Ahimsa means ‘do no harm’ or ‘non-violence’ in Hindi, and it is the expression often used to describe ‘wild’ silk. How can harm be applied to silk, I hear you ask?
It’s all about the silk worm. In the wild, the chrysalid leaves the cocoon by eating its way through, and rupturing its silky container. The ruptured filaments need to be joined together and spun before use, a labour intensive and time consuming process.
On the other hand, cultivated silkworms meet their death before their life cycle has been completed – they are boiled alive in large cauldrons. This means that the silk cocoon remains intact and the long filaments – often up to 1km in length - can be easily wound off. The boiling process also dissolves the secreted gum that holds it all together.
Ahimsa silk usually has a lower sheen than commercially produced silk, and a slubby texture – attributes which have become an intrinsic part of its appeal.
The process of producing ahimsa silk commercially has only been developed since 1990 but has gained significant traction, despite being more costly with significantly lower yields, and a far longer processing time.