St. James Journal - January 20, 1928



Mrs. M. B. Piazza Ordered the Eggs from Italy and Started a Profitable Hobby


When the silkworm industry is mentioned, one thinks of sunny Italy, Japan or China, and the average citizen is acquainted with the industry only through a news reel or a book.

But Knobview, Mo., only 95 miles from St. Louis, an Italian settlement on Frisco Lines, has the start of what may some day be a most profitable industry, and is now unique in that it is perhaps the only one in this part of the country.

Mrs. M. B. Piazza, wife of a Frisco section man in that city, has been engaged in the silkworm industry for many years.

Although the greatest part of the Piazza farm is set in grapes, Mrs. Piazza finds time from her many duties to care for her silkworms, and the story of her start and of her present stock was told through R. M. Cardetti, the agent at that station.  Mrs. Piazza has not-yet mastered the English language enough to explain the various details.

She explained through Mr. Cardetti that she had sent for the silkworm eggs to Italy shortly after her arrival in Knobview.  When the eggs came, she put them away and during the first warm days of April or May she put them in the bright sun.  The warmth of the sun’s rays opened the cocoon, and within three or four hours a butterfly emerged.  The mating of the male and female takes place and after a few hours the female butterfly lays 100 or more eggs, then the two butterflies die.  The entire process of the birth and death of the male and female takes place within 24 hours.

If the eggs are kept away from the heat, they may be saved, but if she desires to hatch silk worms from these eggs, she exposes them to a temperature of from 75 to 80 degrees of heat.  This is now in the time of the year when the mulberry leaves are beginning to come out, and silk worms eat nothing but mulberry leaves.

After the worms are hatched, which takes from four to five days, branches of the mulberry trees are brought in and the worms crawl over the branches and small stems.  Leaves from the mulberry tree are chopped up and they feed from these.  Once a day the tray under the mulberry branches is cleaned.  The worms begin to eat and grow.  In about ten days, they start the first sleep of four.  They sleep from 48 to 72 hours each time, and while they sleep they are not to be touched or disturbed.  When they awake, new chopped mulberry leaves are fed them again, and they are kept where an even temperature prevails.

Each time they awake they are a little larger and require a little more food.  After the second sleep the leaves are not chopped up for them, but are given them whole, and they must be fed three times a day after the fourth sleep.  They are now so much larger than when born that they must be thinned out for they have reached maturity and their length is about three inches.

In about ten days after the fourth sleep they get through eating, and they are very full of silk and are ready to spin.  When they are entirely ready, they begin to move their heads around, and the long strands of silk comes from the mouth.  They will not start this process however, until they have had every bit of food that they can possibly hold, and so Mrs. Piazza says, if one of the worms lacks just one bite of mulberry leaves, it will not spin the silk which it has prepared within its body.

The containers where they are spinning must be darkened a little while the spinning is going on, and a brush put near by, upon which they may catch the silk.  They begin the process of unwinding, and in about eight days the worm is reduced to nothing, for it has wound the silk completely around itself and made the well-known cocoon.  In other words it has virtually “committed suicide”.  However, it will again repeat the performance of the butterfly stage if the cocoon is not exposed to a temperature of 105 degrees.  This kills the worm and permits getting the silk.

After the worm is killed, the cocoon is dropped in boiling hot water, and with a small brush or broom straw, is stirred around and the silk begins to come off in long strands.  This is the method which Mrs. Piazza uses at home; however, in the old country, more up-to-date methods have been adopted, and greater speed is obtained in unwinding the silk from the cocoon.

“If there was a market for the raw silk, I am sure that Mrs. Piazza and several others who have become interested in this industry, would be able to furnish much silk from Knobview, but so far, Mrs. Piazza says she has only sold it for $3.00 a pound,” Mr. Cardetti said.

She picked up two of the cocoons from the basket (they resembled creamy white peanuts) and told Mr. Cardetti to explain that one was the male and the other the female.  Then she took from the bottom of the basket several yards of silk thread which she unwound from the cocoons, and said that she used the thread to string beads and sew.  The strands were pure silk, bright and shiny and very strong, and a dozen or so could not be broken when looped together.

So far this silkworm industry is the only one of its kind on Frisco Lines, however, it is understood that there are like industries in the East.  Mrs. Piazza follows it now as a hobby and just because she likes it.  It brings back recollections of her old home in the central part of Italy, and she wants to keep eggs on hand, for she feels that some day she may be shipping raw silk via Frisco Lines, to a market which will demand all that she may be able to furnish.—Frisco Employees Magazine.


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