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  • Writer's pictureKaren Selk

Jungles of India to Silk Video

Well, my book In Search of Wild Silk: Exploring a Village Industry in the Jungles of India, is finally in my hands and in the hands of those who have ordered it. It is hefty containing 270 glossy pages with 360 photos weighing in at four pounds. It is a joy to finally see it after the trials and tribulations of getting it printed. It is available from the publisher, Schiffer or Amazon.

Following is another Journal Entry from the book. It is my first meeting with tribal (Adivasi) rearers in the forest.

October 1988 – Tropical Tasar Forest, Odisha

Michele, my travel companion, and I leave Bhubaneswar, capital of Odisha state, at 6 a.m., equipped with bottled water, snacks, film cameras, journals and our letter of introduction. We travel in our rented Ambassador sedan past lush farmland. The fields are dotted with cows and black water buffalo with white egrets perched on their backs, pecking for a snack. It's 1988. There are no phones this far into the hinterlands to announce our arrival. The men at the Central Silk Board (CSB) outpost in Sonpur greet us with obvious curiosity as they read our introductory letter from Mr. J. D. Pattanayak, Odisha CSB head office. As the men rustle together a traditional cup of chai with more milk and sugar than brew, Michele and I stare at a picture of Mahatma Gandhi draped in a garland of tasar cocoons with a sign that reads: “In God we have Faith, In Silk we have Trust”. We drink our tea seated across the large wooden desk from the CSB men and convey our unusual request to visit silkworms in the wild. After listening intently, they promptly set things in motion. Our small convoy, consisting of our Ambassador taxi led by the CSB jeep, travels one and a half hours northwest to the tropical rearing forest. Soon after we turn off the main road onto a rough, dusty, forest road, we abandon the car. Nine of us squeeze into the open jeep for the remaining few miles.

It’s a hot October mid-afternoon. Our open jeep bumps deeper into the forest, red dust filling our nostrils and thickening our hair. Finally, we halt at a dome-shaped hut made of date palm leaves where rearers spend their nights when out in the forest attending to the tasar caterpillars. One by one, men appear out of the jungle wearing only short cloths wrapped around their waists. There are seven of them - dark and lean with knotted muscles in their calves and arms. These are wild-silkworm rearers who spend their days in the forests of India protecting free-roaming caterpillars with sling shots and bows and arrows. We stand momentarily, unabashedly taking in the oddity of each other. The rearers lead the way into the open timberland until we come to trees filled with huge lime-coloured tasar silkworms.

The youngest man picks up his sling shot and fires mud balls at predatory crows. Someone else begins to pick caterpillars off branches that once had leaves and moves them to a tree with foliage. A necklace of large green caterpillars adorns the proud head man’s pink scarf. This is nothing like raising white, cultivated silkworms, this is primal. It is a whole new perspective of the world of silk.

About Silk with Karen Selk

“Photos courtesy of Long Thread Media. Photo by Tiffany Warble”

In October 2022, I was an instructor and keynote presenter at SOAR (SpinOff Autumn Retreat), hosted by Long Thread Media/SpinOff magazine. It is an intimate yearly conference, meeting old and new friends and learning new things. The conference was supposed to be the launch of my new book In Search of Wild Silk. However, there were numerous printing problems and the book was not available until March 2023.

The people of Long Thread Media have been pioneers in piquing our curiosity about all things fibre, yarn and cloth since the 70's. Our inquisitive minds have been satiated with information in their magazines, podcasts and videos. I was honoured when they asked me to do a video while at SOAR. We collaborated on topics and produced a 23 minute, five episode video course called About Silk with Karen Selk.

To whet your appetite, the content of the first episode, is free. I talk about what silk is and where it comes from. The process of releasing the fibre from the cocoon gives different qualities of silk yarns called: reeled, spun and noil, which in turn produce different types of fabrics: satin, and raw. The next four episodes address diverse topics: how the different grades of silk produce different textile effects; what is tussah/tasar silk, where is it grown and why is it special; what is peduncle silk and how it came into recent production; and finally what really is Peace or Ahimsa Silk. The cost of the last four episodes is $9.99. I invite you to join me in learning more about silk and Long Thread Media in this video.

1 Comment

Lesley Turner
Lesley Turner
Apr 02, 2023

Congratulations, Karen, on finally getting your book published. I look forward to buying a signed copy at Tying the Threads book signing in June.

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