Surprise! A Shirt that is Made of Silk


I became intrigued with my new shirt and started going down a silk “rabbit hole”. Then I wondered if I had already written about it. I found I’ve made 25 silk posts already! Here is a link to “Raw Silk or Noil?”  from August 8, 2022. HERE I went down the rabbit hole about silk in 2022! There are a lot of interesting silk subjects. Put silk in the search box on my home page.

I bought this jacket at a flea market in Tokyo last fall. The price was right: $3.00 it had been in a heap, but after I took it home and washed it, I was very happy with the look.

At home, a non-textile friend saw it and asked what the fabric was. I hadn’t paid any attention to that (I’m surprised!) and said cotton? She said it looked like raw silk. That alone embarrassed me so I began to think she might be right.

It was obvious that the fabric had a lot of slubs. I had heard of dupioni silk where the silk is reeled from double cocoons. I was hoping that my fabric was that, but alas, it sure didn’t look like what I read when I looked it up in A Silk Worker’s Notebook by Cheryl Kolander. “ It is regular, in the main, but every so often large slubs from where the two cocoons were joined are brought up into the yarn. Fabric woven from it is considered very subdued and elegant in a robust sort of way.”

So, I looked up raw silk and noticed a box titled “Raw Silk”. And I quote: “Unbleached, cultivated silk noil fabric is very popular under the name “raw silk”.

Noil silk. It has very short fibers left after the longer staple silk has been combed out. It consists of smooth fibers 1” and shorter, mixed with little tangled balls of fiber. The flecks are  also the crumbled remains of the chrysalis, that horn-like envelope that encloses the transforming silk caterpillar inside the cocoon. (Also, from Kolander.)

The jacket has the drape and feel of a medium weight cotton shirt. AND it is officially silk noil, not raw silk. The warp—cotton??

Silks Part Five: Kibiso Silk

Several years ago Yoshiko Wada gave me some of this kibiso silk to experiment with. Then on a trip to a silk farmer in Japan, I asked for some. I was shocked when he presented me with an armful of 6 or 8 huge skeins of it. It’s the waste that is taken off the outer part of the cocoons. I’ve never seen a cocoon with this waste; it must be removed right away.

Here is a close up of one area of the skein. You can see there are finer and thicker areas. It is very stiff because the sericin is still on the filaments.

A close up of another area of the skein.

Here is a close up of an area of a hanging I wove with it as part of the warp. I didn’t put the kibiso threads in heddles but put them in between them. The threads didn’t go up or down but stayed in the middle of the sheds. When I wanted them on top I put the shuttle underneath the threads. When I wanted them underneath, the shuttle went over them. That is similar to how floating selvedges work.

Here is a close look at the loopy area.

Here is the whole piece. I did weave more small pieces and undegummed some of them. The fibers turned soft like cotton candy and the blue threads bled to dye them.

Silks Part Four:
Raw Silk or Noil? Which one is raw silk?

To quote Giovanna Imperia in our post dated July 5, 2022 found HERE:

“The filament from the cocoon is covered in sericin — which is a protein gelatin produced by the silk worm to bind filaments while making the cocoon (Think of it as worm spit). It is not removed from the filaments being reeled to add strength and minimize breakage.

More from Giovanna.

To quote Cheryl Kolander in her book:

“Raw Silk”
Unbleached, cultivated silk noil fabric is very popular under the name “raw silk”. This is a misnomer: true raw silk is silk which has not been degummed. The reason for the nickname may be that the noil fabric has the muted luster and lack of sparkles associated with true raw silk.

Oddly enough, it is the lack of luster of raw silk—both the true raw and the noil—that is their greatest asset. The matte finish gives them a casual look. They can be worn places and times where a sleek, lustrous silk would be too dressy.

Noil silks are also popular for clothes because they are very wrinkle-resistant. And noils spin a soft, bulky yarn that knits or weaves a lightweight but thick and substantial fabric.”

I bought this exquisite scarf from a silk farmer in Japan. The threads are single silk filaments.

A close up of the single filament scarf.

