The writings of Confucius and Chinese tradition recount that, in the 26th century BCE, a silk worm's cocoon fell into the tea cup of the empress Leizu. Wishing to extract it from her drink, the empress began to unroll the thread of the cocoon. She then had the idea to weave it. Having observed the life of the silk worm on the recommendation of her husband, the Yellow Emperor, she began to instruct her entourage in the art of raising silk worms, sericulture. From this point, the empress became the goddess of silk in Chinese mythology.

Empress Leizu is attributed with inventing the silk reel, which joins fine filaments into a thread strong enough for weaving. She is also credited with inventing the first silk loom. It is not known how much, if any, of this story is true, but historians do know that China was the first civilization to use silk.

Though silk was exported to foreign countries in great amounts, sericulture remained a secret that the Chinese carefully guarded. Through opening the Silk road, this knowledge of sericulture was starting to spread to other countries. Silk production and sericulture was spreading to Japan on 300 AD and to Byzant 500 AD. After this it was spreading to Arab countries and Europe.