Wild Silks Collection
Hidden behind the collection glass, stashed within the compactors, a collection of wild silks lies dormant, ready to be explored by curious minds. Akin to its surrounding neighbors of exotic Lepidoptera specimens, the larva spun, human crafted silk fabrics hail from all around the world.
Donated over the years, the collection encompassing upwards of 66 exclusive items found its way to the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, thanks to a generous and benevolent donation from Dr. Richard Peigler (University of the Incarnate Word).
Wild silk is not nearly as luxurious as domestic silk found in today's clothing industry. This is raw, rough, and textured silk which feels almost paper-like to the human touch.
This silk is harvested from the cocoons of various silk moths that encounter little to no human interaction. The practice of producing silk - termed sericulture, stretches back 5 millennia, and astonishingly, is a craft performed to this very day.
Our collection spans across the many different types of wild silks found around the globe. Browse below to see and learn about the different types of silk moths and their silk products.
--Click on small images for larger pictures--
Antheraea assamensis is the silkmoth that produces muga silk. The majority of muga silk is produced and woven in Assam, India. The caterpillars feed on trees in the laurel family (Lauraceae), but also trees from the magnolia family.
The silk produced is golden in color, which inherently does not require dyeing. It is highly regarded in India and has extensive cultural value in Assam. Saris, wrappers, chaddars, and other fabric pieces of muga silk are sometimes embroidered or brocaded with traditional motifs using traditional colors such as red, yellow, and green.
Kurti (or kurta) made in Assam of muga silk (Antheraea assamensis). Handwoven with traditional ethnic patterns by discontinuous weft brocading.
Skirt composed of muga silk (Antheraea assamensis), made in Assam, India. These natural colored muga threads were reeled and then handloomed.
Brocaded shawl that is a blend of muga silk (Antheraea assamensis) and pashmina (goat wool), made in India and imported by Yves Delorme, a designer of fine linens in Paris. The fringes are hand-knotted, and the silk is the natural golden color of muga. The diamond pattern is one example of nightingale’s eye, which exists in several forms.
Measures 76 cm X 193 cm
Tropical Tasar Silk
Antheraea paphia is the silkmoth that produces tropical tasar silk and is produced in eastern India. The caterpillar lives on several different kinds of trees, Indian dammer (Shorea robusta), white murdah (Terminalia arjuna), and laurel (Terminalia tomentosa).
The silk is a natural brown or beige color and has been produced for thousands of years. Many eastern tribes of India find this silk an important part of their culture. It is used to make various clothing items such as saris, scarves, wrappers, and kurtas. The pieces can be brocaded with repeating patterns of traditional motifs or left natural.
Cloth of tropical silk (Antheraea paphia=A. mylitta) handwoven in India in the 1970s. Natural colored spun yarns. This type of fabric is called katia=(kethe).
Woman’s wrapper composed of reeled tropical tasar silk in Shantiniketan, West Bengal in 2010. The piece was designed by a man named Asit Kumar Mondal, but handwoven and embroidered by women. The tasar silk is bleached, and the piece was embroidered by hand in the kantha technique with colored acrylic thread. Measures 51 cm x 205 cm
Cushion cover composed of tropical tasar silk (Antheraea paphia= A. mylitta). Handspun yarns and handwoven by a women’s livelihoood project in rural India working toward sustainability by harvesting the tasar cocoons as a renewable resource. The silk was hand dyed and the buttons are carved capiz shells (Placuna placenta). Meausres 30 cm X 54 cm
Preowned sari composed of reeled tropical tasar silk (Antheraea pahphia= A. mylitta). It is printed in sweeping paisley and floral motifs. Measures 206 cm x 458 cm
Handloomed wrapper made of undyed angora wool and natural colored tasar silk. Made in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India, circa 2008. An experimental piece created by a retired engineer named Kamal. Measures 48 cm X 198 cm.
Woman’s shawl composed of tasar silk (Antherea sp) and merino wool, made in Himachal Pradesh by a retired engineer named Kamal as an experimental piece, combining wild silk and high quality wool. The color is from lac dye (Kerria lacca). The yarns were handspun and the piece was hand-loomed. Measures 92 cm x 150 cm.
