Exquisite silks from the village of Jili, near Shanghai, took gold and silver prizes at the 1851 Exhibition in London. Now, while the catwalks of China explore the sensuous drape of silk, the last factory in Jili has been retooled to make escalators for shopping centres.
Silk from Jili was highly prized because it was thinner and stronger than silk from other regions and pure white in colour, due to the purity of the water. Today modern silk production includes bleaching the silk to attain the same whiteness, which can only be detected by chemical tests.
A few villagers are still continuing with the centuries old craft of harvesting the silk worms twice a year from the local mulberry orchards to make silk duvets. I hope the Chinese authorities will do more to protect the exciting craft of artisan silk production before it becomes extinct. Perhaps they need to become as excited about silk as that other endangered species – the Giant Panda?