Eri Silk is the Silk of North East India . Eri Silk was for long called 'Assam Silk' , before it became synonymous with non - cruelty Silk or as 'Ahimsa Silk' . The North Eastern states of India produces almost all of raw Eri Silk in the country with Assam being the biggest producer of the silk . Meghalaya , Nagaland , Manipur being the next three major producer of the silk . Small quantities are also produced by Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. Very small quantities of it are produced in the eastern states of Odissa , West Bengal, Bihar and some quantities in Uttar Pradesh.
Eri and Muga Silks are considered to be of indigenous origin and found almost entirely in Assam plains and foothills of Meghalaya . This is the reason why Assam occupies a unique position in the world of sericulture.
Nowadays , African countries like Ethiopia are emerging as a possible source of both Mulberry & Eri silk production industry. The moths were introduced there from India and Japan.
Culture of Eri Silk in North East India
The word ' Eri ' is derived from the Assameese word for the castor plant ' Era '. Reared and woven largely by the Indo-Mongoloid and Tibeto - Burman ethnic groups of the Brahmaputra valley ( Assam plains ) and adjacent hill areas. The knowledge and in general the methods of Eri culture has more or less remained unchanged since ancient times. Modern technologies have recently touched the sector and subsequently have improved yarn qualities and productivity tremendously .
The silk yarns were produced and used extensively in rural homes. Eri was the most popular silk reared , spun and woven by the rural tribal community. It was mostly used in weaving shawls , blankets and some communities like Karbis & Misings were weaving items of dress from Eri. Eri was not extensively used by the non -tribal Assamese communities . Even though sericulture and weaving in Assam were household activities across all communities , Eri was mostly used by the tribal communities of the plains and hill regions.
Dyes were rarely used . Most of the time the natural coloured yarns were used with motifs in coloured cotton yarns . Shawls and blankets were hardly ever dyed .
Eri Silk -Production process in brief
The production process of any Silk is known as Sericulture .. Here we will talk briefly about the Eri Silk production from the Eri Silk Moth ( Samia ricini ). To learn more about Seri Culture please click here . The raising of Eri silkworms is referred to as Ericulture.
From Eggs to fabric .
Laying of Eggs
Originally a wild silk moth in India , the Eri Silk Moth is now fully domesticated and used mainly in the North - Eastern parts of the country. The larvae feed mainly on leaves of Castor ( Ricinus communis ) but feed on alternate plants such as Kesseru ( Heteropanax fragrans ) , Cassava or Tapioca ( Manihot exculenta ) and a few other host plants .
Each female normally lays 200-250 eggs over a period of 4-8 days .These delicate creature lives for a week after hatching and then dry out .The 1.5mm small eggs are white when laid and change colour to dark bluish two days before hatching. Newly hatched larvae are 4- 5 mm long and yellow with black heads.
Rearing of the moth
The Eri Silk Moth can be reared as 5-6 overlapping crops in a year. June to October is the best season to do so. Castor plant is the main host plant and kesseru the alternative host plant .
The larvae are reared indoors . The house must have adequate number of windows to facilitate maintenance of good environment and ventilation. It is quite common to see many households in the villages involved in the rearing of the moth . The major threat to the moth is from the Uzi-fly . Hence , all windows must have nylon nets to prevent the entry of the fly .
The eggs are incubated at 24- 26 degrees Celcius and at 85 -90 % humidity . They are kept in complete darkness and only exposed to light on the expected day of the hatching. The newly hatched larvae are transferred to another tray and tender leaves and put inside the box or tray . The larvae crawls onto the leaves and start feeding .
There are two methods for rearing the Eri Moth . First is the Bunch rearing and the other is Tray rearing .
In Bunch rearing about 10-12 castor leaves or kesseru branches are tied together in a bunch and hung vertically on bamboos or wires. The larvae feeds on these leaves .
In Tray rearing , the larvae are fed with leaves on trays made of either bamboo or wood . In both the cases , the leaves are changed frequently with fresh leaves and strict hygiene is required.