Bedspread mostly of cotton with silk of oak tasar (Antheraea proylei). Bought in Imphal, Manipur, India.
Sari of tropical silk (Antheraea paphia= A. mylitta), made in Gujarat, India. The Gujarati embroidery was done by hand, and represents five months of work. Background is natural colored, reeled silk.
Measures 118 cm X 625 cm.
Shawl of tropical tasar silk (Antheraea paphia= A. mylitta) weft and cotton warp, handwoven by a woman of the Dongria Kondha tribe, in the village of Kotpad, in the Koraput District, Odisha. The silk and organic cotton are handspun and natural colored. Maroon portions made from roots and bark of Indian mulberry (Morinda citrifolia). Brocaded with interlocking temple designs.
Woman’s shawl of tropical tasar silk (Antheraea paphia=A. mylitta) of kethe (=katia) yarn that was handspun in Murshidabad, India. The natural colored yarns were handwoven in Bakreswar, Birbhum District, West Bengal. Jacquard brocade Baluchari panels. This piece was made in 1999. Measures 90 cm X 200 cm
Scarf composed of 100% tasar silk (Antheraea paphia= mylitta). Made in India.
Stole composed of tropical tasar silk (Antheraea paphia). Handspun in villages in state of Jharkhand, and handwoven in Bhagalpur, Bihar, India.
Joot (=jooth =jhut) fabric of tropical silk (Antheraea paphia = A. mylitta), handwoven in West Bengal. Joot is brushed from the outer layers of cocoons before they are reeled, and the that outer silk is spun into joot yarn. This type of fabric has not been produced in India for several years. Joot, which can also be spun from the outer layers of mulberry silk cocoons, is also spelled jute, not to be confused with the plant fiber jute.
Measures 90 cm X 90 cm
Piece of fabric of 100% tropical silk (Antheraea paphia = A. mylitta). The silk is natural colored and was handspun and handwoven. It was made in the early 20th century, almost certainly in what is now Odisha (=Orissa) or Andhra Pradesh, where ikat cloth was and is commonly woven.
Warps: mulberry silk (Bombyx mori)
Wefts: tasar silk (Antheraea paphia)
Landibé silk is produced from several species of moths from the genus Borocera, only found in Madagascar. This moth is small, brown and related to the African moth Gonometa.
Women in central Madagascar collect, spin, and weave the silk to create different pieces, such as scarves and shawls. The pieces range in earth-tone colors, which are created using natural plant dyes, or natural materials like mud or charcoal.
Landibe silk shawl from Madagascar. Handspun yarn and handwoven by women in village of Soatanana, in highland region of Ambositra. Wild silk from cocoons of Borocera (Lasiocampidae) on tapia trees, and natural dyes.
WIld silk scarf from Madagascar. Handspun yarn and handwoven by women in village of Soatanana, in highland region of Ambositra. Silk from cocoons of Borocera (Lasiocampidae) on tapia trees, and natural dyes.
Cricula silk derives from the large genus Cricula. There are more than twenty species that span from India to the Philippines, and eastern Indonesia.
The silk is a dull yellow color, far different from the metallic golden color of the cocoon. Processing these cocoons for silk is a tedious task. When the caterpillar is constructing the cocoon it sheds urticating hairs, which must be removed so the silk does not cause itching when worn.
The scarf to the left is composed of silk of Cricula trifenestrata. This wild silk is collected and processed in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia. The scarf to the right is composed of fagara silk (Attacus atlas). This scarf is also from Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia and handspun and handwoven.
Fagara silk is produced from the large moth, Attacus atlas. This moth is from the tropical regions of southeastern Asia. The caterpillars feed on various plants such as avocado (Persea americana), guava (Psidium guajava), camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), mango (Mangifera indica), and various rainforest trees
Various shades of brown and tan silks are produced. The color depends on the plant that the caterpillar feeds upon. Many products are produced from this type of wild silk, such as ties, purses, shirts, and scarves.