A close-up of a noil scarf.

Another shot of the noil shawl in the post on July 25, 2022. SEEN HERE

Silk Part Three

Here are more bits and pieces of silk information that I think are interesting.

This is a corner of a large cap (flattened out) made of layers in preparation for spinning.

You can see one thin layer pulled back and the interesting edges of the layers.

I’m sure I bought this just because it was so interesting. I’m glad I saved the label. 130 layers is a lot of layers!

During the pandemic I brought home this silk roving and my spinning wheel. Remember, I’m a weaver and not a spinner! Besides my wheel doesn’t like to spin fine; it’s better just as a twister. But since silk doesn’t draw like wool, I thought to give it a try.

My silk spinning with no instruction. I’m reminded of how proud I was when I learned to spin wool and my thick and knobby yarn! Junco Sato Pollack wrote and suggested having a bowl of water to wet my hands but it all seemed too much. I’ve taken the spinning wheel back to the studio and don’t plan to spin any more in this lifetime. In the meantime, I have some thick silky yarn for a future weaving project.

Here is some silk that Junco raised herself.

These spools are what I used for the warps for sheer fabrics and my ruffles. The color is fugitive–temporary—only so those at the mill could know which were S or Z spun or plied or overtwisted. Most are undegummed (stiff) and highly twisted. You’ll see how fugitive the colors are in the next photos.

This is the color those threads on the spools turned into as soon as they hit the air on my warping reel. The white “fringes” were from a silky silk (degummed) skein that I gave up on unwinding and just cut the skein and laid in the long threads.

The overtwisted character made for wonderful collapse pieces. I had fun with collapse and was careful to keep water away from anything I didn’t want to collapse.

My ruffles I made by weaving very long tubes and turning them partially inside-out. The sett probably was 96 epi at one repeat (8 ends) per dent in a 12 dent reed.

This is a skein a friend gave me of silk chenille. I dyed it with black walnuts. It’s so precious I don’t know what to do with it.

Silk Cocoons – Part Two

These are more natural silk cocoons. In Japan a man I met at a flea market has a business of selling natural fibers. These cocoons thrilled me!

You can see why the above cocoons interested me when you realize most cocoons look like these.

Did you notice the stem on one of the cocoons in the above photo? I did and found out that the silkworm MAKES the little twig that makes its attachment.

Here is a little bit of the silk fibers in a fluff along with the silk “twig”.

Here is a skein of yarn made from the silk twigs. I am calling this the baby bear yarn. A strand of 5/2 cotton is for comparison.

This is the mama bear size yarn.

This is the papa bear size yarn.

This is grandpa bear size!

Here is a lovely shawl made from the cocoons shown in the first photo.

A closer look at the fabric. It is soft and a joy to wear.

Silk Comes from Cocoons. I Find Them Fascinating

Many know that I’ve travelled a lot looking at interesting textiles and all things textile related. I’ve brought home many things that interest me. The other day a friend came to my studio for some kibiso silk for her artwork and then came back again for a cocoon. When I got out my cocoons I found a lot of things I’d brought home from China, Japan, Uzbekistan, and India and ?? This post is the first one about cocoons. Note: I’ll be selling my collection of textiles in San Francisco in November. Stay tuned.

We visited a silk growing place in Japan where they raised at least two different varieties of silkworms. There was a video showing how they saved some males and females for breeding. They showed putting a pair of moths under a domed basket where they bred then I think the eggs came and the moths died. These two cocoons made two different silks.

This scarf is made of two layers. Each layer was made from silk from a different variety. One layer is pure white and the other is yellow-ish.

These cocoons made the thread on the spool. The silk filaments were reeled off as the cocoons were unwound. The silk threads in the scarf above were unwound (reeled off) from the cocoons. The scarf is stiff which tells us the sericin has not been removed and is called raw silk.

In the case of the breeding cocoons, the “bug” (pupa) inside the cocoon  develops into an adult that breaks out of the cocoon as a moth. Since the cocoon is broken, the fiber cannot be reeled off. These spent cocoons were in a wastebasket in a mill where they were reeling off the silk. I helped myself to see what the cocoons looked like and was pleased to find one pupa. (The word chrysalis is the same stage as pupa but only refers to butterflies).

