The month of Love! Of course we had to spoil our Fiber of the Month Club Members with Luxurious Fibers and a One of a Kind spinning tutorial. Members received a Chocolate Covered Strawberry scented box filled with unique fibers nestled in a bed of Silk rose petals. We don’t mess around! This month we will be going over Silk Cocoons, De-Gummed Silk Cocoons, Hankies, where they come from, how they’re made, and what to do with them! Check out this video on Youtube to learn how to stretch your Cocoons to make your own Hankie!
WHAT ON EARTH?!
We’ve all heard of silk and some of us have been fortunate enought to have the chance to spin this luxury fiber, but where does this magical organic fiber come from?
The Bombyx Mori Moth is one of the most beautiful creatures to grace this earth with inspiring roots. The silkworm is the larva or caterpillar of the domestic silkmoth, Bombyx Mori, Latin for “silkworm of the mulberry tree”. This insect is incredibly important economically being a primary producer of silk! Breeding silkworms for the production of raw silk has been under way for at least 5,000 years in China, from where it spread to Japan, Korea, India, and the West. Domesticated from the wild silkmoth Bombyx mandarina. Domestic silkmoths are very different from most members in the genus Bombyx. They produce the finest and whitest of silk (mulberry, or cultivated silk) with their strict diet of Mulberry leaves and Osage Orange.
The silkmoth eggs take about 14 days to hatch into larvae. These Larva are constantly eating! These worms are attracted to the mulberry odorant cis-jasmone. Covered in tiny black hairs they feed until the color on their heads turns darker. This indicates the worms are about to molt. After molting the worms are white with little horns on their backs. This happens four times and the worms become yellow with tighter skin. These majestic creatures are now prepared to enter the pupal phase where they enclose themselves in a cocoon made up of raw silk produced by the salivary glands.
Inside the cocoon, where it’s protected, the worm has one final molt. If the insect is allowed to survive after spinning its cocoon, it releases proteolytic enzymes to make a tiny hole in the cocoon so it can emerge as an adult moth. Because these enzymes are destructive to the silk and causes the silk fibers to break down from over a mile in length to segments of random length, the cocoons are picked before hatching. To prevent the reduction of value the silkworm cocoons are boiled, making the cocoons easier to unravel, and the pupae is often eaten. A single cocoon is made of a single thread of raw silk from 1,000 to 3,000 ft long! The fibers are fine and lustrous, about 0.0004 inches in diameter. Anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 cocoons are required to produce one lb of silk. In China, a legend is told which explains the discovery of the silkworm’s silk. An ancient empress Lei Zu was drinking tea under a tree when a silk cocoon fell into her cup. As she picked it out and started to wrap the silk thread around her finger, she felt a warm sensation. When the silk ran out, she saw a small larva. In an instant, she realized this caterpillar larva was the source of the silk. She taught this to the people and it became widespread. Many other legends continue to be told about the magical silkworm and its origins.
There are many ways the silk you purchase was produced. Silk is available in many forms on our website: Raw Silk Cocoons, De-Gummed Silk Cocoons, Combed Top, Silk Caps, Noil, Silk Roll, Dyed Top, Spun Yarn, Recycled Sari Silk, and more!
Silkworms possess salivary glands, one of which secrets a gummy binding fluid called sericin which bonds the silk fibers together to form the hard cocoon. In order to use the cocoon, you must boil it in a solution of hot water, soap, and washing soda for about 15-30 minutes. This softens the cocoons and de-gums them. The cocoons can then be reeled or stretched into silk hankies/caps/bells.
To reel the fibers from the soft cocoon, attach the filaments of 4-8 cocoons to a swift and slowly wind to unravel the cocoons. To make a hankie stretch the cocoon over a square frame and repeat the process making layers of silk.
What is your favorite way to produce silk from cocoons? Cocoons can be dyed, cut, stretch, and used in felting projects as well. The possibilities are endless.
