Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Hankies not to be Sniffed at

Each year I buy silk cocoons to give to 'children of all ages' when showing and talking about silk and silkworms. Occasionally I make use of them myself in my craft work.
The silk can be reeled from the cocoons for spinning into yarn once the end, actually the beginning, of the fibre is found. The silk can also be 'harvested' another way. That is by making silk hankies. Here is a number of such silk hankies bought from a supplier.

This picture shows hankies that I have made recently in my endeavours to find the most efficient way to make these Mawatas (Japanese for stretched cocoons)and a quantities of ingredients for the softening/degumming solution.
The cocoons in this picture are little use for mawatas, they are 'spent', that is the moth has hatched and there is a hole in the cocoon, made by the moth on hatching. This may have caused the fibre to be broken. I may well try some in my experiments.
Spent cocoons are not used in the reeling process because of the collar of built up fibres and 'glue' (serecin, the gum produced by the silkworm to bind the cocoon fibre together). This could cause the fibre to break at the collar and make the process less efficient, but, as I am going to dissolve the gum, I may be able to produce adequate hankies.
Once my experimentation has produced enough hankies I propose to spin them into yarn. I may even dye the hankies before spinning the fibre.
Watch this space!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Time Flies

Is this really my first post for this year?
I know we have had internet connection problems but have often thought of 'things' to post about and I hadn't realised that I'd not written anything yet in 2011.

A few weeks before Christmas I had an idea that I'd like to dye some self stripping silk yarn. I had seen some in a yarn shop when shopping with a friend but thought I'd like to have my own colour combinations. How could I achieve this? I had run a workshop with Beds WSD guild when we had dyed some sock yarn so that when knitted it would give self striping socks, but this had meant making several small, joined skeins on a peg frame, tyeing each one so that it didn't get tangled and dyeing in the microwave. It worked well but I want subtle graduations of colour in yarn that could be used in weaving and/or knitting.
One day the idea came to me that a knitting machine would be useful in this project. Where to get one? I needed to find a kind friend with one or acquire one cheeply, as this was just an experiment.
Next day, at a craft fair, I was talking to a couple who had admired my weaving and inconversation I told them of my idea. Surprise, surprise!!! The lady had a knitting machine to dispose of. Even more surprise, when she said she didn't want anything for it, she was decluttering and had another anyway.
On the third day we were all free and so I was able to collect the knitting machine.
This seemed to be a good omen!
After replacing some warn parts and cleaning the machine, another friend came to show me how to use it. I only needed the very basic information.
I got on and knitted some 'blanks', knitted rectangles of 100g of silk yarn. These were soaked overnight to make sure the yarn was thoroughly wetted through and would take the dye, which I applied across the knitting in stripes, encouraging each colour to mingle a little with the next, so there were no definite lines. Once the dye was set and the knitted piece washed, rinsed and dried, I pulled out the knitting, wound the yarn into a skein and steamed out the kinks from knitting. The silk yarn was ready to knit, but into what?
I weave scarves and shawls and have knitted a few recently, so, on seeing that one of my cushion covers was showing signs of wear, decided to replace it, the cushion at the bottom of the picture is the result.
The top square cushion is worked with a finer yarn, 50/50 wool and silk, in a pattern called moss stitch chevron. They have both been admired and I am pleased with the result so, now - more yarn to be machine knitted and dyed. Maybe some of it would be great for a scarf weft. A change from my usual habit of space dying the warp.