These cocoons were purposely cut open so that silk fiber cannot be reeled and must be spun. It means the moth can exit the cocoon on its own without being killed. However my understanding is that the moth soon dies a natural death.

On a silk growers farm in Japan we made hankies like these in preparation for spinning. The cocoons had been degummed, were wet, and had been cut open. We put our thumbs in the hole and  worked with forefingers and thumbs from both hands to pinch and spread out the cocoons into flat pieces like these. We draped them over a dome and piled up a certain number (maybe 12?) together, then removed them for spinning. These were called caps. If they were flat they would be called mawata.

Here are silk hankies on a small frame with several layers. I’m finding there are lots of ways to spin silk in the book “A Silk Workers Notebook” by Cheryl Kolander. Apparently, each method produces a very different type of thread.

Cocoons: Part 3

The photos in this post came from my post when we were in Okinawa. You can search on my home page for: Japan Tour 2017. Then scroll to Day 5.

We visited the artist Michiko Uehara and her daughter in Naha Okinawa in May 2017. She has exhibited in New York as well as in Japan. Here her daughter is showing how light this cloth is. Michiko reels her silk threads and weaves very, very fine cloth.

This cloth was woven with both warp and weft threads from single cocoons. In her catalog there is a photo of a cloth with threads of 3 denier. That means 1,5000,000 yards per pound. I’m not sure if that is this cloth or not, but you get the idea. That’s 1.5 million yards per pound!

This piece is double woven in a tube!!!

The Cocoons: Cocoon Scarf Part 2

This post is about the silkworm cocoons used in weaving this scarf that was also shown in the previous post.

In October of 2019, Cathy Cerny and I visited a farm in Japan where special breeds of silk that are too fine to raise and produce commercially were raised. Mr. Masakazu Akiuama is known for his fine silk. He is located outside of Miyazaki on Kyushu Island.

Mr. Akiuama’s specialty cocoons are shown on his business card. They are smaller and a different shape from the commercially grown ones I have seen before. Commercial cocoons don’t have the dent in the center like these do. Along with his card was a little envelope with 3 of the cocoons.

My scarf was woven out of threads made from single cocoons. The thicker threads came from another breed of silkworm. The larger cocoon provided those strands. The smaller one was what was used for the main part of the scarf. After I bought my scarf, he made sure to give me the two cocoons so that I would understand that the large cocoon was used for the thick wefts.

I used the macro lens on my iPhone to show the single fibers from each of the cocoons. Getting both in focus wasn’t easy but I think you can see finer and thicker single strands coming off the cocoons. The silk would be unwound off each cocoon in one continuous thread. That process is called reeling.

Cocoon Scarf: Another Two-shaft Idea

This is my 834th post! I began them in November, 2010.  Before that on my original website I had posted over 100 weaving tips. They are still available and used today on this website. For the last year Bob, my tech guy and I have posted nearly every other day. I enjoy making the posts and still have ideas for more. I love getting comments! Any suggestions for posts are welcome, too.

I got this beautiful, fine silk scarf in Japan. We visited the silk grower who showed us his refrigerated storage shed for cocoons ready for making threads. Usually, silk threads are made up of several strands—that is from several cocoons. His breed of silkworms are not grown commercially and his processing is not done commercially. His weavers weave these scarves with threads of single cocoons. I treasure my scarf so here are several photos.

My scarf is generous in size: 18” x 72” not including the fringe. In a pile about the size of a dinner plate, it is gossamer.

I love the structure, too. There are two breads of silkworms used. I have a cocoon from each one. The thick threads are from a different breed from the thin ones.

Of course the selvedges are perfection. I’m inspired by the structure. Putting that little thicker thread in regularly makes it so you notice the fabric.  Another two-shaft idea which doesn’t have to use such fine threads, of course.

