Silk producer Emel Duman, aided by a group of academics from three universities, has located the elusive Hatay yellow silkworm and is producing ‘peace silk’ from it.
“I shed tears of joy,” Emel Duman tells TRT World, “when I finally located a batch of Hatay yellow silkworms.” Duman is a silk producer who had been looking for a silkworm endemic to Turkey, called the Hatay yellow for more than seven years. “It’s as if a piece of me were missing.”
The endemic Hatay yellow silkworm has cocoons that range from yellow to orange; it had not been sighted in Turkey for almost 40 years. In fact, the rare cocoon was all but extinct when Duman finally located it with an elderly silk hobbyist who raised silkworms as a pastime rather than relying on them for his livelihood.
This year was the first time Duman was able to raise cocoons from this species of silkworm thanks to the support of academics who were also seeking sustainable solutions to raise the creatures in Hatay, in southern Turkey.
Berna Ileri, an assistant professor at the Hatay Mustafa Kemal University, tells TRT World that she has been working on Hatay silkworms since 2013, establishing the Textile Arts Application and Research Centre, among other efforts. She has been researching traditional methods of silk production and organising workshops to that end.
Duman says the women had been acquainted through workshops and Ileri’s research, but they really came together when they started working on a “peace silk” project. According to Duman, her practical knowledge coupled with Ileri’s academic knowledge produced great results, overlapping to a large extent.
Peace silk/non-violent silk, also known as ahimsa silk production, taking Mahatma Gandhi’s dictum of not harming any living being, aims to produce silk without harming the silkworm. Ahimsa silk production has been around for about 15 years around the world, Ileri tells TRT World.
This type of production is not currently popular in Turkey, where silk is produced by baking cocoons in an oven with silkworms still inside to get long and unbroken strings of the material. However, there is a worldwide demand for peace silk that allows for the silkworm to pupate and leave the cocoon by bearing a hole in it.
Izmir Ekonomi University Fashion and Textile Design department chair, Prof Dr Elvan Ozkavruk Adanir, says in a press statement that in Europe, people no longer want chemicals or dead animals in the production of their clothes, “preferring the most natural, ethical goods in textile production.”
Duman says that she has always allowed her silkworms to break through their cocoons, and she has always used traditional methods when producing silk, with as little damage to the creatures as possible.
“I feed them as I play classical music,” Emel Duman, 54, tells TRT World. “You may find it silly, but I talk to them. My mother certainly does. She too raises silkworms.”
Duman adds that she is emotionally attached to the silkworms she raises, saying she was devastated when they once ate mulberry leaves doused with pesticide and died en masse. She says as a result, her family has set up the biggest mulberry farm in Turkey, with more than 8,000 trees. “We don’t collect leaves from anywhere else,” she emphasises.
The group of academics that has been collaborating with Duman, are Prof Dr Feza Can, Archivist Basak Ulasli, Assistant Prof Berna Ileri from Hatay Mustafa Kemal University, Prof Dr Elvan Ozkavruk Adanir from Izmir University of Economics, and Prof Dr Ismail Demir from Karadeniz Technical University. The group has been working with Duman on her traditionally produced line, Defne & Apollon Silk.
Duman’s daughter, Tugce Duman, 31, has studied textile engineering and fashion design, and now has her eye on silk production, too. Emel Duman says when she first started working with silkworms in 1996, she didn’t know much and had to make her way just by digging with her fingernails.
“Nobody showed me the ropes when I started,” she says. “So I promised myself that whoever asks me anything, I will help them. I will not keep my knowledge to myself.”