The larvae after maturation crawl down the tree at dusk, which are then handpicked and placed in “Jali” (cocoonage) for spinning of cocoons. For continuation of generations 5% seeds cocoons are selected and kept in grainage hall for emergence of moth and production of eggs. Rest 95% good cocoons are stifled for reeling purpose. Normally 1kg of raw silk can be obtained from 4500-6000 cocoons depending upon the quality compactness and weight of shell.
Extraction of silk filament from cocoons by employing a set of processes is known as silk reeling. Muga silk are generally reeled by traditional ‘Bhir’ reeling process. In recent years, pedal driven reeling machines (RMRS type, Choudhury type) and motor driven machines (CSTRI reeling cum twisting machine) are also practiced in some areas.
The bulk of the cocoon used for reeling is obtained from the “katia” (autumn) crop. The leaves at this time are quite suitable, the seasonal temperature wasps and flies etc. are much less and cocoons produced are comparatively richer in silk. The “jura” (winter) crop is raised for producing seed cocoons only. During the winter the worms take more than one month to spin cocoons, which are also very poor in silk content. The “jethua” (spring) crop is also important crop. The golden colour of the silk from cocoons of this crop is higher than the “aherua” and “bhodia” crop. The “aherua” (summer) and “bhodia” (late summer) crop are raised mainly for seed cocoons.
Generally, the muga reeling is done by the rearers themselves. Boiling and reeling is carried out by all classes of people in a corner of the household. But there is a large section of people, for whom muga reeling is a good trade. In some places of Assam, muga reeling is done extensively as a profession. All the cocoons produced are converted into silk-yarn and fabric within the state of Assam.
In case of Muga reeling about 56% production is done on “Bhir”, the traditional age-old device and remaining 44% is coming from CSTRI motorized cum peddle operated machine. The productivity of “Bhir” is very low (80 gm per day) and the quality of yarn is also not uniform. However, the weavers prefer to use the untwisted yarn produced on “Bhir” for weft, which accounts for 60% of the total requirement. Therefore, there is need for an alternative technology to fulfill the need of weft yarn. Central Silk Board has developed a ‘Bani’ reeling machine particularly for production of better quality untwisted weft yarn. The productivity of “Bani” is much higher (150 gm/day) as compared to “Bhir”. The technology may be popularized to enhance the production of quality yarn and also remuneration of the reelers. It may help in replacing “Bhir” in future. Besides, efforts are also required to reduce the high cost of production by utilizing reeling wastes and production of value added products.
The cocoons are processed within the state to produce Muga raw silk & Eri Spun silk. The Mulberry reeling is done in Govt as well private sector by using Multi-end reeling machines located in Mangaldoi, Sibsagar and Jorhat districts. Muga reeling activities are mainly concentrated in Kamrup, Kokrajhar, Goalpara, Sibsagar, Tinsukia, Lakhimpur & Dhemaji districts. Sualkuchi & Bamundi are the main reeling and weaving clusters of Muga silk. Before reeling, the Muga cocoons are cooked in an alkaline solution of soda ash for an hour. This helps to soften the natural gum, sericin, which holds the filaments together. After deflossing the true end of the continuos filament is found and a number of cocoons are transferred to the reeling basin containing tepid water. Two methods of reeling are prevalent - the traditional on Bhir, which involves two persons, and a recent one that employs a fast operating machine with the operator using both hands for reeling i.e. CSTRI Reeling cum Twisting machine. About half of the silk in each cocoon could be reeled and the remainder, used as silk waste, noil, is further processed to spun silk. After the reeling, the Muga threads are dried in the shade for three-four days, following which they are wound into skeins on a ‘Sereki’. The sizing of the skeins involves the application of a mixture of powdered rice and water.