A close-up. I find it looks really great close and at a distance. And, amazingly enough, it doesn’t snag on my sort-of-rough hands!

Here’s how the fringe was handled. Again perfection!

The Biggest Bag of All Bags:

I guess I am addicted to bags. This huge bag is from Japan. The silk farmers carried the cocoons to the co-op in them. I got it at the antique textile shop in Tokyo.

It’s made of paper. I loved the texture.

I noticed some patches that were made.

I think the paper is made of a variety of fibers because of the variety of shades of white.

The back had this seal on it.

This is India, but I used to have a photo of a Japanese man lugging a bag like mine full of cocoons over his shoulder. But this gives a sense of the size and the number of small cocoons it must hold.

A Beautiful, Unusual Silk: Gazar

I’ve been gathering interesting fabrics for a few years when I’m traveling and at home in San Francisco at Britex Fabrics—a fantastic place. I’ve had the idea of dyeing them with easy-to-use natural dyes. Even though my stash was pretty big, I bought quite a lot on my last trip to India. My tech guy had an eye opener when he saw how I shopped: “a meter of this, ½ meter of that, do you have anything really special, etc. etc.” We went to a shop that only had linen that I’d heard had fantastic prices and then to another large shop that had everything including ribbon and trim. By that time, I was thinking of making my scrolls as well as dyeing. (All those fabrics are still in the bag I brought them home in.) This fabric I discovered at a huge fabric store in New York where designers go. I was nosing around the silk area and someone pointed out that this particular silk once creased could never be ironed out. It is quite stiff and has a lovely sheen and complicated twill lines in the structure.

Today was my third attempt at ironing out the creases and gentle folds of my Gazar silk. Even though I asked the clerk not to fold it and put it in its own shopping bag, there were lines that had to be removed. While ironing today I saw how beautiful it was in the light as it draped off the ironing board.

Another look at it falling off the ironing board made me think of gorgeous wedding gown silk.

Here was my view while ironing. I often take the communal ironing board to the window in our 8th floor lounge. Today it was not only for the view, but for the morning light.

Here’s an example of tiny creases I was ironing out. The photo also gives a glimpse of the weave structure. I didn’t think of photographing the more obvious creases and gentle fold lines, but this is an example when I was almost finished.

This was the equipment I used. On my first attempt I only used a dry iron, with low, med and high heat which didn’t do the job. A neighbor down my hall suggested the technique I used last night and again today. Medium heat and a thin press cloth that I spritzed then tapped the iron on the cloth gently—tap, tap, tap over the spots that needed work. Then I ironed the little area I was working on without the cloth. I love my cordless iron. I think a regular cord would just muss up the cloth as I worked along. I kept spritzing, tapping, and ironing all over the “bad” places I’d marked with safety pins.

Now it’s hanging in my hallway with clothes pins on hangers. In the morning I’ll check if there are any more spots to work on.

For fun I’m showing you more of my hall outside my apartment door.

Silk Sari Weavers in India

In the town of Thanjavur in southest India we visited Sri Sagunthalai Silks factory. One of their specialities is weaving special borders on the fabric. They developed a technique so the join between the body and the borders was barely detectable by feel. [click photos to enlarge]

There were 5 or 6 Jacquard looms. Here is how the (two) Jacquard mechanisms were set up: one mechanism for the borders (with yellow cords) and the other for the body of the cloth with white cords. Each and every pattern warp thread was weighted separately so each thread could be lifted to make the complicated brocade pattern seen above. Each heddle was attached to its own cord going up to the mechanisms (yellow and white cords). One punch card was made for each row of weaving which the mechanisms operated to make the sheds. This inspired the develpment of computers; you can see why.

This shows the two warps for the body and a border. I think the shafts lifted the ground threads and the Jacquard lifted the separate pattern threads.

Here the woman weaving (wearing a sari) lifted the border threads with its own treadle. I think the Jacuard worked automatically when a shed was made. (You can see some of the weights below the border).

Another treadle worked the shed for the body of the fabic.

Here she was VERY grumpy when the Jacquard mechanism overhead malfunctioned!

