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Pioneer Silk Production

By Melissa Spelts

When I was a little girl I have vivid memories of my little brother (Aaron) and a silk shirt he wore to church every week. He loved that shirt and called it his Gorgeous George shirt. I’m not sure where he came up with that name but it was hilarious. Learning about the historical silk production that was here in Utah brought me back to my brother Aaron and his Gorgeous George shirt.

Utah pioneers produced 28,000 pounds of cocoons and some silk fabric from 1855 to 1905. The Relief Society from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was assigned to help pioneer families start a silk production or “sericulture” to help them be more self-sufficient.

The worm eggs were kept warm before hatching by being carried in a pouch around the neck of the women. They were raised and fed in people’s homes and attics.

Hundreds of mulberry trees were planted in the area to feed the silkworms. Children of these families had the job of gathering the mulberry leaves to feed the growing worms at 6am, noon and 6pm each day. Once the worms had spun a cocoon, they were harvested, boiled, dried for two months, and then washed to remove the “glue” that sealed the cocoon.

The silk was then “reeled” by a machine that gathered six lines, pulled them through an eye, and twisted them together. One cocoon had up to 1,000 feet of line.

Many beautiful silk dresses were made from the silkworm thread, and an American Flag made of Utah silk was flown at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Utah’s silk production came to an end in 1905 as the ability to import fabrics by railroad became more practical than the time and effort of raising silkworms. It is so cool that families in Utah learned this skill. It shows us that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.

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