The matured larvae produces a hallow sound when rubbed between fingers . This is stage where the larvae starts cocooning . At this stage , the larvae are put in baskets or gunny bags with semi-dry leaves and covered with newspaper or cloth to make semi dark conditions that is needed for cocooning.
Cocooning is the process when the larvae starts spinning a liquified thread around itself that hardens when exposed to air . It does so for hibernating purposes before it emerges as silk moth .
During spinning , the larvae cut the cocoons or pierces and hence the continuity of the silk filament is lost and the resultant silk is loose and cannot be reeled . Therefore , the resultant fibres is always Staple ( Short ) fibre and needs to be hand spun .
The size of the cocoons varies from 44mm in males to 55mm in females and colours may vary from white , off white or brick red.
Reeling is the process of unwinding the threads ( filament ) from around the cocoons after they have been softened through hot water treatment and combining the filaments for winding on to a reel. This is also the stage where different grades of silks depending upon the fineness is separated and we get yarns of different fineness and lengths that results in different types of silk fabrics .
This is also where the whole Ahimsa story of Eri Silk or Peace silk happens. Because the Eri cocoons are naturally pierced by the moth to emerge from the cocoons , the continuity of the silk filament is broken . Thus the thread cannot be reeled and it must be hand spun or mill spun.
Traditionally , the cocoons are boiled / degummed and hand spun . The hand spun yarns comes in different qualities . Fine warp quality ,Medium Quality , Coarse quality and Eri Katia ( Bihar , Odisha ). Hand Spun yarns contain long silk fibres , which results in extra tensile strength and lustre .
Twisting & Other Process prior to Weaving & Spinning
Before yarns are ready for weaving , they need to go through number of processes . The final stage of these processes are spinning and twisting . Spinning is the process where 2-3 unbroken threads are spun together as needed. And before they are ready for weaving , multiple threads need to be twisted into one thread that is strong and elastic .
Types of Eri Yarns
Eri Silk fibres are soft and lustrous with a denier of up to 5 . There are essentially two types of Eri Yarns in the market . Hand Spun and Mill Spun . As mentioned above , Hand spun Eri Silk yarns are traded as coarse , medium and fine without specifying any yarn no . Mill spun yarns are traded with proper yarn count . Eri spun yarns upto Nm 210 are available nowadays .
Most of us do not understand yarn count systems or the meaning of the numbers . One of the first and major component that determines the final price of the fabric ( whether handwoven or mill woven ) is the fineness of the yarns. For silk , the industry uses the Denier system . It is a direct system of counting the coarseness or fineness of the yarn . Simply put higher the no, coarser will be the yarn .
But the Spun Silk yarns uses the indirect metric count system . This system is used for cotton , jute and linen and for spun silk . Simply put higher the number , finer is the yarn .
I found a short but informative technical blog on silk . Sharing the link here .
Why is Eri Silk different from other silks ?
The yarn produced is not reelable unlike other silk yarns . It is spun into a yarn that is durable . Hence, Eri Silk is always Spun Silk . Silks like Mulberry , Tassar and Muga are reeled silks. The spun silk from these silks are produced after the finer long filament is taken for reeling. But because the moth emerges from the cocoon by piercing the cocoon , the Eri silk yarns are broken and cannot be reeled .
The resultant yarns do not have the bright sheen associated with silk . Most people associate silk with incredible sheen and iridescence. Which is true for all the other kind of reeled silks but spun silks generally loose that lustre . They have a very subtle lustre that becomes evident under light. And since Eri is always spun , it does not have that sheen which is typically associated with silks . It has a very distinct texture. Falls and feels like cotton but it has silk properties.
Silks are Isothermal - meaning that they have a constant temperature .Therefore, they feel cool in summer and warm in winter . Though a lot depends upon the way a garment has been woven .
Eri Silk has anti fungal properties . Hence good for sensitive skin.
Eri Silk is washable and wrinkle free . Undyed Eri silk can be easily washed and it will remain as it is . Most of the woven fabrics made from Eri silk do not need pressing or extra care in storage. But like all silks , need to be protected from harsh sunlight and moisture . Still , it is far more durable than Mulberry or Tassar.
