The surprising little “grove” of white mulberry trees that appeared in my backyard during a rewilding project sparked an exploration that led to the discovery of their link to the silk industry: their leaves are the primary source of food for the Bombyx mori silkworm that weaves a cocoon of the finest silk thread in the world. These silkworms transform into tiny, adorable white moths that look more like a child’s plush toy than an insect and are often referred to as “sky puppies.” I was instantly captivated.
This beautiful video by Crowing Hen Farm shows their lifecycle from egg to silkworm to silk moth:
The reality of “silk farms,” where billions of silkworms weave cocoons for the silk trade which originated in China over 4,000 years ago, is far less romantic. The Bombyx mori silkworm weaves a single thread over 3,000 feet long into a cocoon where the transformation into a moth takes place.
But most of them never mature into a moth.
The hole created in the cocoon by the emerging moth cuts the singular thread, resulting in a lower-quality fabric. In order to harvest a single thread for a superior silk fabric, cocoons are boiled or steamed, killing the pupae inside. Only a few of the silk moths are allowed to emerge for breeding purposes (a female can lay over 300 eggs) but their lifespan is very short and they cannot survive in the wild. Centuries of selective breeding from the Bombyx mori’s wild cousin, Bombyx mandarina, has resulted in a domesticated silk moth that is pure white, blind, flightless and dependent on humans for breeding and survival. See: How Humanity Created Sky Puppies.
This research changed my view of silk and informed the second sculpture I am creating for The White Mulberry Project. This piece will honor Bombyx mori silk moths as “weavers of dreams” – for them, it’s dreams of flight as they spin their cocoons….
Although much of the sericulture and silk production today takes place in automated factories, there are still rural villages where silkworms are raised by hand…
This Korean traditional Silk Master comes closest to honoring the work of the silkworms.
Science Direct: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/bombyx-mandarina – Excerpt from the book, Ancestral DNA, Human Origins, and Migrations, 2018
Wikipedia: Bombyx mori: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombyx_mori
CLICK for the background story of The White Mulberry Project
In 2023, Serena Kovalosky was awarded a New York State Rural & Traditional Arts Fellowship for the White Mulberry Project, administered by the Arts Council for Wyoming County in partnership with the New York State Council on the Arts. Funding for this project is made possible with support from the New York State Council on the Arts with support from the Governor’s office and the New York State Legislature.