Wild silks in Odisha

by - Sunday, December 08, 2013

A weaver in Odisha winds tussar silk off the bobbins to prepare a warp for the loom.

Many areas in Odisha (formerly Orissa) are suitable for the cultivation of tussar silk. Tussar, Antheraea mylitta is a very large moth. In contrast to bombyx mori (the Chinese silkworm most of us are familiar with) the tussar caterpillars spend their larval stage outside in trees. As the larva grows the farmers move it from tree to tree to ensure that it has a fresh supply of leaves.

The worms (caterpillars, really) are beautiful and the most juicy green colour. They are eating machines, growing constantly as they change from the tiny worms that emerge from eggs to the massive creatures that are ready to begin spinning a cocoon.

The tussar moth is also raised in Assam and we encountered it in the moth stage when we visited in 2008. The silk is an amber colour and makes for very distinctive textiles. Entire villages will specialize in the cultivation, spinning and weaving of tussar silk. Threads are wound by combining the strands from many coccoons. They are often reeled by rubbing over a smooth surface such as the belly of a pot or the weaver's thigh. Thigh-reeling is popular and you can see artisans on the front porch, chatting and reeling throughout the day.

A village artisan reels tussar silk on his thigh.

Tussar silk in hanks dyed and ready for weaving.

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