Eri silk comes from the moth Samia ricini, which has been domesticated for the purposes of sericulture. The eri silkworm feeds on various plants, but mainly castor bean leaves (Ricinus communis). This silk is mainly produced in North East India, but also produced in Southeast Asia.
Eri silk is heavier compared to other types of silk. It is a strong and durable fabric that has a coarse texture. It used for various items, such as shawls, blankets, pillowcases, and various other items.
A Kabne (man’s shoulder cloth) composed of 100% eri silk (Samia ricini). From Lungta Handicraft in Thimphu, Bhutan.
Scarf of 100% eri silk (Samia ricini) handwoven in Uttarakhand, India. This silk is the natural beige color, and the weave is a mock leno pattern. The weave was designed by Kiran Purohit- Badola. Measures 33 cm X 178 cm.
A gho (man’s robe) handwoven in western Bhutan, mainly of eri silk (Samia ricini). The side panels are probably cotton, as is the heavy inner lining. It has bands of yellow, blue, green, and red, in a adha mathra pattern, colored with natural dyes (indigo, madder, turmeric). It was stated to be more than 100 years old when purchased in 2009.
Woman’s salwar kameez (kurti + pants) composed of eri silk (Samia ricini), made in 1988 in Kamrup District, Assam. The eri silk is natural colored and handwoven. It is an example of traditional Assamese clothing.
A kira (woman’s dress) handwoven entirely of eri silk (Samia ricini). It is more than 100 years old, and was woven by Aum Dawa Dem, who was from Minjey Gewog, in the Kurto region of Lhuntshi District of central Bhutan. She was an official master weaver for royal families. This kira belonged to Chusa Ahi Ugyen, of a wealthy, noble family in far eastern Bhutan. This mentsi mathra design in supplementary warp pattern (aikapur) is no longer woven. Measures 122 cm X 216 cm
Jahar coat of eri silk (Samia ricini) and muga silk (Antheraea assamensis), made in 2002 in the Rampur Production Centre, Kamrup District, Assam, India. Called Jahar coat because Jawaharlal Nehru used to wear this type of coat. He was the first Prime Minister of India, from 1947-1964. The eri silk is handspun, and the muga waste (from inner cocoons) is also handspun.
Throw composed of eri silk (Samia ricini), handspun on drop spindles and handwoven in Ethiopia, using traditional Ethiopian weaving techniques. The blue color is indigo (Indigofera sp.) a natural dye. Eri silk culture was introduced from Japan to Ethiopia in 2001.
Woman’s chaddar composed of eri silk (Samia ricini), handwoven by women in Assam, India. The eri silk is natural colored and handspun. Brocaded with black and red acrylic threads in traditional Assamese motifs. Measures 56 cm x 203 cm
Tibetan monk’s sen (wrapper) composed of 100% eri silk (Samia ricini), handwoven and dyed maroon in Nepal. Maroon, red, and purple are colors of the clergy in Tibet and Bhutan.
Measures 116 cm X 234 cm
Handwoven scarves of eri silk (Samia ricini) made in Meghalaya, India. Plaids created using stick lac (Laccifer lacca) for red and brown, wild turmeric (Curcuma aromatica) for orange and yellow, logwood for blackish, and natural colored eri silk. Plaid weaving was introduced to Meghalaya in the 1770s by Scottish missionaries. Left scarf measures 29 cm X 180 cm and right scarf measures 29 cm x 184 cm.
Scarf of 100% eri silk (Samia ricini) handwoven in Uttarakhand, India. This silk is the natural beige color, and the weave is a mock leno pattern. The weave was designed by Kiran Purohit- Badola.
Measures 33 cm X 178 cm.
Kalahari Wild Silk
Two moth species are used for the Kalahari Wild Silk. The first species is Gonometa postica. This moth feeds on trees in the bean family, such as camel thorn (Acacia erioloba). The second species is Gonometa rufobrunnea, which feeds on mopane (Colophospermum mopane).
Kalahari Wild Silk has been produced in Johannesburg, the North West Province of South Africa, eastern Namibia, and eastern Botswana. The silk has been used to produce scarves, shawls, and clothing. The silk has a natural golden brown color, which is often preferred instead of dyeing.
