6/28/09

Sunday Morning Fiber Photos: Silkworms

Good morning, everyone. It's time for this week's installment of Sunday Fiber Photos, with Kate! My mom is going to skip this one, because silkworms freak her out. Silly Mom.

Have you ever seen a silkworm face-to-face? No? Well, here you go.

Kind of ugly, but not unbearably so. It would freak me out if I woke up with one next to me, but if I was just looking...

Silkworms lead the same life a normal caterpillar does; that is, they hatch, eat a lot, make a cocoon, sit for a while, hatch again as moths, mate, lay eggs, and then die.
What a lot of people don't know (I certainly didn't for a while) is that silkworms' silk is not spun from their body like spiderwebs. It's harvested from their cocoons.
When a silkworm makes a cocoon, you boil it in water and the silk threads will start to unravel. From there, you find the start of the cocoons, attach them to a winding stick--or something similar--and unravel. These long strands are uselessly thin for textile use, and so multiple cocoons are unravelled at once in the process, called reeling. Once reeled, the threads are "thrown", which is a fancy word for "twisted."

The reeling-and-throwing leaves behind a certain amount of unusable fibers known as schappe. The schappe is the fiber that is cut into uniform lengths, carded and combed, and then sent out to whoever wants them some silk. Most handspinners use schappe when they spin silk.

Silk is generally clean enough to spin without any prior cleaning, and usually any washing is saved until after the silk has been spun. It can be treated the same way as wool: carded or combed to get the fibers into order. Most people suggest, though, that you comb it to emphasize the luster of the fibers.

As a side note, silkworms' favorite post-hatching meal? Mulberry leaves.


Next week: qiviut. I just like the word.


53 comments:

Donna Lee said...

You were right, I should have skipped that photo.....

Silk is not one of my favorite materials. Maybe subconciously I see those worms....

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