Tour of a Silk Worm Farm - Far more fascinating that I would have ever thought!

I never once thought twice (nor cared, to be honest) about how silk is made. Or where is comes from. Considering the fact that there is silk everywhere in SEA (SE Asia), I figured it was crafted in some warehouse. This afternoon I had no plans and most tours that peaked my interest had either left already or were booked. Then I read about the Silk Farm Tour. I admit, my first thought was BORING, but hey, it was something different to check out. And best of all? FREE. So I walked the mile down the dusty roads to D'Artisian where I would catch the free shuttle to the actual Silk farm. The shuttle took us about 20 minutes out of town where we met with the tour guide. I admit, I came out of this tour far more impressed than I thought I would! Not only did I learn that silk comes from silk worms (duh, in retrospect that makes total sense), but I got to see the worms in various stages, see the trees that they eat, and learned a lot about a worm that I never knew existed until this day.

I'll spare you all of the details, as reading about silk worms sounds treacherous, but learning about it all in person was pretty cool.  Here's a link to the actual terminology in case you wanted to know! 

Fun facts:  

1.) Silk worms mate for TWELVE HOURS.  
2.) Then go thru their life cycle, which is a short lived 47 days. 
3.) It takes 1,600 cocoons to create enough silk for a small scarf. 
4.)The process to gather and produce a half kilogram of silk takes 40 hours
5.) Artisans Angkor is one of the estimated 46 silk-producing companies in the country.

For more about Artisans Angkor - see info and link at the end of this post. Its a great employer for the people in this region. 

Baby Silk Worm:

Olden Day cocoon storage on the right. Modern on the left (easier to pull off when done)

They have to kill the moth inside the cocoon in order to harvest the silk - how, you might ask? Put the cocoons in the sunshine - they turn white, which means the moth is then dead.

Once dead, they boil the cocoons to get the silk to unravel (or whatever they call that process). A person sits with a boiling pot of water and constantly stirs the cocoons until the silk releases and the dead moth is thrown out.

The cocoons are fed into spinning reels to unravel long fibers of raw silk.

A weaver operates a wooden loom by hand to produce reams fabric.

And it is bleached to prepare it for coloring. The whole process takes 40 hours to produce a half kilogram of silk.

Once threaded and something is created of silk, the item is dyed (with all natural dyes - from banana leaves to tree bark to curry seeds) and the item has to be hand stirred in boiling water for EIGHT hours in order for the colors to stay. There is no AC in these buildings. It is 100 degrees by 10:30am. And he stands there for 8 hours in full attire around an open flame and boiling water.

She adds plastic bag pieces to the areas that will remain white/undyed in the product.

There are three foot pedals they use to slide the big levers side to side for each row of silk thread. Look at all of those spools!!!!  And there are only 11 women who know how to do this process in the entire silk farm. ELEVEN! Training takes 1-1.5 years to learn it. The workers make 'good money' (no clue how much) and receive full family benefits.

After the afternoon learning about Silk, I have a VERY deep appreciation for all of the silk garments I see everywhere!!

And then - Back to the hostel to enjoy the afternoon!


Artisans Angkor: OUR STORY IN BRIEF

Vocational Training 
Artisans Angkor is a Cambodian company that was created at the end of 1990’s to help young rural people find work near their home village. It is the offshoot of an educational project aiming at providing professional skills to communities with limited educational opportunities.

Artisans Angkor has maintained its commitment to education by developing its own training program in the craft sector. Our training is designed to give professional skills to young people with limited education. The aim is to let them master a job after a 6 to 9 months training period.

Fair Development of Khmer Arts & Crafts

Since its creation, Artisans Angkor has strived to offer good working conditions and social advantages to its employees. It has 48 workshops operating in 12 sites located in Siem Reap province and it provides employment to over 1100 people, including about 800 artisans.

Reviving Cambodian Craftsmanship 

Over the years, Artisans Angkor has become a real showcase of Khmer handicrafts for its silk fabrics, stone and wood carving, lacquerware, gilding, ceramics, silver plating, silk painting, and jewelry. The company revitalizes traditional Cambodian Arts & Crafts, and it offers a wide collection of handmade clothing and home furnishing fitted to contemporary lifestyles.

Offering fair working conditions

Artisans Angkor has pioneered a new social policy in Cambodia, guaranteeing a fair income as well as social and medical welfare to all its employees. The artisans themselves formed an association that holds a 20-percent share in the company. 

The company’s excess cash flows are reinvested in the opening of workshops in rural villages, new apprenticeships, lifelong training, and healthcare. A workshop opening means more employment in disadvantaged rural communities and therefore an improvement of social conditions and poverty alleviation.