Sunday, 3 June 2012

Making Silk Hankies

This past week was the Master Spinner 3 course, which was an off campus course, taught through the Olds College Master Spinner program.  We had an amazing group of gals registered and our instructor, Michelle Boyd, was a whiz with teaching technical intricacies of spinning.  I had wanted to photo document all sorts of things, but of course, that didn't happen.  Mainly, we were too busy writing notes, watching demonstrations or trying out those skills for ourselves.  The two days I forgot the camera didn't help either :).

One day we made our own silk hankies.   Michelle showed us how much washing soda and soap  to add to the pot of water.  As well, you have to remember to let the water come to temperature before adding the soap, add it gently and not agitate, so as to not have a pot overflowing with bubbles.  A lot of soap was added to that pot.  It was easy to have a cartoon vision of soap bubbles flowing out of the pot, if enough care hadn't been taken.

The cocoons are simmered in the soapy, alkaline water.  Here Michelle is showing us that they are still floating on the top of the water.  The sericin or sticky substance that the caterpillars use to hold the silk strands together when making the cocoons, is still keeping the cocoons shape.  When it softens and dissolves, the cocoons will flatten and sink.

Here is the yummy part!  When the cocoon is flat and soft, there will be dark spots in them.  Well, actually, a large dark lump and a small dark lump.  The large dark lump is the caterpillar and the small dark lump is caterpillar poo!  Once the bug and its poo are removed from the cocoon, we were shown 3 different ways to spread the cocoon over the frame we needed to bring with us.  I found the easiest way was to cut a slit in the soft, white mass, flick the bug and it's droppings out with my scissors, and then stretch the soft, white mass from corner to corner, diagonally on the frame.  Then it was easy to put the other corners on and attach the sides to all the little pins.

Here is my frame, with 10 cocoons spread on it, laying out to dry.  It dried quite stiff and a quick dunk in a sink of water, with a bit of vinegar added, quickly washed any residue off and left a very soft silk hankie to dry.  It's hardly thicker than a sheet of paper and really difficult to believe that there are so many cocoons in there.  I only know, because I counted that many bugs on the counter, beside me!

1 comment:

Woolly Bits said...

I did that job once, just to try it out! found that buying hankies saves so much time, that the money is worth it:) same for reeling silk, it's good to know how it's done - but to me it's one of those jobs best left to professionals:) and the smell of the "moth broth" is not something I'd want to repeat in my own kitchen.....