A Timeline of Silk

Feb 21, 2019


Neolithic Age (ca. 10,000 to 4,000 years ago)

Invention of sericulture and silk reeling techniques. 

Appearance of backstrap looms.

Appearance of tabby weaves.  

Xia, Shang and Western Zhou Dynasties (21st Century BC-771 BC)

Cultivation of mulberry trees.

Appearance of written characters for mulberry, silkworm and silks. 

Appearance of patterned tabby weave and crossed-warp weave.

Appearance of chain-stitch embroidery, use of vermilion for dye.

Simple geometric patterns popular on fabrics.

Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (770-221 BC)

The Central Plains area becomes silk production center.

Use of patterning looms for repeated patterns on weaves.

Use of warp-faced silk as decorative fabric.

Extensive use of plant dyes such as madder, indigo and gardenia. 

Dragon and phoenix patterns popular.

Spread of Chinese silks to Central Asia via Grassland Silk Road.

Second century BC, beginning of sericulture in Korea and Japan.

Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC-220 AD)

Widespread use of treadled tilted looms.

Peak time for warp-faced patterned silk fabrics.

Cloud and animal patterns become the mainstream silk motifs.

Strong impact of silk knowhow on paper making.

Opening of the overland Silk Road with Zhang Qian’s western missions.

Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern Dynasties (220-589)

Expansion of silk producing areas to northwest and southwest regions.

The multiple-shaft-and-treadle loom, an advance by Ma Jun of Wei.  

Invention of freezing silkworm eggs technique to control their incubation.

Extensive appearance of exotic animal patterns and pearl roundels on silk fabrics.

Third-fourth centuries, start of production of tussore silk in Persia and Mediterranean areas.  

Fourth century, beginning of sericulture in Viet Nam and Southeast Asian area.

Fourth-fifth centuries, spread of sericulture to India and Central Asia.

Sui, Tang and the Five Dynasties Period  (581-960)

Kaiyuan reign (713-741), peak production period of ancient Chinese silk.

Great expansion of silk varieties; twill and weft-faced fabric techniques in vogue.

Boom times for gold-threaded, gold-embroidered and gold-printed fabrics.

The beginning of “continuous warp, interrupted weft” in silk fabric; the emergence of kesi.

Appearance of Ikat patterned silks; knot-resist dyeing, clamp-resist dyeing, wax-resist dyeing  widely used.

Treasure-flower medallion and Duke of Lingyang patterns in vogue.

Sixth century, silkworm eggs taken to Roman Empire, sericulture and silk industry emerge in Italy

Eighth century, Chinese weavers spread silk weaving techniques in Arabia.

Song, Liao, Jin and Yuan Dynasties (960-1368)

Southward shift of silk-production center to Yangtze Delta region.

Invention of mulberry tree grafting techniques; a succession of books on sericulture technology.

Extensive use of string-heddle patterning looms with figure tower. 

Mongolian rulers greatly promote Nasij fabrics.

Appearance of satin weave structure and satin weaves.

Sketched flower and bird motifs stylish in the north, spring-water and autumn-hill motifs popular in the south.

Maritime Silk Road takes over as the major silk trade route. 

10th century, Italy becomes the silk center of Europe.

10th century, sericulture begins in Spain

12th-13th centuries, arrival in Europe of Chinese patterning looms and treadle looms; Lyons, France, becomes center of Europe’s silk industry.

Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

Emergence in the Yangtze Delta region of towns and cities specializing in silk making and trading.

The first attempts at silkworm hybridization recorded in Song Yingxing’s Exploitation of the Works of Nature.

Appearance of velvet fabrics.

Maturing of brocade techniques, brocaded fabrics widespread.

Official ranks indicated on gowns by differentiated rank patches showing different bird and beast motifs.

Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Weaving services in Suzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing become official silk production bases.

The four distinct styles of famous embroidery take shape.

Auspicious ruyi becomes a major silk motif.

First imports into China of chemical dyes for silk dyeing.

1687, a patterning device, invented in Britain, dispensing with the need for a drawboy.

15th century, swan’s-down velvet popular in Spain.

1784, invention, in Britain, of the powered loom. 

1785, invention, in Britain, of cylinder printing machine. 

1805, steam silk reeling machine adopted in Italy.

1825, invention, in France, of the Chambon silk reeling machine using a double croissure system.


About the Column

Suzhou-Silk City

Suzhou-Silk City is a book compiled by the Information Office of Suzhou Municipal People's Government and published by Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd. Suzhou, though associated with classical gardens, is even more the city of silk. The peaks and troughs experienced in Suzhou’s silk making and embroidery worlds are an important aspect of the enduring brilliance of China’s silk art.

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Columns Suzhou-Silk City

Suzhou-Silk City is a book compiled by the Information Office of Suzhou Municipal People's Government and published by Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd. Suzhou, though associated with classical gardens, is even more the city of silk. The peaks and troughs experienced in Suzhou’s silk making and embroidery worlds are an important aspect of the enduring brilliance of China’s silk art.



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