Silk Stockings and Pioneer Ingenuity

The Mormon silk industry in Utah

If you can't afford to import it, you have to manufacture it yourself. Such was the philosophy behind the establishment of a silk industry in Utah.

The Mormon silk industry enjoyed a brief success at the Brigham Young Forest Farmhouse. In 1866, Brigham Young had 11,340 mulberry seedlings planted and silkworms imported from Europe so the pioneers could make some of the finer things.

The women in charge of the colony would sometimes wear the cocoons around their necks so they would be on hand when the time was right. The cocoon must be mature, but the worm must not be burrowing out, or the threads will be cut short. At the right moment, the cocoon is placed in boiling water, killing the worm, then the delicate fiber is unwound and wrapped around a spool until enough threads have been collected for weaving.

Mulberry Trees were introduced to Utah in 1855 and in Washington County sometime just before the arrival of the Silk Worm.

Silk Worm Eggs were introduced to Utah in 1857.

Silk Worm Eggs were introduced to Washington County in 1871.

The eggs should be hatched at the time the Mulberry trees leaf out in the Spring of the year as the small worms need the most tender leaves to survive.

When hatched the worms in only about 1.8 of an inch long and is as thin as a thread It grows to be about three inches long and is larger around than a pencil. It takes about forty days from the time it is hatched for the worm to be large enough to spin a cocoon. The worm remains in the cocoon from fifteen to twenty days and turns into a moth. The moth releases a solution that deteriorates the milk and helps the moth come out of the cocoon. This only happens between 6:30 and 9:30 A. M. If the silk is to be used the moth needs to be killed so that the silk can be unwound. There are about two miles of silk on a cocoon.

If the moths are allowed to come out of their cocoons the males and the females mate immediately. The female after a very short period of time, starts laying eggs. She lays 300 to 500 eggs. Both the male and the female die after this process.

If there are not mulberry leaves available the eggs should be kept below 50 degrees until Spring.

The silk industry ended in 1905 in Utah.

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