Dyeing and Spinning Silk Hankies
Silk is a protein fiber that takes dye brilliantly! I used Country Classics Dye to get the results above. There are many video tutorials on youtube on all the different ways you can dye silk hankies and how to spin them. I’m going to share with you the technique I chose. First I let the hankies soak in a dye bath overnight. The dye bath consisted of lukewarm water, a splash of vinegar, and a splash of liquid soap. I submerged the hankies in the dyebath overnight to let the hankies fully soak up as much water as possible. Silk takes a long time to absorb water, you’ll know when its ready because the silk will be translucent. Next, I prepared my dyeing area. For this you’ll need saran wrap, dye, a towel, a dye microwave, gloves, and your hankies. I pulled my hankies out of the dye bath and squeezed as much water out as I could and set them on a pull of saran wrap. Next, I mixed my dye in squeeze bottles. I used about a tablespoon of dye and 2 cups of water and shook. I chose three colors: Sangria, Deep Purple, and Forest Green. Squeeze the dye onto the hankies in any pattern you want, I chose stripes! Flip the hankies over and make sure you fully saturate the hankies with the dye leaving no white spots. Finally, I wrapped my hankies, about .5 of an oz, in saran wrap leaving no holes for the dye to escape. I popped it into the microwave and nuked it for 1- 2 minutes. Be careful when removing as it will be very hot! Also make sure you are not using any equipment that you use for food. Once I let the hankies cool for about 1 minutes, I unwrapped them and rinsed them in cold water until the water ran clear. Silk will not felt like wool will so you do not need to be gentle during this process. Let your hankies sit on a towel to dry overnight and TADA! You are now ready to spin them!
Silk hankies can be very intimidating to spin but once you get the hang of it, its not so scary! Wearing latex gloves, or exfoliating your hands before handling the silk will save you the headache. You will want to pre draft your silk hankies and make little birds nests before jumping on your wheel or grabbing your spindle to spin, here’s how!
The fibers are 6″ or longer, so holding your hands further apart will make drafting the fibers much easier. You can knit, crochet, spin, felt, and even weave the fiber in this form. Attach the fibers to your spindle as you would any other fiber and begin spinning. Practice spinning the fibers long draw. Because of the staple length of the silk, this method will be most effective. Spin the silk with high twist and be mindful of fly aways! 🙂
Crepe Yarn Recipe
Crepe yarn in an excellent way to create a unique art yarn without all the added bits and bobbles. The yarn is smooth and round and is full of pebble-like texture! To create a crepe yarn you will need to spin 3 singles. You can choose any fiber your heart desires for this. We chose to spin the silk hankies, merino, and yak blend in our February Box.
A basic Crepe Yarn uses a 2-ply and a single. The 2-ply is spun Z in the singles and over plied S.
The single is spun S with enough twist to make a regular balanced ply and plied Z with the original 2-Ply.
For the 2 singles plied we spun 1 bobbin of the Merino Fibers: Cyan & Dresden. I mixed up the order I spun the colors and even held the two colors together occasionally to create a candy stripe section in the yarn and then continued to spin end to end adding the candy stripe sections throughout.
For the second single I used the delicious Yak/Merino/Silk blend. This blend is one of my favorite special luxury blends we carry at Paradise Fibers. Its 60% 21.5 micron Merino Top, 20% De-Haired Tibetan Yak Top, and 20% Cultivated Silk. I thought the natural silver/brown color tones would look lovely next to the vibrant merino. This fiber can also be overdyed for beautiful color results! I spun this single by pre-drafting the roving into smaller pieces.
Now that I’ve spun my 2 singles for the 2-ply part of my Crepe Yarn, I’m ready to Ply! I used the Paradise Fibers Tensioned Lazy Kate and the Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel with the Ashford Basic Jumbo Flyer. Since I was working with 2 bobbins with 3 oz. of fiber on each I needed a Jumbo Flyer and bobbin to fit all the yarn. I overplied these two fibers together S.
To create the crepe yarn I plied Z with the original silk single and the 2-ply. I played around with different techniques with how to hold the yarns. The single traps the 2-ply which pushes out between the singles as it untwists and expands on its second ply.
I had enough extra yarn left over to make a mini skein with the silk fiber plied with the yak blend! Here are the results of my yarn. I ended up with approximately 150 yards with the Crepe Yarn, and 50 yards on my mini 2-ply skein.
Crepe Yarn is a great way to mix it up and create something interesting that is full of texture!! This was my first time spinning a Crepe yarn and won’t be my last! Have you spun Crepe Yarn Before? Share your experience in the comments section below! Want to receive curated boxes of fiber with a recipe like this every month? Sign up for our Fiber Club Today and Join the Discussion on our Ravelry Page! We aim to inspire you every month and get you out of a creative rut with our themed boxes of goodies!