, along with the satisfaction that we experience at the more monotonous order of the silk of commerce ?
The fawn tint too, common to Tussur,—so dissimilar to the golden and white cocoons of Mori,—the so-called resinous sheath, permitted the silk to take only certain very dark, not to say lugubrious, dyes, until a bleaching-agent was discovered, competent, and yet in action gentle enough, to extract what is only a dirty stain, and to get the silk sufficiently pale, to assume the warmest, the most delicate, and the most beautiful shades of colour,
Practically all the difficulties with respect to Tussur have now been overcome, lifting it out of the slough of obloquy in which it was immersed, rendering it in short a marketable commodity; an achievement thanks to the life-long devotion, and to the patient chemical and microscopic researches of Mr. Wardle. His services we cannot over-estimate, to India and to every Tussur-producing country, to England and everywhere else where Tussur is consumed. An immense impetus to its development has been afforded, among the French by the Paris Exhibition of 1878, and in England by the Exhibitions of 1886 and 1887; at all of which large and valuable collections of the utilizations of the silk were shown.
It is now time that the importance of the subject should be fully recognised, and that the former prejudice should fade away. The rubicon being passed, manufacturers begin to expend their utmost endeavours to find new openings for it, and to present it to advantage. Do not for a moment imagine it destined to replace the product of B, mori ; nothing discovered can ever hope to eclipse that. But there are a multitude of articles for which it is well adapted; for some things it is better suited than its more lovely fellow.
In a word, its day has arrived, and the question of supply becomes an important one. India, if she so choose, has a great future in store for her sericulture. But if India, and not China, who has shown itself quicker to respond to the call, is to be the reservoir of Europe, her industry must become as organised as the production of the mulberry-fed silks. Simple collection of the wild cocoons will not do; a systematic cultivation of the food-trees is required, attention to the systematic breeding and rearing of the insects, enforced application of proper reeling-apparatus, under European or other trained supervision, and care of all imperfect cocoons, and waste. This is a vast work, merely awaiting stimulus from us, and is possible over the whole, or nearly the whole, of that gigantic Continent. That the nucleus of this remarkable trade already exists in India is a most promising feature, since it obviates the ushering in of novelty, always distressing to a people more prone to adherence to old paths and ancient tradition, than to the putting on of new habits.