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Monday, July 11, 2016

On Silk, Scarves and Sustainability

Scarves are, without doubt, one of the most useful things to have with you when travelling. You can use them as a towel, a bedspread, knot them up to create a makeshift bag – you can even turn them into a dress or skirt if the occasion so calls for it.

Not all scarves are created equal, however. A scarf made from nylon may cause skin irritation over time, a scarf made from wool might feel scratchy and keep one too warm for certain climates. Although not the choice for budget backpackers, silk scarves are actually perfect for travel, as its high absorbency means greater comfort for those travelling in warmer climes. Silk also has a low rate of conductivity, which means that it’s better at keeping you warm when you’re travelling in chilly weather. Apart from breathability and comfort, silk also has a gorgeous lustrous sheen to it – thus having both form and function for the fashion conscious traveler. The last bonus point I’ll mention is – silk is apparently excellent at protecting one’s skin from hungry insects and mosquitos, as it is not pierced as easily as ordinary material used for clothing.

Silk however gets a bad rep from animal activists, who protest against the process of silk production, which involves boiling the cocoons woven by the silkworms. The silkworm releases certain enzymes to create a hole in the cocoon (so it can escape as a moth), however this cuts the single continuous thread produced by the worm into many short segments. The boiling is done to kill the worm inside in order to prevent it from releasing these enzymes.

Habotai silk, a soft lightweight silk originally produced in Japan, is produced otherwise. Habotai is made from the rescued strands of the broken cocoon and spun together to recreate a long single thread. In fact, this type of silk has a rather different texture, with small bumps along the thread showing where the broken strands have been rejoined. This kind of silk also takes dye easily, so as well as being sustainable, it is also very versatile. It was traditionally used for the lining of clothes because of its lightness and softness, with the word ‘habotai’ meaning ‘soft as down’ in Japanese.

So what will it be for your next trip? A long flowy shawl in cerulean blue, or a short silk scarf in Egyptian red?

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