In Search of Wild Silk – Karen Selk

In Search of Wild Silk – Karen Selk

In Search of Wild Silk book cover

This book is about grit, hard labor, endurance, and deep rural culture. It’s about animal husbandry because after all, silkworms are little animals. It’s about how the remarkable abilities of wild silkworms have been harnessed over hundreds of human generations, and how they have been integral to tribal economies and lifestyles”.

This is how textile publishing guru, Linda Ligon describes the book in her foreword, and it is a perfect description of this book. Sleek and elegant from the outside with a beautifully designed cover, yet the pages are filled with grit. Stories of the people, the place, the plants, and the animals who create this Wild Silk.

Author Karen Selk is a Canadian-based textile artist, educator, researcher, and writer with a deep love and understanding of wild silk. She spent the last 45 years researching and working with the wild silk producers in Asia, and more specifically the eastern provinces of India. Along with her husband Terry Nelson, they founded Treenway Silks, a silk fibre and yarn import/export company in 1978 which led to countless trips and deep friendships with the producers of wild silk. This book is the result of these years dedicated to this wonderous fibre.

Wild Silk content page

Images & photography

In the same way that it is impossible to talk about either silk or India without conjuring images of colour, texture, and lustre, it is impossible to write a book about wild silk without the richness and opulence of colour photography. Karen, like any seasoned traveller and researcher, is also an avid photographer, who has made it her mission since her first trip to India, to keep excellent photographic records of all her experiences and interactions with both people and the environment.

The book is filled with more than 300 colour images ranging from detailed photographs of silk production, including the worms and their habitats, to the harvesting and production of the fibres, to the people dedicating their lives to this industry, to the production of the final silk textile products. It is a feast for the eyes and the second-best thing to experiencing it all in real life.

Wild Silk spread


The book opens with a map of India and the preliminary Foreword and Introduction, followed by ten chapters telling the story of silk and three charts explaining the three different types of silk produced in India. The book concludes with comprehensive glossaries, bibliographies, a list of resources, and an index.

The ten chapters cover all aspects of the wild silk journey, starting with an overview or lay of the land. In chapter two, Karen gives a basic background of silk and the difference between cultivated and wild silk and introduces the three types of moths producing Indian wild silk – Tasar, Muga, and Eri.

Chapter three explains the concept of sericulture or silkworm farming, while chapter four discusses the science and research behind Indian sericulture and the important work of the Central Silk Board. Chapter five explains what happens to the silk after it has been harvested, introducing the spinners and weavers, and documenting the development of these ancient crafts.

Chapters six to eight make up the bulk of the book. Each chapter is dedicated to one specific species of moth and is divided into three parts – part one gives detailed information about the animal and its cultivation, part two explains the process from cocoon to yarn, and part three explains the process from yarn to cloth. These are followed by visual comparison charts illustrating how these three types of silk farming and production differ.

Chapter nine is dedicated to the current state of textile production in India, celebrating their Ministry of Textiles (imagine!), and the final chapter looks at the growth of the Slow Movement including the role of designers and consumers in curbing the problem of fast fashion.

Each chapter is enriched with stories from Karen’s travel journal with anecdotes from her interaction and friendships with silk farmers and producers, as well as stories from the people in the field, in the workshops, and the laboratories. This is a book about silk farming, but it is foremost a book about people.

Wild Silk spread


The story of silk is inextricably linked to the story of the land – in this case, India. And the story of India is inexplicably linked to the story of its people and their rich heritage of handmade textiles in all its forms. With this book, Karen achieved a tour de force. The story of a simple moth, a simple worm, rural people, honest labour, and immense creativity, combined with the story of a culture, the passage of time and the changing of the world around them, from colonisation to the influence of modernisation and the internet – this book is like India: one trip is just scratching the surface. Like Karen’s recurring travels and love affair with India, the reader has to return countless times to experience the full depth and value of this book.

It is an important documentation of a craft that has stood the test of time but that also had to make big changes over the past forty years. Without people like Karen and the many people she worked with who meticulously documented their observations, discoveries, and research, the future would be so much poorer.

This book is rich and colourful and dense with stories and information, much like the land and the people it celebrates.


Author: Karen Selk
Photographer: Various
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing

Format & layout

216 x 230 mm (8.5″ x 11″)
272 pages
ISBN 9780764364976

The book can be ordered from the publisher here.

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