All handicraft specialities are, by definition, laborious. But few require as much effort as transforming the voluntary isolation cell of a silk-worm into a shiny, immortal, and… er… silky garment. Add manual looms and natural dyes and the miracle implied by its survival will be fully understood.
In the municipality of El Paso, the complete cycle of this ancestral technology, unique in Europe, is still preserved, beginning with the breeding of silk worms, and ending with the manufacture of garments. It is a laborious process calling for cooperation between various specialists, and which culminates in the production of unquestionably high-quality fabric. The raw material is the thread of the silk worms. The process of unraveling is carried out using a painstaking, primitive method. Once the cocoons have been treated and selected, they are immersed in boiling water and, using a heather branch, the filaments are drawn onto a nearby spool on which the hank is gradually wound. The thread must not snap, and the same thickness must be maintained. Once this hank has been obtained, the process continues with the washing, dying, and twisting of the threads, until they are suitable for weaving. A pedal loom is used, identical to the ones introduced by the Castilian conquerors in the 16th century. Palmeran silk, once woven, is mainly used for traditional garments (sashes, bodices, skirts, table-cloths, etc.), and is also offered in the shape of modern ties, shawls, foulards or shirts. The Workshop-Museum of Las Hilanderas (El Paso) houses an exhibition devoted to this laborious handicraft technique.