Is Eri Silk truly cruelty free ?
Ahimsa Silk is made from cocoons from which the adult silk moths have been allowed to emerge . Now , there can be Ahimsa silks from Tassar and Muga as well , where some moths are allowed to emerge for the next generation . The silks obtained from these pierced cocoons are spun silks and comes in different grades . Gicha silk is obtained in such manner .
Eri Silk is the only commercial silk where the moth emerges from the cocoons . Eri cocoon is open at one end . During spinning , it cut the cocoons by their mandibles , which results in naturally pierced cocoons and loose silk that cannot be reeled. It is Ahimsa not because of human benevolence but because of the nature of the natural process.
The Eri larvae , pre -pupae and pupae are eaten by many tribal people in North East India. It is regarded as a great delicacy and dietary staple . The larvae are comparable to meat and fish as regards content of proteins , fats and vitamins. In many cases, a third of the income of the Eri -rearing families comes from Eri pre-pupae and pupae . This should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat as this incentivises the families to continue Eri farming . More income will result in more Eri farming which is more beneficial to the environment than many other cash crops .
Environmental benefits of Eri ..
Eri Silk production is far more environmentally friendly than other silks . It requires minimum chemicals and water to yield a natural and mostly organic product .
Only 20 litres of water is used to convert 1 kg of raw Eri fibre into yarn . That is a ratio of 1:20 . For cotton it is 1:20000 and for other silks , it is 1:10000.
Social Impact of Ericulture
Assam has the reputation of producing high quality silks since ancient times . Sericulture is part of Assamese culture . There was a time not too long ago that every household had a loom and most women knew weaving . Assam has one of the largest clusters of weavers in the country.
Eri Silk culture has always remained as a subsidiary occupation of Indo-Mongoloid and Tibeto - Burman ethnic groups of the Brahmaputra valley ( Assam plains ) and adjacent hill areas. It is carried out traditionally by the rural and tribal women - folk in their leisure hours. The rearers used to use these limited cocoons for the production of family's requirement of winter shawls and wrappers.
Nowadays with focus on environment friendly textiles , Eri has acquired a new lease of life .We have now Castor plantations specifically for the Eri Silk industry . Also , with the advance in yarn technologies , fine yarns up to Nm 210 are being made . That has opened a whole new range of applications for the yarns which in turn helps in more employment . More employment in Sericulture also means more employment opportunities for women . Women are the backbone of not just Eri culture but seri culture in Assam. From plantation , leaf collection , feeding , cocoon collection , reeling , spinning to weaving -women form almost 60% of the workforce .
But it is still a cottage industry as most of the activities are still carried out by the tribal people who were always part of Ericulture as a cottage activity. So , the health of the industry directly impacts the livelihood of these generally rural communities . And it continues to be an important rural economic activity.
The new found awareness and appreciation of Eri's special characteristics will definitely help in sustaining this unique and important culture in this part of our country.
Eri Silk's products
Traditionally , Eri's application was limited to winter wear like shawls and jackets as the hand spun yarn produced were coarse and semi - degummed. Hence , the production of Eri fabrics with desired softness was not feasible. That is primarily the reason why the traditional Mekhla Chador ( 2 pc attire of the Assamese women ) was not woven in Eri Silk . It was and still majorly woven in Muga Silk and Pat Silk ( mulberry) .
But nowadays we get to see lovely designs in Mekhla Chador , Saris etc in Eri Silk or Eri Silk in combination with other silks or cottons.
We have a authentic & wide range of Eri Silk products from Saris , Mekhla Chadar , Stoles , Shawls and fabrics .You can find products made from Mill spun Eri , hand spun Eri or blends of mill spun and hand spun Eri Silk , blends of Eri Silks with other Silks like Muga , Mulberry , Tassar or products made from blends of non silks like cotton , Linen.
For silk statistics of Assam - you can go to the Govt. of Assam website . Link here.
Links to our related silk articles