Inside a Yizhou Silature, south-west China.
The sacks of cocoons come in from the farm and are weighed.
There is the same weight in every sack.
The cocoons are then sorted on a conveyor belt
the spoilt ones and the double cocoons rejected (it takes just a month's training to do this)
and the good single cocoons fed into sacks.
From here they go to the boiler to be softened, and some of the sericin removed (the 'glue' that sticks the strands together in the cocoon)
so that the strands are loose enough for the reeling machine. First they are fed into trays
and these trays constantly rotate so that they are available to the automatic reelers.
Beneath each reeler are about eight cocoons being unreeled at once to make a single thread. When one of the cocoons is exhausted of silk a sensor detects this and then automatically instructs a robotic arm to grab another cocoon.
The girls are there to check that the threads aren't broken - and rethread when they are.
This machine is fairly old now, and a more modern version requires less (wo)manpower. They also more efficient and produce 90kg of silk a day (cf the older machines which produce 70kg/day).
After the reeling the silk is rewound and doubled onto larger skeins.
These skeins are checked for faults
then rolled and wrapped first in tissue
then brown paper, ready for transport to the weaving factory.
With thanks to Mr. Lu for showing me around.