One of the funniest experiences of Olive’s life was the raising of silkworms at Toquerville. Like the women of all ages of history, Olive loved the touch of fine silk and in her extraordinarily large and beautiful home, her favorite silk dresses, a paisley shawl, a “shot silk,” or even a brocade, was extra-special to her. The elegant feel of silk was special, and silk garments had been cherished in Biblical times. It was one of the very few luxuries which weary pioneer women could treasure.
One day in 1874 President Brigham Young sent to Nathan and Olive some silk worm eggs that had been shipped from overseas to this far western valley. What an experience for an already over-extended pioneer woman; already beset with numerous problems just providing the day to day necessities. But the prospect of silken gowns erased every negative thought. Nathan planted a small grove of mulberry trees, which today, 1981, are of enormous size, and can still be seen in the backyard of their beautiful Toquerville home.
Flats of newspaper arrived with the tiny silkworm eggs and with limited instruction as to the hatching, feeding, and rearing of silk worms. The eggs were distributed to those who were willing to try this unusual experiment.
In brief, this is how Olive raised her silk. The eggs were brought into the light and warmed for hatching, resulting in about 10 days, with myriads of tiny 1/4 inch long, black or grey worms. Mulberry leaves were chopped into very small pieces and sprinkled lightly over the egg tray. Like ravenous little wolves, the thread-sized worms climbed onto the wisps of green and began to feed. They were fed every four hours, day and night. Getting up twice in the middle of the night to feed the worms was not one of Olive’s favorite things to do, but she did it very faithfully. At the end of each ten days, the worms were ready to moult. During the 24 hours of moulting, the house had to be kept perfectly quiet. After the moult, the waste had to be removed, clean papers spread and the four-hour feedings resumed.
When the worms reach maturity they were about three inches long and the size of an average adult caterpillar. Olive thought it was very humorous at feeding time when she put whole branches covered with leaves in their boxes. The eating and mulching of 8,000 to 10,000 worms produced the sound of 100 buzz saws at a lumber mill. Each worm lifted his head and gracefully followed an arc toward his body cutting away the tender leaf. In addition to their feeding schedule, and absolute quiet during the moulting period, the temperatures had to be perfectly kept. If a cold breeze came, hundreds of worms sickened and died instantaneously. After two and a half months of intimate care, the adult worms were very beautiful. Their bodies were a soft cream color with faintly outlined circles of grey or tan, and their brown or yellow heads were rounded with a ball of silk which they had been storing day by day for the cocoon. Paper folded in fans provided the lodgements for the cocoons and they soon attached their silken webs and spun their silken cases. After 10 days, Olive placed the cocoons in a large pan of water on a small kerosene lamp stove, and without allowing the water to boil, which would damage the silk, the threads were loosened. Each cocoon provided 1 long single thread, and from 5 to 15 of these single threads were passed through a special reel, to wind them together like a tiny rope, thus making silk thread.
Olive had a friend named Armand Hoff, a convert from Germany, who was the skilled artist in the weaving of silk. From him, Olive learned how to weave silk, and when wearing her silk dress or shawl, thrilled at her accomplishment. The white silky lace worn by Olive in the colored picture that we have prepared was made from silk prepared by Olive at her own hand.
This story is from a Family History in the possession of Louise Tenney Lisonbee
of Orem, Utah. Ann Lewis copied by permission July 2003.