Silk farming involves silkworm breeding. Silk farmers were called “educators”, and; they worked on “magnaneries” i.e. silk farms. Silkworms feed exclusively on mulberry tree leaves. The growth of silk farming made the Drôme department one of the top leading silk producing areas in the 19th century and entailed the development of spinning and throwing mills.
Detail of a poster from the Department of Agriculture to promote the mulberry production
Decline of silk farming
As early as 1849, in spite of Pasteur’s discoveries, a number of diseases affected silkworms and caused the cocoon production to slacken. The silk factories as well as the traders from Lyon then started importing cocoons and silk from Italy, Spain, or Asia. The opening of the Suez canal in 1869 had an enormous effect on the importing of Eastern silks. The invention of artificial fibres at the beginning of the 20th century resulted in the further decline in silk farming, spinning and throwing.
The silk farm (the Magnanerie)
Silkworm breeding required space. When the worms started growing they were placed on wooden shelves called “tauliers”, i.e. “trays” placed in the farms. These big rectangular two to four storey buildings used low lightning and were well ventilated. Open fires were used to maintain a temperature of 20°C. The more the worms grow the more mulberry leaves they eat. They must be fed four times a day!
Sketch representing a silk farm’s inside with the « tauliers » (wooden grids scaffolding where the silkworms and the mulberry leaves, the silkworm food, are dropped off)
Cross-section view of a silk farm, BNF
The hatching tub (castelet): For hatching eggs. Its tubular sides are filled with water and heated by an oil lamp. The eggs are spread in the drawers.
The “cavagnes”are wicker or bark baskets in which cocoons are kept before deflossing.