From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Silk is a fine, soft cloth woven from silk fibers. The history of silk begins, according to Chinese tradition, in the 27th century BC. The Chinese were able to continue making it exclusively for three millennia without ever divulging the secret process whereby it was made. The art of silk making slowly spread to other civilizations via merchants, looters, and spies. Having arrived in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages, the production of silk climaxed during the phase of industrialization at the beginning of the 19th century. After that, silk production experienced a rapid decline due to improvements in manufacturing in certain Asian countries and to epidemics that affected the silk worms in France.
The first evidence of the silk trade is the finding of silk in the hair of an Egyptian mummy of the 21st dynasty, c.1070 BC. Ultimately the silk trade reached as far as the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa. This trade was so extensive that the major set of trade routes between Europe and Asia has become known as the Silk Road.