Lotus silk, the very rare handmade alternative to silkworm silk

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/11/23/lotus-silk-the-very-rare-handmade-alternative-to-silkworm-silk.html


Hm, i think with a little bit of genetic tinkering it might be possible to give the ability to another organism to create the base material to manufacture the lotus silk in larger quantities. Not too dissimilar to how spider silk proteins can be engineered to be produced by yeast or cows. I don’t know if such a thing can be done but theoretically speaking it’d be interesting.


It’s not silk, it’s lotus fiber. What’s wrong with calling it lotus fiber? Silk comes out of the backside of caterpillars. If it’s from a plant, it is not silk. How hard is that to understand?

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I know, right? And get a load of these plant squeezins pretending to be animal squeezins! Do people have no shame any more?


Yeah, with all the language mangling by the ad industry, it’s no surprise that a large percentage of kids don’t know that milk is produced by mammals (or perhaps they think soybeans and oats are mammals now), and that hamburgers don’t grow on bushes. Expecting them to figure out what’s English and what’s ad executive hype is unfair.

The ad guys don’t want them to understand the difference, of course - and they have succeeded, as we see from all the younger people who think that milk can come from seeds or other parts of plants. “Milk” just means light beige flavored water to them, thanks to advertising. So it has gone from a specific word for a specific thing to a catch-all word for any whitish liquid. And not because that was a needed and useful change to the language, but because advertisers wanted to pretend that vegetable products were the same as animal milk, so they would sell better. Good luck getting long-chain vitamin K from soy milk, or nutritionally complete proteins from oat milk.

What surprises me is that so many people are content to be manipulated that way by people who just want to sell them things.

also stop calling it soymilk, it’s soy juice, deal with it.

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It’s not even soy juice, it’s soy flavored water - or just soy water. And why is that a bad thing? Lots of people like it, so it’s a good thing. Very tasty. Good for people, good for the economy. But it’s not milk.

That some people get upset when we point out that milk is produced by mammals, not beans, just shows how effective the techniques of the advertising industry are.

and terrible when trying to buy a leather couch or anything like that. There’s all these re-constituted leather slurries that are re-branded as “phoenix leather” or some other BS that they try and pawn off as real leather.

It’s not a fiber that already exists fully formed in the plant, it is a sticky liquid that’s extruded from the cracked open stem, kind of a manual process that’s not dissimilar to how a silk worm would make its silk. So calling it as such is pretty bang on i’d say.


Nope. Silk has always referred to sticky threads that come out of arthropods’ butts.
Calling grain or nut or bean gruel “milk” has precedent’s going back at least to Medieval Baghdad and Europe.

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Well, all synthetic fibers are extruded (ETA: nearly all), but we don’t call them “silk”.

Personally, I don’t like animal fibers (to work with and to wear, not because I am vegan). And silk is the worst. So to me this is just offputting. The only justification I can imagine is if it had similar qualities to caterpoop, which is unlikely.

I assume it is a kind of bast fiber, like flax or hemp, so there’s no shortage of simile names if for some reason we can’t bear to just call it “lotus”.

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Calling white fluids made from plant materials “milk” pre-dates the existence of any kind of “ad guys” by some centuries.

Ahem. Points to “corn silk.”


Oh yeah? Then how do you explain this?


I gots one word for you: Milkweed.
Also, dandelion and milk thistle have white juice referred to as ‘milk’.


Loro Piana did a lot of development work with lotus fabrics and sells sweaters made from them under The Lotus Flower name.

If you can call soy milk milk, you can call lotus silk silk. For example, people have referred to corn silk for ages, no caterpillars necessary.


Yes! I’ve made orgeat (read: almond milk) several times. It’s a fun process. I’ve never tried with barley, which apparently was more common.

My understanding is that these “plant milks” can be used as a substitute for cow’s milk in many recipes because they are each essentially “fats and others solids suspended in water.” I haven’t tried that, though. I’ve only used them for cocktails.


As a matter of fact there is a huge industry in China producing artificial silk that is made from soy bean waste.

Worthy of note also is that silken threads were and are still extracted from banana plant stems - which would ordinarily be composted. The inner fibres are finest and was once prized material to make Kimonos in Japan.

There are a number of vids showing the manufacturing method on the sub-continent but this one showing the Japanese tradition treats the fibre with such reverence (and shows perhaps a good few centuries of organisation):


That’s pretty interesting, had no idea about the banana steam fibers :slight_smile: thanks for sharing

The use of silk for for certain plant fibers goes back more than 300 years. If you are fighting for the purity of the word silk, you’re fighting a losing battle.

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I have a rather tattered banana fiber sari I bought several decades ago. Still nice fabric.