After our tour of Suzhou's Grand Canal and one of the smaller side canals, we boarded the tour bus and headed off to a silk factory for a demonstration on the silk-making process. Arriving at the factory we were ushered into a small conference room where a representative gave a brief talk about the process before we went into the factory to observe the process. In the conference room they had all of the various life-cycle stages of the silkworm preserved so that you could easily inspect them.

Let's face it, before this visit to the silk factory I knew very little about the process ... basically I knew that silkworms created the silk and it somehow ended up making various silk cloth and garments. Beyond that nothing else. When they explained the process and some of the details it was fascinating. Hopefully, I can remember enough of it and relay it properly here.

Silk cocoons
Silk Worm Cocoons

Apparently silkworms prefer certain trees on which to build their cocoons. I don't remember the specific species now, but there are farms in China whose sole existence is dependent on raising silkworms so they can harvest the cocoons. What's amazing about the process is that the silkworm creates its cocoon out of a single silk thread that is continuous for approximately 3,600 feet. Once the cocoons. have been spun by the silkworm they are hand-picked and placed in an oven. The heat of the oven is enough to kill the silkworm inside but not damage the silk in the cocoon.

Once the silkworm is killed the cocoons. are soaked in water (picture above). Soaking them in water allows the workers to easily locate the end of the silk thread, necessary to unravel the silk thread from the cocoon.

Unraveling the silk from the cocoon
Locating the end of the
silk thread of the cocoon.
The soaked cocoons., when ready, are then placed into a water tray in preparation for unraveling. A single thread is to thin to be of use and, therefore, multiple threads must be joined and unraveled to form a single thread. The worker locates the ends of eight cocoons. and combines them onto the spinning machine. The spinning machine then automatically unravels the eight cocoons. simultaneously creating a single strand of silk from the eight cocoons.

Dead silk worms
The leftovers after the cocoons. are unraveled
with the dead silkworms still inside the cocoon.

When the silk from the cocoons. has unraveled the cocoon. shell, along with the dead silkworm inside, is left floating in the water basin and discarded. Once the silk has been removed the process becomes rather mundane again. Silk threads may be further combined to form thicker strands and are dyed to create the desired colors. Nothing fascinating about that.

Following our tour of the factory we were ushered into the company store where we could purchase a variety of silk articles. I was lucky. The one thing that Anne saw in the store and liked, a silk blanket, was not available in a king size at the factory so we managed to escape without purchasing anything.

But, while we're on the topic of silk let me tell you of another stop we made at a silk rug factory in Shanghai where I wasn't so lucky!

It appears that Grand Circle Travel (GCT) has a designated "shopping stop" in each city visited. Supposedly they are places where you can buy the best merchandise at the best prices. In Beijing it was the cloisonné factory, in Shanghai silk rugs, in Suzhou it was silk household and garments, in Xi'an Chinese lacquerware furniture, in Guilin it was the painted Chinese scrolls and Hong Kong a jade jewelry factory. As stated a bit earlier, we viewed these as the necessary and obligated "gotcha" stops. They gave you an opportunity to do some shopping for some very nice articles, but you didn't have to spend anything unless you wanted to.

For the most part these shopping stops weren't bothersome, just a bit time consuming, but in Shanghai at the silk rug factory we ran into some really high pressure sales people after we had a short demonstration on how Chinese silk rugs are made.

Hand weaving Chinese silk rugs
Hand weaving Chinese silk rugs
Hand weaving Chinese silk rugs

Seeing the workers weave the silk rugs was interesting (above) and I wondered as I watched how they cut the excess thread off so evenly after each knot was tied. I was surprised to see them take a pair of scissors (top right) and just cut them in a straight line across the width of the rug.

The factory showroom had many beautiful handmade silk rugs for sale varying in size from a few feet to room size and prices from very cheap to super expensive. Anne and I were perfectly fine walking around the showroom and looking at the various pieces, that is, until we expressed an interest in one rug. From that time forward the sales girl just wouldn't leave us alone. She was determined to sell us that rug no matter what the costs. I had really gotten to the point where I was fed up with all the high-pressure tactics and several times had walked away from them expressing that I was no longer interested. They kept coming back with lower counter offers and, finally, as we were about to leave they met the price I had originally wanted. That price was approximately 1/4 of what the first quoted price was. I was happy that we got the rug for what I consider a reasonable price, but unhappy at the whole process.

Now that we've visited the silk factory it's time to head to the Administrator's Garden in Suzhou by continuing to the next page ...
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Welcome to our China 2001 Photo Album
Planning and Getting there: Grand Circle Tours and Northwest Airlines
Beijing : Arriving in Beijing | Tiananmen Square | The Imperial (Forbidden) Palace (1) | The Imperial Palace (2) | The Nine Sons of the Dragon
The Imperial Palace Garden | The Summer Palace | Summer Palace (2) | Summer Palace (3) | Summer Palace (4) | Local Beijing Market
Local Beijing Market (2) | Hutong | Bell Tower | Hutong Family, Dinner and the Opera | Cloisonné Factory | Ming Tombs | Ming Tombs (2)
Great Wall of China at Ba Da Ling | Temple of Heaven
Shanghai : Arriving Shanghai | Yuyuan Garden | Yuyuan Garden (2) | The Temple of the Jade Buddha | The Bund | Day Excursion to Suzhou
Silk Process | The Administrator's Garden of Suzhou | Shanghai Museum of Art
Cruising the Yangtze River : Yangtze Cruise, Day 1 | Yangtze Cruise, Day 2 | The Xiling and Wu Gorge | The Lesser Three Gorges
The Lesser Three Gorges (2) | The Qutang Gorge | Wanxian | The Last Day of Cruising | Regal China Cruise Lines
Chongqing : Chongqing
Xi'an : Xi'an and Emperor Qin's Terracotta Warriors | Emperor's Qin's Terracotta Warriors (2) | Great Wild Goose Pagoda and Xi'an City Wall
Quilin : The Limestone Peaks of the Li River | The Limestone Peaks of the Li River (2) | Guilin and the Childrens Park | Children's Park (2) and Reed Flute Cave
The Hotels: Hotels, rail and air travel in China
Hong Kong : Victoria Peak, Repulse Bay and Aberdeen Fishing Village | Hong Kong at Sunset | Hong Kong Bird & Flower Market
| New Territories Fishing Village | Hong Kong Farewell Dinner
Bangkok : Jim Thompson House and Golden Buddha | The Flower Market | The Food Vendors | Grand Palace | Mystical Figures | Brightly Painted Masks on Mystical Figures
Golden Mystical Figures | Buildings of the Grand Palace | Lunching at the Shangri La Hotel | Loy Nava Rice Barge Cruise | Ayutthaya, Ancient Capital of Siam
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol and the Reclining Buddha | Bang Pa In, The Summer Palace |

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