Silk Spinning with Odet Beauvoisin

Helenspinning reports0 Comments

The silk spinning workshop was held on a bright October day in the community hall in Strathpeffer as access to Dingwall was restricted by resurfacing works. Hilma had managed to relocate the event at the last minute but sadly, due to an injury could not enjoy the benefits of her hard work. Odet was an inspiring tutor and had brought bags of different fibres as well as enthusiasm.

At the beginning of the day Odet asked us to post up notes on what we hoped to achieve from the workshop. She had put up pictures of different yarns she had spun and different processes that were entailed and also had folders of information. She did not provide handouts but said there was a wealth of information available on the internet, some of which should be taken with a pinch of salt. She discussed the process of degumming raw silk but I did not pay much attention as I have enough problems cleaning my fleeces.

We learnt about the different sorts of silk available and were able to sample spin from different waste: noil, sari silk, throwster’s waste, spinning it neat or carded with wool. Different suppliers use different labels and the products also vary with how they have been processed so it can be confusing and supplies can be inconsistent. Some members had brought some of their own stashes and Odet gave helpful advice on how to use different forms of silk.

Odet described the difference between the two main types of silk – mulberry, wild or omei which is a fine cylinder and is usually white as the bugs are kept on mulberry which does not stain the silk. Tussah silk is produced by a larger moth and is two parallel filaments and may be more glittery but also can be off-white as the bugs feed on a variety of herbage. The differences are visible under a microscope or are reflected in price.

Later we moved on to using cocoons, hankies, caps and that was when the attention to sanding down and creaming our hands became essential; the fine fibres find little imperfections and cling on creating havoc as you tease out a gossamer thin hankie into a surprisingly long roving ready to spin. Odet demonstrated spinning a fine fibre. At least I think she was spinning but she could have been miming as the thread was so fine. Then, as if in a fairy tale and despite my gardener’s hands, I managed to draw out a fine silk thread from a cocoon. It was a wonderful feeling as this incredibly strong, yet nearly invisible, thread ran through my fingers and onto the bobbin. Then of course it broke which was when Odet said a magnifying glass was a useful tool.

Finally we were given some lengths of rainbow silk and wool blend that Odet had ordered from Winghams. The bright colours showed clearly the direction and degree of twist we were putting into the yarn. After spinning two different lengths we Navaho played the longer length and then produced a cable yarn by plying the two together. That colourful sample was labelled and added to the array I accumulated.

The conclusion at the end of the workshop was that we had all achieved our aims, exploring different forms, learning about their properties and how to use them. I had learnt new expletives – cocoon and nep up, – but I experienced moments of joy when the silk complied with my fingers and formed a wonderful yarn. I don’t think that I will be spinning much pure silk but I look forward to dyeing and blending it and being able to enjoy its wonderful properties. I am pleased to say that I am no longer scared of silk.

Serena Mason

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