Originally published in The Shaker Messenger, Volume XV, Number 1, 1993, pp. 5-9, 30. The Shaker Messenger, published by The World of Shaker, is no longer in print. Photographs used with permission of the Shaker Museum at South Union.


Kentucky Shakers were particularly adept at the process of producing silk. Kentucky's temperate climate was conducive to mulberry tree cultivation and sericulture, the raising of silkworms. South Union Sisters hatched and grew silkworms to harvest the delicate silk fibers they used in the manufacture of kerchiefs, neckwear, hat bands, bonnets, and sewing silk. Occasionally entire garments such as dresses were made from the luxurious silk.


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Fig. 1: Silkworms were grown on shelves known as hurdles.

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Fig. 2: Stages of the silkworm's growth

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Fig. 3: Workers unwound silk from the cocoon onto a silk reel.

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Fig. 4: Shakers typically wove striped borders into their beautiful silk kerchiefs. (Museum Collection, Shakertown at South Union)

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Fig. 5: Rose-colored silk stock worn by South Union Shaker William Booker (1841-1911). (Museum Collection, Shakertown at South Union)