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Saturday, 3 March 2018

Silk Challenge


February 1st saw the start of DIY and Dye's silk prep along and spin along where we were encouraged to spin from silk - either pre-prepared, or prepared by ourselves.  That included reeling silk from whole cocoons, making silk hankies, dyeing them and spinning from them, or (one of my favourites because it's easy!) degum cocoons and then pull them into a cloud and spin from that.  Commercially prepped silk top or silk hankies was allowed.

Not to be left out on this one, I ordered some cut silk cocoons (these are cocoons which have been cut at one end and the pupa removed) on Etsy in January.  These were being sent from Thailand so I knew they wouldn't be here in time for February 1st, but I did hope they would be here soon after.  When the acknowledgement of my order came through they gave a delivery date of between 1 and 5 weeks!  At the end of the first week of February I caved in and ordered some more cocoons (whole ones this time - they still contain the pupa and the skin from its last skin shedding) from the UK with the intention of trying my hand at reeling the silk off the cocoons.  Each one consists of about a mile in length of one single strand of silk, very very fine.  It's pretty difficult to see just one strand, it's so thin.


100g of cocoons gives quite a lot - I think at least 150, so there's a bit of room for error!



I put about 40 pre-soaked cocoons (I soaked them overnight) into a pan of water and heated them slowly.  I then spent at least two hours trying to find "the one true end", not an easy task!  Each cocoon is surrounded by separate strands which were the framework that held the cocoon in place.  The silkworm then spins inside of that, gradually surrounding itself in silk.  The "framework" silk has to be removed before the "one true end" can be found!

To cut a very long story short, I really wasn't very good at this but did manage to reel off some of the silk.  Unfortunately, I lost the end on the skein winder that I was reeling it onto, and ended up having to cut the silk off the winder.  The following weekend I wasted spent another whole afternoon repeating the exercise which ultimately resulted in me cutting the silk off the skein winder again!  Here's what I achieved in about 7 or 8 hours, pathetic I know :-


The reason it looks a bit "stiff" is that it still contains the sericin (gum) which the silkworm used to bind all the strands together.  That's what makes the cocoon a stiff, solid lump.  It also looks quite coarse, but that's because I reeled off several strands of silk together and they've stuck into what looks like one strand.

I was so disenchanted with my efforts, I decided my silk reeling days are over, and I'll use the remaining silk cocoons to make silk hankies* - another first for me as I've never tried making them before.  Let's see what sort of a mess I can make of that!

*If you don't know what silk hankies are, each hankie is actually one cocoon which has been degummed and then stretched over a square frame.  One hankie is put over the last one until there's a nice thickness there.  These can then be washed and dyed.

In the meantime, I'd also ordered 100g of silk hankies and thought I might do a bit better with those!  Again, I've never spun with silk hankies, so it was another first for me.  I split the pile into two and soaked them in water for 2-3 days so I could dye them.  Silk doesn't absorb water very easily and I wanted them really wet through before I started to dye them.


The dyed hankies looked rather gaudy when I'd finished and I was a bit worried that I'd overdone it!  I'd used some of my favourite colours though so the worst that could happen would be I'd created clown barf!


When they were dry, I peeled off one or two hankies at a time, made a hole in the centre and pulled into an oval shape, a bit like a skein of yarn.  You then pull that apart at one point so you have a long piece of silk ready to spin.  I drafted some of these out before starting and wound them onto an empty toilet roll inner ready to spin.  The colours all mixed together and lost their brightness.  At this point I worried that the resulting yarn would be a bit wishy-washy.


Not a chance!  The spun yarn was beautiful (in my eyes anyway) and all the brightness came back.


For the second ply, I dyed the rest of the silk hankies in violet, leaving some areas undyed.  This is not a very good photo as it was taken at night, and the violet came out blue on my camera.  I've fiddled around with it on I-Photo to make it violet again, but still, not the best photo I've ever taken.


This one shows the colour a bit better :-


and here they are plied together.


I just love the way this silk yarn has turned out.  This is the first 100% silk yarn I've ever spun, so yet another first for me!


The skein hasn't been washed and measured yet, but I'm hoping I'll have at least 400 yards here so I can make something decent.

Congratulations if you managed to read all the way to here, but if not, I hope you enjoyed looking at the pictures!

By the way, look what turned up in the post the day after I'd ordered the whole cocoons :-


Another incidence of "sod's law"!!

4 comments:

  1. Wow! You're a lot braver than I am, and such a huge payoff. Your yarn is so, so beautiful, and I enjoyed reading your story. I learned a lot about silk, too, so I thank you for that. I hope you post your finished project - it's gonna rock!

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    1. Thank you!! Apart from my complete failure at silk reeling, I'm really pleased with what I achieved.

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  2. It makes me so happy to see you try reeling... and I'm so sorry you had a frustrating experience. I'd be happy to offer help, if you ever want to try it again- I definitely have some tips and tricks that make it easier.

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  3. Oh thanks Michael! I actually read through your blog before I started. I wanted to do it right and thought you were the best place to look. The first attempt went wrong immediately I started reeling - I hadn't realised the edge of my pan wasn't totally smooth and ALL of the threads snapped! I then spent ages getting back the ends after moving them to a smooth roll-rimmed pan. I started off with 20 ends which quickly dwindled to 7 or 8; obviously hadn't found the "one true end"! Then, when I finished reeling I lost the end on my skein winder and couldn't wind it off! Disaster from start to finish. The second attempt wasn't much better. BUT, I'm sure I can use that silk for something!

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