Photographer's Note

Hand stitched and made of silk with colourful floral embroidery work, these Chinese slippers are on display at Shanghai History Museum.

The Chinese began making silk around 2700-2650 BC. According to Chinese tradition, the legendary emperor, Huang Di, invented the methods of raising silk worms and spinning silk thread; however, the same tradition credits not the emperor, but his wife Lei-tzu, with discovering silk-making itself, and also the weaving of silk thread into fabric.

One day Lei-tzu was in her garden when she picked some cocoons from a mulberry tree, and accidentally dropped one into her tea. When she pulled it out, she found it unwound into one long filament. Then her husband built on this discovery, and developed methods for domesticating the silkworm and producing silk thread from the filaments - processes that the Chinese were able to keep secret from the rest of the world for more than 2,000 years, creating a monopoly on silk fabric production and lucrative trade.

However, around 400 BC, another woman, a Chinese princess, helped break the silk monopoly. On her way to be married to a prince in India, she is said to have smuggled some mulberry seeds and silkworm eggs in her headdress, allowing silk production in her new homeland so that she could have silk fabric easily available. It was then only a few more centuries until the secrets were revealed to Byzantium, and in another century, silk production began in France, Spain, and Italy.

For her discovery of the silk-making process, Empress Lei-tzu is also sometimes called Si Ling-chi, or Lady of the Silkworm, and is often identified as a goddess of silk-making in Chinese tradition.

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Additional Photos by Demet Aziz (demeter) Silver Star Critiquer/Silver Note Writer [C: 10 W: 4 N: 10] (95)
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