Silk is an animal fibre produced by certain insects to build their cocoons and webs. Although many insects produce silk, only the filament produced by the mulberry silk moth, Bombyx mori, and a few others in the same genus, is used by the commercial silk industry.
We use these and other "wild" silks such as eri and tussar to weave our scarves and fabrics. Eri silk, produced by the silk worm Philosamia ricini, is one if the non-mulberry, or wild silks. Traditionally this silk has come from the North-eastern states of Inda- Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur. A key characteristic of eri silk, and a difference to the popular mulberry silk, is that eri cocoons do not have a continuous filament and are, therefore, spun. This characteristic has been a significant positive aspect in terms of adaptation to Ethiopia, since hand spinning skills are ancient.
The eri silk worm feeds on castor leaves (ricinus communis) which grows easily and abundantly in Ethiopia.
Eri silk worms are laid as tiny eggs. A few weeks after they are laid, they hatch into tiny worms. For three weeks they continue to grow into fat, two-inch worms that crawl everywhere and explore everything. Baby silk worms eat baby Castor leaves and grown silk worms eat grown Caster leaves.
Eri silk caterpillars can be three different colors or patters. However all produce the same kind of white cocoons and can be processed the same. The eri caterpillars are very hardy and can live in conditions found in rural Ethiopian households.
When the fully matured silk worms are crawling, they are looking for a place to cocoon. We put them in cocoon boxes and they immediately start to snuggle inside and begin cocooning. Each worm will turn around about 2,000 times to make their cocoons. After about two weeks, the eri silk worm emerges from the cocoon as a butterfly. The butterflies mate and lay eggs and the cycle begins again.