Jaine Mahon of (Skye Silks) gave us a wonderful workshop on silk spinning via Zoom on the morning of 13 February. She started by taking us on a tour of her studio, showing us some of her lovely handwoven silk scarves, and other handwoven and hand dyed items, then on to spinning. She had made up boxes, beautifully packaged, containing a range of types of silk, which participants were able to buy beforehand. Jaine worked through these, talking about the production process, and showing us the most effective way to spin them. The pace was relaxed, with time for us to have a go at spinning each type of silk as it was introduced, and plenty of time for questions.
I took a lot of screen shots, so have divided the photos into sections. The first includes shots of the studio, then Jaine holding up some of the items in the pack: a cocoon; tussah silk which ranges in colour from light to dark honey’ eri silk – dark and woolly; carrier rods which are waste from the reeling process – these can be used for silk papermaking.
Cultivated silk comes from the cocoons of bombix mori moths, which are fed on mulberry leaves. The grubs inside the cocoons are stifled with steam so that the silk can be reeled off as one continuous filament. For spinners this silk is often sold as a top folded into a brick shape (a silk brick). To spin open up the brick, divide off a section and pre-draft it. Jaine recommended spinning from the fold (i.e. with a section folded over the finger) to give more control. She recommended this method also for tussah which also often comes as a top. Recycled sari silk (the blue top in the pictures below) gives a textured yarn, and can be spun from the fold or straight from the top.
Degummed cocoons need to be opened out then held gently in the hand while drawing out into a long triangle to spin as the fibre is very long. It can be spun very fine. Mawata caps and hankies consist of layers of degummed cocoons stretched over a shape. To spin separate off a layer, make a hole in the middle with your fingers and carefully (silk is strong and can cut!) widen the hole, pulling the cap or hankie into a large circle until the circle breaks; keep drafting to the thickness you want, then add twist.
The first three photos below show Jaine spinning noil, which gives a textured yarn. It varies in quality – some can be very short – and Jaine recommended getting a sample before buying a quantity. Floss is the final bits from the centre of the cocoon, and comes as a carded mass. It may need to be opened up on fine hand carders before spinning. To dye it needs to be separated into layers or the dye will not penetrate. Throwsters waste is a by product of the commercial spinning process. It produces a very textured yarn.
In the afternoon we had our usual craft, chat show and tell session. Anne and Isobel held up some textured silk spinning, Isobel a woven silk scarf, Hilma a collapse weave scarf in silk and wool, Sheila was putting the finishing touches to her woven blanket, Alison had one of her little woven baskets, Norah was spinning flax, and Sarah showed us a notebook with a lovely felted cover which she uses to record her projects. Both sessions were attended by around 30 people.