16 May 2012

How to make silk

Photos from an interesting article at Wormspit, delineating how to make silk from the cocoons of silkmoths (in this case, Polyphemus).  Above is a bowl of empty cocoons from which the moth has emerged.  They do so by dissolving a hole in the end (for commercial mass production the moths are - unfortunately - killed before they emerge, so that the resultant silk strands are unbroken and longer).

The photoessay at the link shows a number of stages for cleaning the cocoons of adherent leaves and debris.  The next step is the stovetop -

- where the cocoons are cooked to remove the "gum" the larva uses to make the silk strands stick together.  When this process is complete, one is left with a mass of tangled fibers, which can be untangled more easily after fabric softener is applied.

The "untangling" is probably the most difficult part.  As with many other fibers, the process involved is carding:

More intermediate steps at the link, then after the carding comes the spinning -

- described at the link as follows:
The short bits and noils are caught in the teeth of the carder. I card these together with the shorter fibers to make a very light rolag. This spins up into a much lumpier, but still usable, yarn... I made just a couple of quick samples with the silk. On the left is the fine yarn - about a 2/50's or so. The combed fibers are easy to use to spin a very fine, even shiny yarn. On the right is the noil yarn, made from the rolag.
Fascinating, and some new words for me to look up - but not today, because I'm in a hurry to get outdoors on a glorious spring day.


  1. Have you seen this, too?

    I did this once at a friends. It's the most amazing thing, and if you're not careful, very, very sticky. We ended up pulling 12 threads at a time and wound them onto tubes (empty paper towel rolls cut in half). The resulting thread was passed of to a spinner to be spun and plied, which she did expertly.
    I believe my friend will be dyeing the thread and using it for embroidery or buttonholes.
    (You can find some of the dye recipes she works from on her page:

    1. That's interesting, too, but as a butterfly/moth enthusiast (rather than a fabric enthusiast), I don't like the part where the pupae get drowned or boiled alive in the cocoon.

      But I understand it's necessary to obtain long fibers and that the larvae are grown by the millions for this purpose.

  2. right now i have about 1000 silkworms in the last instar who will begin to spin cocoons in 10-14 days...exciting!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...