Eri meaning castor in Assamese, refers to silk made predominantly in Assam, northwest India, from the samia cynthia ricini silkworm that feeds on the leaves of castor oil plant and tapioca, meaning a double crop for the farmer. This silk is also called Endi, or Errendi in other parts of India, and the samia cynthia ricini silkworm may equally found in India, China and Japan.
Eri silk production can take place indoors, in a controlled environment, but more thsn often.. in the wild–it is then called a Vanya silk. It is also spun according to the Ahimsa philosophy, meaning the cocoons are left untouched until the silkworm leaves: the broken threads are therefore spun rather than reeled, resulting a less glossy texture than pat silk.
Put simply, the stages of production are:
- Farming: Pedigree, disease free silkworms are farmed to produce large quantities of eggs; these are kept in cold storage until they are hatched.
- Reared in the open air: the moths are encouraged to lay their eggs on a prepared paper, which is then hung onto the branches close to a food source, once hatched the baby worms crawl along the branches to the leaves.
- Human intervention: involves strategies to keep birds and bats away from the eggs and the young.
- The moth emerges from the cocoon before the silk is harvested, so breaking the continuous filament from which the cocoon is made.
- The cocoons are harvested and wetted to soften the fibres.
- As the fibres are short, too short to reel off, they are spun straight from cocoon into thread.
Eri threads produce a white, creamy-white or reddish silk with a distinctly ‘woolly’ or cotton-like texture. The woven cloth is fine, strong, durable, slightly elastic, and heavier to the hand than Chinese silk. Its soft texture and moisture absorbent qualities make it ideal for bed sheets, shawls, blankets and duvet fillers. It is very often woven with cotton for clothing and also with wool for curtains, upholstery, bedcovers, bed drapes, fabric walling, and printing cloth.
Assamese proverb: erir kani aru dair pane…are same: eri is as warm as curd is cool