Silk: Thailand's Glamorous Export
The history of the export of Thai silk during the twentieth century has been one of great ups and downs, and is often clouded by inaccurate of nonexistent data. For instance, export figures for finished silk do no exist until the post-war years, but earlier data concerning export of raw silk will suffice to illustrate the industry's plunges. While in 1990, raw silk worth 141,468 baht was exported, in the 1930's this figure fell to less than 500 baht. Similarly, the export of Thai silk has undergone similar fluctuations since it began to figure prominently around 1950, when half a million baht was earned in foreign export.
During the 1950's, Thai silk followed a rather steady upswing and then leapt in the early 1960's into the 20 to 30 million baht per year rang. This can be attributed to promotion of the fabric by Her Majesty the Queen, who included dresses fashioned of Thai silk in her world tour wardrobe in 1961. By the following year, 1962, export of Thai silk was earning 26.6 million baht per year. This figure further increased in 1963 to 34 million baht, a gigantic leap from the figures of the 50's - - all considerably below ten million baht.
Apart from earning much-needed foreign exchange for the country and aiding in decreasing Thailand's overall trade deficit, the export of Thai silk figures prominently in other areas. It is, for instance, instrumental in the development of the underdeveloped and underemployed Northern region, where very limited sericultural techniques and little marketing knowledge are gradually being eradicated by technical programs and instructional aid. The growing demand for Thai silk throughout the world can not help but improve the methods and lives of the individual growers and weavers throughout Thailand.
Undoubtedly one of the most stunning and unique textile products available in the world, it has been said the Thai silk is one of Thailand's most effective ambassadors of goodwill abroad. Carried by most of the leading department stores in America and Europe, and gaining acceptance in other areas of the world, Thai silk implants the name Thailand in the minds of those who choose to wear it and women in over 50 countries of the world currently do. It also introduces the country itself in the great fashion centers of the world, since leading designers -- including Pierre Balmain and Elizabeth Arden-- feature it in their collections.
With the efforts of the Government, including the Silk Promotion Committee, and the great strides being made at sericultural research centers such as the one at Korat, improved worm strains and eradication of disease do indeed point to a bright future for the export of Thai silk. As tourism is now the number two industry in Thailand, the "invisible export" of the approximately 180 million baht worth of Thai silk bought annually by tourists must not be neglected either. All these factors combined indicate a sound future for the industry, increased earnings for the nation, the enhancement of the Thai reputation world-wide, -- and perhaps most important of all -- the economic development of the underprivileged Northern and improved standard of living for the tens of thousands involved in sericulture throughout the region.
Use of silk
Silk's durability, elasticity and versatility have inspired myriad uses that stretch fat beyond clothing. Since it resists rot, both the Chinese and Egyptians used it in ancient times for wrapping bodies in preparation for burial. The same attribute renders it practical for use in closing sutures in surgery and even for realigning teeth. Being both strong and light, silk is an ideal fabric for making parachutes, as it folds up compactly. Following the Second World War when materials were scarce, enterprising Europeans turned silk parachutes into underwear and other clothing items. When used as powder bag for a high-calibre gun, silk burns completely leaving no residue.
Silk is a protein and does not conduct heat. Thai makes it an extremely effective insulator, and it is used for insulating electric wires. As a quilting liver in ski suits, silk is warm to wear because it prevents body heat from dissipating. When used for light-weight clothing such as stockings of lingerie, the fine yarn permits air to pass through the material. Silk's elasticity makes it a perfect material for racing bicycle tyres; it creates smooth traction and endures well. Silk is also used in the production of carpets, astronaut's clothing, sewing thread, fishing lines and typewriter ribbons. Nail wraps, which preserve the condition of varnished finger-nails, are often made from silk. Macerated silk used in face powder to enhance smoothness, and pupa oil from silk moth is added to face creams and anti-ageing lotions. In ancient China, silk was used for paper-making.
Silk is also wonderful medium for the visual arts. Paining on silk is an art that has been practiced for tens of centuries. Its power of absorbency provides the artist with better control of the colors. This art inevitably led to the modern-day craft of silk screen printing, which was developed in the early 1900s.
In Thailand, waste by-products from sericulture can be of considerable value to villagers. A good source of protein, silkworms may be cooked and eaten by humans or used as animal feed. Timber from the mulberry tree is ideal for furniture-making. Dead pupae are used in manufacturing soap and cosmetics, and empty cocoons are decorated and sold as handicraft items.
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