«Silk needs precision and care and someone to keep an eye on it.»
The term comes from the Chinese ser, which means ‘silkworm’. Silk, one of the most important woven materials, symbolic of luxury and power, was a major traditional activity, though of little economic importance until the early 19th century.
Soufli became an important silk-producing centre in the last decades of the 19th century, and the first silk-mill opened in 1903. Sericulture left its mark on the local architecture in the form of the distinctive koukoulospita or ‘cocoon houses’. When Soufli was incorporated into Greece in 1922, it lost vast tracts of mulberry plantations along the east bank of the Evros. In the new situation (with a drop in cocoon production and the domestic market as the new target), sericulture and the silk industry in Soufli are still a major economic and social force.
In late April or early May, when the mulberry trees began to come into leaf, the sericulturists would buy the eggs from the sporades. They were incubated in hatcheries. The newly-hatched silkworms, about 2-3mm long, are collected on mulberry leaves and taken to the krevatia or ‘beds’. The rearing process takes 30-40 days and is completed in 5 stages, alternating with 4 dormant periods. Each stage requires a different amount of food and a different temperature. Each stage lasts 4-5 days and is followed by a dormant day, after which the worms shed their skin, eventually attaining a length of 8-9 mm. The kladoma or ‘branching’ follows. The sericulturists place branches on the rearing beds and the worms crawl onto them. They take about 50 hours to spin their cocoons, working from the outside inwards, enclosing themselves in the cocoons and making ready to turn into chrysalises. A day or two later, the xekladoma or ‘debranching’ begins. To prevent the chrysalises from piercing the cocoons, they are heated in special steam ovens to kill them. The cocoons are then dried and mechanically sorted. The well-formed ones are send for reeling, or unwinding. The women use the second-grade (soft or damaged) cocoons, the frizonia (coarse filaments collected during the reeling process), and the pilouzia (filaments which secure the cocoons to the branches) to produce koukoularika or spun silk.
One box of 40,000 eggs weighs 25 g and produces around 24,000 silkworms. They make 60 kilos of fresh cocoons, which in turn produce 7-8 kilos of silken yarn.