The history of silk – http://www.fromental.co.uk/craftsmanship/the-history-of-silk/

According to Chinese legend, Empress His Ling Shi was first person to discover silk as weavable fibre in the 27th century BC. Whilst sipping tea under a mulberry tree, a cocoon fell into her cup and began to unravel. The empress became so enamoured with the shimmering threads she discovered their source, the Bombyx mori silkworm found in the white mulberry. The empress soon developed sericulture, the cultivation of silkworms, and invented the reel and loom. This is the earliest surviving reference to silk history and for nearly 3 millennia, the Chinese retained a global monopoly on silk production.

Initially first reserved for Chinese royalty, silk spread gradually through the Chinese culture both geographically and socially. From there, silken garments began to reach regions throughout Asia. Silk rapidly became a popular luxury fabric in the many areas accessible to Chinese merchants, because of its texture and lustre. 

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During the later half of the first millennium BC, demand for this exotic fabric eventually created the lucrative trade route now known as the Silk Road, taking silk westward and bringing gold, silver and wools to the East. Named after its most valuable commodity, silk was considered even more precious than gold. The Chinese realized the value of this beautiful material they were producing and kept its secret safe from the rest of the world for more than 30 centuries.

By CE200, sericulture had spread to Korea via Chinese immigrants, emerging in India, Japan and Persia around CE300 and reaching Europe around CE550 via the Byzantine Empire. In the 7th century, the Arabs conquered Persia, capturing their magnificent silks in the process. Sericulture and silk weaving thus spread through Africa, Sicily, and Spain as the Arabs swept through these lands. Andalusia was Europe’s main silk-producing center in the 10th century.
By the 13th century however, Italy had gained dominance and entered the hall of fame in silk history. By the 17th Century, France was challenging Italy’s leadership, and the silk looms established in the Lyons area at that time are still famous today for the unique beauty of their weaving.
In Medieval Europe, silk was used only by the nobility.

The nineteenth century and industrialization saw the downfall of the European silk industry. Cheaper Japanese silk, especially driven by the opening of the Suez Canal, was one of the many factors driving the trend as was the advent of manmade fibre, such as nylon which replaced traditionally silk products such as stockings and parachutes.

Japan became the world’s biggest producer of raw silk until China recaptured her position in the 1970’s. Today, around 125,000 metric tons of silk is produced in the world. Almost two thirds of that production takes place in China.

Producing high quality silk (sericulture) is a lengthy, complex process that demands constant close attention and the Chinese have perfected this over the centuries. China is committed to continually elevate its quality by investing in the latest manufacturing machinery.

Original text from: http://www.fromental.co.uk/craftsmanship/the-history-of-silk/

The Persian art of decorating book covers influenced European styles

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Persian artists  introduced a range of innovative ideas, both technical as well as artistic …

Persian miniature painting  transformed book covering into an elaborate art form.

One of a pair of painted covers. Persia, late 16th century. Private Collection, LondonImage: The Institute of Ismaili Studies One of a pair of lacquer painted covers. Persia, late 16th century. Private Collection, London
Image: The Institute of Ismaili Studies

The art of binding and the protection of scripts are as old as writing itself. The contribution made by Musli craftsmen has been a significant element in the history of this craft and the contribution of Persian craftsmen is particularly important. It was Persian artists who introduced a range of innovative ideas, both technical as well as artistic, and these were to have a profound impact on subsequent bindings and decorative styles. In the earlier period of book production within the Islamic world, book covers were generally decorated in a restrained manner. However, around the sixteenth century, Persia took a lead in artistic…

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The Wall Street Journal | Rethinking ‘Islamic Art’

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Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum features diverse, high-quality works to dispel the idea of a homogenous aesthetic.

[…] Everything in the museum seems committed to dislodging all legacy of this perspective, using beauty to lure us in close enough to appreciate the distinctiveness among Muslim civilizations.

– Lee Lawrence, The Wall Street Journal, Asian and Islamic art writer

Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum, building designed by Fumihiko Maki. (Image: The Wall Street Journal / Janet Kimber) Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum, building designed by Fumihiko Maki. (Image: The Wall Street Journal / Janet Kimber)

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Arabesque is a distinct style in Islamic art

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Islamic art describes the art created specifically in the service of the faith such as the mosque and its furnishings, but also characterizes the art and architecture produced in the lands ruled by Muslims, produced for Muslim patrons, or created by Muslim artists.

Tile with Arabesque Decoration,  early 15th century, Turkey Metropolitan Museum of Art Tile with arabesque decoration, early 15th century, Turkey. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Islamic art has been produced in diverse regions using a variety of materials and patterns. It is generally agreed that the term Islamic art describes the art created specifically in the service of the faith such as the mosque and its furnishings, but also characterizes the art and architecture produced in the lands ruled by Muslims, produced for Muslim patrons, or created by Muslim artists. The lands conquered by the Muslims had their own artistic traditions and, initially, those artists continued to work in their own indigenous styles but for Muslim patrons. With its geographic…

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Al-Khwarizmi and Algebra

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Ancient Greek Babylonian and Indian mathematicians had all found ways of calculating missing numbers. Al-Khwarizmi combined these methods together to develop algebra. The word algebra comes from the Arabic “al-jabr” which means “bringing back order.” Al-jabr was one of the terms used by al-Khwarizmi to describe how to find the missing numbers in an equation. Muhammad al-Khwarizmi lived in the 9th century and worked in Baghdad where he was an important scientist at the Bayt al-Hikma. Al-Khwarizmi wrote the first book on algebra.

Source: Talim Primary 3

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Travel Writing inspired by Hajj

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Ibn BattutaThe pilgrimage to Mecca gave rise to a rich genre of travel writing.

Pilgrims kept journals of their travels thus providing interesting details about everything from food and clothing to architecture. One of the most fascinating travel accounts is the Safarnama of Nasir-i Khusraw (1004c.-1072), who journeyed to Cairo through Nishapur, Rayy, (both in Iran), Aleppo (Syria) and Jerusalem (Israel). From Cairo, he made two pilgrimages to Mecca before returning to Central Asia as the chief dai (missionary) for the Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mustansir billah (r. 1036-1094).

The Arabic version of the pilgrimage-travelogue is known as the rihla. The genre was developed by the Andalusian Ibn Jubair (1145-1217), who wrote a famous account of the two-year journey he made starting in February 1183, to Mecca. His narrative provides information about the countries and cities through which he passes, and is an invaluable source of information about the political and social conditions…

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