The fascination towards eri clothes among the folk life of Assam and the North-east can easily be gauged from an old Assamese proverb (“dair päni, erir käni”) which implies that while curd cools the eri clothe warms up a person (Allen 1899:10). The name “Eri” is derived from an assamese word “Era” the castor plant. This originally wild silk-moth in India, the Eri Silkmoth (Samia ricini)is now fully domesticated and used mainly in the north eastern parts of the country.
The earliest reference to Eri silk culture in India is documented in 1779, and Eri silk was long called “Assam silk”. The larvae feed mainly on leaves of Castor (Ricinus communis ), but have a number of alternate host plants such as Kesseru (Heteropanax fragrans), Cassava or Topioca (Manihot exculata) and a few other plants species Eri silk cocoons cannot be reeled because the cocoons are collected only after the moth emerges out, leaving a hole in the cocoon, that breaks the continuity of the silk filament. The cocoons are therefore subjected to spinning either by hand (tuckly) / spinning wheel or by machine (mill-spun). Earlier, most of the eri silk yarns were hand spun, due to which fine quality was not available.
Products made out of coarse hand spun eri silk yarns were mostly of thick / coarse quality fabric suitable for limited usage like gents and ladies shawl. Today, with the advent of technology, company like fabric plus (www.fabricplus.in) spins eri spun silk as fine as Nm210, that enables to broaden the application range to a multiple dimension. Eri silk is now used as one of the most sustainable, low impact, high social impact fibre to produce fabrics suitable for the finest sarees / mekhela chadar / fashion accessories (stoles) as well as home furnishing. This has been a revolution in eri silk sector where, as high as 25 m of fabric (40 gsm) can be produced as against just 2 to 3 m of fabrics from one kg of eri silk yarn, traditionally.
Eri silk fabric is becoming very popular amongst those who practice absolute non-violence and do not use any product obtained by killing any living creature. Buddhist monks in India, Bhutan, Nepal, China, Japan prefer this silk due to its cruelty-free process. Eri silk fabrics are considered as “Holy fabric”; used for many holistic purpose; because it protects the body from cold as well hot climate, from skin allergy, skin disease, infection etc. In some communities eri fabrics (shawls) are offered inside the coffins with the belief that, it will protect the human being even after his death.
Eri silk has excellent thermal insulating property which is rare in any other textiles. Its blends with wool, cashmere, bamboo, linen, ramie etc. Enhances its properties to become the best natural textiles for both apparel and non-apparel application. Its anti-fungal, high moisture regain, soft feel; properties and subtle but elegance look gives a holistic “feel good factor” & “peace factor” that is rare to any other textiles of the world. 98% of India’s eri silk is produced in Assam and the North-east. It is therefore the silk of the real silk country.