Spinning Silk Hankies

I’ve been having a ball with this stuff. It’s so pretty, and easy, and . . . silky! Here is how I spin from a silk hankie. (I learned this from a great article on Knitty.)

Silk Hankie on a Pillow

Silk Hankie on a Pillow

Alright. Let’s start with the good stuff. These hankies are made up of lots of stretched cocoons stacked on top of each other. I read on a website that it takes about thirty to forty cocoons to make an ounce of silk, so this would be somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty cocoons.

I’m really curious to see if it’s cheaper to raise the silkworms yourself (assuming you have a ready supply of mulberry leaves) or just buy the preprocessed hankies.

I dyed this hankie in the oven quite easily in three shades of green and now it’s all dry and ready to be spun. The first question is, what do you do to get this spin-able? It’s quite simple, actually. On the edges of the hankie you will see little mini-edges. Grab one and start peeling.

Separating the Hankie

Separating the Hankie

The single layer (or double, as this one was) will peel away from the rest of the silk, leaving you with a very light, beautiful web of silk.

A Layer or Two

A Layer or Two

This stuff is so amazingly light it practically floats. As an added fun note, if you look at the separated cocoon very carefully you can find a patch of thicker silk. This, if I remember correctly, is called the “cradle,” and it’s either the first or the very last bit of silk the silkworm spins. I try not to think about bugs too much when I spin this—but it’s not hard to forget. Unless you happen to run across some sort of little crunchy object in the silk, which I did.

But setting that aside, you now have a gorgeous wisp of silk.

Then you do the unthinkable. You plunge your fingers right into the middle of that soft, lacy square and start tugging.

The Neat Part

The Neat Part

And as you pull, wonder of wonders, it turns into roving! No carding, no brushing, no nothing. Just pull and it does it for you.

A Baby Roving

A Baby Roving


Now, you have a nice little oval of silk that’s stuck together and tight. You could spin it, but it’s only about a yard long and it would twist like ribbon. I like to keep it in an oval and just start pre-drafting the whole kaboodle. Keep your hands at least five inches apart when you’re tugging, otherwise you’ll snap threads instead of loosen them.

Continue until it’s the thickness you want it to be. You can draft on the fly while spinning if you really want to, but I much prefer this, especially because I’m spinning it on the drop spindle.

The really strange thing about this stuff is that it looks so dainty, but it takes a very strong tug to draft. It’s quite surprising. And amazing how God created an insect that could make such neat stuff!

Pre-Drafted

Pre-Drafted

Ta-da! The finished, pre-drafted roving, ready to go.

Spin Away!

Spin Away!

If you’re using a leader string on you drop spindle, that’s fine, but if you don’t happen to have one, you can use the actual silk. Just snag the drafted roving with the hook on your spindle and give it a few twists. Once it’s tight enough, tie it on like a leader and start spinning. I’m spinning top whorl because you need lots of quick twist for efficient silk spinning.

The hardest part about spinning all this is keeping the roving from catching on anything and everything—arms, clothes, spindle, and spun silk included! If you’ve pre-drafted everything evenly, all you really have to do is keep the spindle spinning and feed it fiber. It’s almost easier than working with wool.

Spun Silk

Spun Silk

And once you’ve got enough on the spindle, stop and admire it. Then go run out and try to find some more hankies.

4 Responses to Spinning Silk Hankies
  1. outandin
    April 15, 2009 | 12:17 am

    Happy travels! Maybe when you return my afghan will be done! Just in time to be packed away till next winter . . .

  2. outandin
    April 29, 2009 | 1:51 pm

    Well . . . uh . . . you’re back and the afghan isn’t done. It’s close though!

    I don’t have your email so I’ll just tell you here–a friend of mine was cleaning out some stuff of her moms and she found a stash of crochet magazines and patterns and gave them to me. I really don’t anticipate using them so I have sent them on to you. If you’re not interested in any of them, please don’t feel guilty about throwing them away!

  3. Rebekah
    April 29, 2009 | 7:12 pm

    Oh my. Thank you very much!

    I have a stack of posts on their way as soon as I get pictures for them.

    I hope you’re able to finish the afghan really, really soon. :)

  4. Katherine
    July 8, 2009 | 6:54 pm

    This turned out beautifully! I love how it looks as spun silk. I bought some beautiful (undyed) silk hankies and am searching the web for what to do with them. I have some ideas – but I know I bought them for something specific (and cool) – but now I can’t remember what it was! Don’t you hate it when that happens??

    I came across your blog while searching – and even though I don’t spin, or do anything else with, silk, I had to have a look. Very cool tutorial you put together…and I love the green!

    Thanks for getting my muse going in a different direction! xx

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