Firstly, a huge thanks for Michael of wormspit.com for allowing me to link to his wonderful website. If you're curious about sikworms, and producing cottage silk, that's the website to go!
My aunt recently sent me a bunch of pre-emptied eri silkworm cocoons from the samia ricini moth. I'd never handled silk cocoons before, but I'd seen my aunt raise "worms" so I was curious to work with them.
I feel sort of bad that only a handful of mating pairs are allowed to survive to adult moth-hood, but as this is a supplemental income for many women in farming families of rural areas, AND the caterpillars are eaten as a side dish in traditional cuisine- it's no worse than rearing chickens for eggs. /moral dilemma
Anyway, So I have these cocoons, and the question is now what to do with them. As I know next to nothing about working with silk or even wool, I obviously made a big mess with my first attempt of spinning with silk.
Then, my cousin vaguely mentioned that she once saw another cousin just pull the cocoon into a yarn.
After several tries, I began to understand the process. So if you just happen to have some silkworm cocoons, and you want an easy (lazy) way of making a rough spun silk yarn, you can try this.
Also, the technique I'm using is, (I think) a good way to get thread out of found wild silk cocoons where the moths may have already emerged. If you're the outdoorsy type, wary of mass produced silk, and you visit the woods frequently, keep an eye out for cocoons. Wormspit has a very good guide on the types of moths you might find in your area.
Step 1: Ingredients and Equipment:
* Cocoons (I'm using 25 cocoons of varying sizes for the degumming demo) - My cocoons have slits on one end from where the caterpillars were pulled out shortly after they'd finished spinning.
* 1 teaspoon of Lye - wormspit has a different recipe for degumming, but I'm using what I have at hand - in this case, home made lye from banana plant ash. Lye is easy to make (an instructable here), but you can also purchase it in powder form.The lye I'm using is cooking grade, so quite mild.
*1 teaspoon of Baking Soda
*Small/medium Pot, depending on how many cocoons you have to degum (preferably a non reactive pot- your aluminum ones will turn black)
*Pencil or pen with a rounded end (optional).
*Bowl or any open container for water
Step 2: Degumming!
I'll link to wormspit again to explain what degumming is because I'm lazy.
Fill a pot with water about 3/4ths of the way. Mix in the lye and the baking soda. Next, put the cocoons in the water and push them in until you squeeze the air out. Be sure to wash your hands afterwards as the lye can be an mild irritant. (The lye I used is relatively safe and mild, and is used to soften dried fish and pork in native cuisine).
Heat contents to almost the boiling point and then turn down the heat to low and leave it to simmer for 10 minutes. Keep the pot covered . Occasionally press down the cocoons with a spatula or some other utensil. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and go do something else until the contents of the pot have cooled down completely. You can leave it a bit longer if you want. I had a dental appointment.
Step 3: The Washing
Next, place the cocoons in a sieve and rinse under the tap. Press down enough to squeeze the lye water out. BE GENTLE. you do not want the threads to get all tangled with rough handling. Don't worry about getting it absolutely clean just yet. You just want to wash out the lye so that it doesn't irritate your skin. In fact, a bit of gum probably helps with the spinning process. After rinsing, place the cocoons in a container of clean water. Keeping them in the water will make it easier for you to get the cocoons out without too much tangling.
Step 4: The Spinning!
Now comes the fun part. Take one cocoon, squeeze out excess water. Insert a pen or pencil inside the opening of the cocoon with the rounded end.
From the bottom end of the cocoon, pinch a bit of the silk and pull downwards a couple of inches. Then spin between thumb and forefinger. Pull another couple of inches and spin again. Keep repeating this process until you don't have any more cocoon left. Then hang the yarn somewhere to dry.
Update: I finally got around to making a video of the spinning process.
Step 5: Keep Spinning!
Different silkworms will produce different amounts of silk. The cocoons of the samia ricini have produced yarns varying from a yard to three yards.
The photos don't do it justice, but the rough spun yarn has lovely gloss to it and what's nice about this technique is that there's very little waste.
Hope you've found this instructable useful!
Step Four: Side note My end objective of this project is to weave a poncho with 6"x6" patches. I figure I will need about 25 patches. Will I succeed? Will I have enough silk? Will it take five million years? Will I run out of patience? Only time will tell!