After breakfast and boarding the bus, our first stop was at the silk factory. Suzhou is a famous area for silk worm farming. I had never thought of the process of working with silk cocoons, but it was really kind of fascinating. The silk fabric that we normally think of is just the normal weaving that is used with cotton, etc. However, the soft, fuzzy "quilts" are a completely different process. With any work with silk, you first have to soak the cocoons to make them flexible.
Once the silk is pliable, you begin stretching the cocoons, one at a time, over a frame. The number of cocoons you will use will depend on the weight you want of your quilt - whether you're making a duvet, a coat, or other thick type of item. They let us participate in making a quilt.
Even after being stretched on the frame like this, the silk still has a lot of give. You can test it by pulling on it. If you pull a piece off, it burns and smells like hair. If it smells like plastic, it probably is.
These quilts are so incredibly soft, putting the single-ply fabrics to shame. After learning how these were made, we went into the showroom and had the opportunity to purchase some of the silk products. We took advantage of that opportunity when Chrissy found a beautiful, soft, winter coat. It was just perfect for her, and I couldn't pass it up! I also found a silk tapestry that I liked, so I got it, too.
After leaving the silk factory, we toured the Lingering Garden. The best Chinese gardens are multifaceted. Just when you think you've seen the most breathtaking area possible, you turn the corner, and there's an even better section! The Lingering Garden was just like that. I did need help getting up and down some of the rocky paths going up and down through the garden. And the first part of the garden path was made with pebbles with mosaic designs in various places.
Then was the bonsai garden.
And into this little recessed area
before boarding the bus and heading to the Grand Canal. Our local guide (pretty much the only one whose name I can't remember) said Suzhou is known as the Venice of China because of the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is hailed as the longest and oldest man-made waterway in the world, going from Beijing to Hangzhou. It links the Yellow River and the Yangtze River,. The oldest parts were dug as early as the 5th century BC, with the Sui dynasty starting to connect them. Later dynasties rerouted and added parts until it was connected all the way to Beijing during the Qing dynasty.
It was an interesting ride with some homes in desperate need of repair and some interesting bridges, such as broken bridge (above) and one bridge with beautiful, detailed murals on both sides.
After our boat ride down a section of the Grand Canal, we went to the silk embroidery school. They had some amazing embroidery works, including two sided pieces where different scenes were on each side of the tapestry or where the same scene was on each side but in different colors. Based on pricing, I was very glad I purchased at the silk factory. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the embroidery school, so the pictures I've posted here are from the tapestry/embroidery section of the silk factory. At the embroidery school, we watched the artisans working. At the silk factory, the workstation was there, but the artisan was not working at that time.
From the embroidery school, we boarded the bus and headed to Wuxi. As we were on the road, we drove through "Wedding Dress Row". Being the capital of silk farming, it would only stand to reason that Suzhou would be the wedding dress capital of the world. Just from what we could see from the windows of the bus and through the rain, these are absolutely gorgeous gowns!