Scarves of Kalahari wild silk (Gonometa postica) handwoven from natural colored, handspun yarns. Both purchased from Kalahari Wild Silk Manufacturers, Leonardville, Namibia.
Mulberry silk is the product of the domesticated silkmoth, Bombyx mori. This silkmoth was domesticated from the wild silkmoth, Bombyx mandarina. The domesticated, Bombyx mori, was derived from regions in China. The preferred food for this moth is white mulberry leaves. This moth is economically important for it is the primary producer of silk.
Mulberry silk is naturally white in color, which makes it easy to dye. This silk can have different textures, from rough and course, to smooth and silky. There are several different fabrics that use mulberry silk, such as chiffon, duppioni, charmeuse, etc.
Cloth of oak tasar silk (Antheraea proylei) and mulberry silk (Bombyx mori). The warp is mulberry and the weft is bleached oak tasar. Bought in Imphal, Manipur, India.
The first necktie, to the far left, is a necktie of natural colored eri silk (Samia ricini) and white cotton from Nagaland, India. The fabric is handwoven, and the embroidery is a traditional Naga design. Second necktie is a 1960s mulberry silk (Bombyx mori). It is from the department store in Oregon, Meier & Frank. The third necktie is made of tropical tasar silk (Antherea paphia = A. mylitta) and is believed to be made in the 1960s-1970s. Lastly, a RoosterⓇ brand necktie from the 1970s. This necktie is made of natural colored tropical tasar silk (Antherea paphia= A. mylitta) with diagonal bands of dyed mulberry silk.
Fabric of mulberry silk (Bombyx mori). This particular variety is douppioni, with red warp and blue weft threads.
Sanyan silk is a product from West Africa and has been produced for centuries. The Yoruba and Hausa people of Nigeria are the primary users of this silk. There are several species of silkmoths involved in making this silk and they belong to the Anaphe and Epanaphe genera.
Men traditionally do the weaving in which they weave narrow strips and then sew the strips together to create a larger piece of textile to be used in clothing construction. Several items of clothing are constructed, such as an ipele (woman’s dress or wrapper) and gbariye (men’s robe).
Sanyan silk from Nigeria, example of Yoruba culture. Composed of wild silk of Anaphe or Epanaphe (Notodontidae: Thaumetopoeinae) spun with cotton, and gold stripes are rayon. This weaving is from the mid-20th century.
Woman’s Wrapper from Burkina (=Burkina Faso) containing cotton and wild silk (Anaphe sp. or Epanaphe sp., Notodontidae). The blue colors come from indigo dye. Woven in mid twentieth century by a woman of the Marka-Dafing tribe. Measures 115 cm X 136 cm
A gbariye (man’s robe) of sanyan silk (Epanaphe or Anaphe, Notodontidae) from Nigeria, Yoruba Tribe. Machine-embroidered with rayon in “endless knot” motif. Such robes normally have matching trousers and cap.
Antheraea yamamai is the Japanese silkmoth that produces Tensan silk. This moth belongs to the Saturniidae family. For more than a thousand years this silkmoth has been cultivated in Japan. The larvae mostly feed on oak trees (Quercus).
The silk is naturally pale green in color. This silk is very strong and has an elastic characteristic. The silk is very expensive in Japan.
Business card case containing tensan silk (Antheraea yamamai), made in Japan. This indigenous, greenish silk is highly esteemed in Japanese society, so it is very expensive.
Starting from left to right, combed roving of natural colored soy silk; skein of muga silk (Antheraea assamensis); combed floss of tensan silk (Antheraea yamamai); and combed floss of mulberry silk (Bombyx mori).
Tussah silk derives from the silk moth Antheraea pernyi and is the most well known of wild silks. This moth is primarily grown in China on oak trees, in the provinces of Shandong, Liaoning, and Hebei. But tussah silk is also found in Japan and North and South Korea.
This silk can be reeled to have either a smooth or a rough finish. It has been used in a variety of different products such as suits, dresses, scarves, handicrafts and furnishing.
Tussah silk lace (Antheraea pernyi)
Table cloth dating back to the 1920s - 1930s of tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) composed of natural color silk that was hand reeled and handwoven. It was embroidered by hand in floral motifs with mulberry silk (Bombyx mori). This is an example of “mission embroidery” produced in northeastern China between 1911 and 1949. See article entitled Mission Embroidery in China by Sigrid Reddy Watson, 1996, in PieceWork vol. 2 no. 2 pg. 49 -50. The open zones are a leno weave structure. Called pongee silk in USA and UK in early 20th century. Measures127 cm x 127 cm.
Front of pillowcase is Chinese tussah (Antheraea pernyi), with kantha style embroidery by hand. Backside is satin silk. Made in Kutch district in the state of Gujarat, India. Chinese tussah is commonly imported into India. Measures 40 cm X 40 cm
Picture to the left, two handkerchiefs of tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) made in China in 1930s and imported to the United States. Hand-reeled and hand-woven with decorative floral embroidery. To the right is a 1970's clutch purse of tropical tasar silk (Antheraea paphia = A. mylitta). The natural colored fabric was hand-woven in India using handspun yarns. The purse was probably finished in the UK, or the USA. It is lined with a faille fabric, but there are no designer’s or manufacturer’s tags.
Early 20th century robe composed of tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) made in Japan. The cloth is natural colored, hand reeled and hand woven. A machine roller printed the floral designs prior to construction of the garment.
An example of “Ya Kiang tussah” from Liaoning Province, China. “Ya Kiang tussah” is tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) fabric, natural color (no dyes or bleaching).
Pictured to the left is a woman’s wrapper with temperate tasar slik (Antheraea proylei= A. pernyi X A. roylei) weft and Chinese tussah (Antheraea pernyi) warp. The weft is handspun and natural colored temperate tasar. The fringes are also reeled Chinese tussah (Antheraea pernyi). Handwoven in 2010 in Uttarakhand. Measures 65 cm X 180 cm. To the right is also a woman’s wrapper handwoven of tropical tasar silk (Antheraea paphia= A. mylitta) in Shantiniketan, West Bengal, in 2010. The stripes were hand painted, and embroidery is of the kantha technique. The outer edges are the natural color of the reeled silk. The piece was designed by a man named Asit Kumar Mondal. Measures 53 cm X 180 cm.
Badola, K., & Peigler, R.S. 2013. Eri Silk: Cocoon to cloth. Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh, Dehra Dun, India. 93 pp.
Peigler, R. S. 1993. Wild silks of the world. American Entomologist 39(3): 151- 161.
Peigler, R. S. 1994. Non-sericultural uses of moth cocoons in diverse cultures. Proceedings of the Denver Museum of Natural History, Series 3, Number 5: 1-20. Can be accessed on the following link: http://www.dmns.org/science/museum-scientists/proceedings
Peigler, R.S. 2004. Chapter 10: The silkmoths of Madagascar, pp. 154-163, in C.M. Kusimba, J.C. Odland, and B. Bronson, editors, Unwrapping the textile traditions of Madagascar. Field Museum, Chicago, and UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles. 196 pp.
Peigler, R. S. 2012. Diverse evidence that Antheraea pernyi (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) is entirely of sericultural origin. Tropical Lepidoptera Research 22(2): 93-99. PDF
Peigler, R.S., & Maldonado, M. 2005. Uses of cocoons of Eupackardia calleta and Rothschildia cincta (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) by Yaqui Indians in Arizona and Mexico. Nachrichten des Entomologischen Vereins Apollo 26(3): 111-119. PDF
Seltzer, J. L., & Peigler, R. S. 2014. Wild Silk Textiles. Retrieved May 22, 2016, from http://mississippientomologicalmuseum.org.msstate.edu/AnthroEnt/Textiles/Introduction.html#.V0H2EpMrKEI
Travis, J.H., Jr, & Peigler, R.S. 2016. A closer look at wild silks. textiles (The Official Magazine of the Textile Institute, Manchester) 2016, Issue 2: 22-24.
Web page created by Stacey Huber, M.A.