A Gorgeous Silk Moire Blouse

I found this in a boutique in Shanghai. I loved it for the fine silk that just seemed to float—especially in the back. The boutique is called Heyan’er and there is also one in Beijing. We met the designer/owner: He Haiyan.  I discovered the wonderful moire patterns in the fabric after I got home!

Here is what it looks like in normal life. I discovered the moire patterns while I was ironing it.  What a shock it was and I knew it had to be two layers of cloth but I couldn’t separate them. I said to myself, “You really get to know something when you are ironing it.” Then I spritzed it with a bit of water to iron out some of the folds from the suitcase. Then I saw the tiny dots regularly spaced all over the cloth—tying TWO layers together to work as a single fabric. They don’t show unless you know to look for them.

The blouse requires something underneath so I took home this innocent looking tank top. (It was $70 – a shock when I figured the exchange rate but it was needed and was just right). Guess what?? When Ironed it I discovered it was a bit heavier but still double cloth with tiny tie downs!  Another luxurious fabric indeed. I wore it all day yesterday and I felt wonderful—and it barely had any wrinkles!

Dyeing Silks and Playing with Light

I’ve been weaving a lot of white lately, mostly silks that Iinherited from Ethel Aotoni when she died. I had the intention to dye them. The silk threads took the light differently whether you looked at them warps wise of weft wise. This fabric is a white 12-end satin. I tried to see if I could make it completely warp face with strong colored wefts. i.e white on one side and red or black on the other. When I had the fabric in hand I noticed that it changed color accoring to whether the warp or the weft was vertical. You can only see the borders and center when the light is just right. (You can see bits of white showing the warps peeking through on the edges of the squares I cut). These are works in progress, nothing is set yet. [ click to enlarge any photo ]

Here is what the red and white pieces look like when looking straight on–no borders or center color change.

This piece I dyed with black walnuts. Weaving the 12 end satin going in 11 stages from warp face to weft face. It didn’t look very interesting as a whole but I liked a lot of the sections. That is why I decided to cut the squares. Then I realized the light-play and came up with this design.

Another satin warp of silk dyed with black walnuts. I dyed the weft silk before weaving. Then I dyed the whole piece again in a light walnut dye with iron after bath. This photo shows how the light changes the darks and lights.

This was the first white warp satin I did and I couldn’t bear to dye it. It feels gorgeous, and I love the way the fabric takes the light.

Needle Book Mania??

I wonder if I have a “thing” about needle books. The first one I had I made in 4-H when I was 10. I never saw the use of it and never used it. Then I saw one my friend Mary Rowe had when I was in New York. I think it was her mother’s in New Zealand. It was the cutest thing I ever saw so I made one for my best friend’s 40th birthday years ago. She still uses it a lot of years later. [ click photos to enlarge ]

Last month or so a weaver/friend died and I took care of finding homes for her loom and stash. I found the most wonderful needle “cushion” in with her things. (The colorful one full of her needles.) It now lives on my new dobby loom. I had to weave some of my own! I’ve been dyeing with black walnuts so I thought I would dye the cloth and the pattern threads–what whimsy and fun that was. I made a lot for gifts when I travel. On the rest of the warp I had fun designing 4 new fabrics without changing the threading.

These are needle books I have lying around–in my sewing box at home and near my looms in the studio. In 4-H I learned that one needed protein fiber for pins and needles so they won’t rust. So all the pages are wool fabrics. (The new needle cushions are made with silk).

The round yellow crocheted needle book is like the one I saw in New York and made for my friend. The inner “pages” are made from scraps of wool overshot fabic I wove when I was an apprentice with Jim Ahrens.  The tiny heart shaped one I found in a sewing box at a thrift store–lovingly crocheted. The round, fat pin cushion with sashiko stitching I got in Japan and couldn’t resist it.

The last is a pin cushion I made and use now. We wove yards of this wool fabric in a production weaving class with Jim Ahrens at Pacific Basin School of Textile Arts in the 70’s. My inspiration was a pin cushion I got in Whales at a weaving mill  made from their scraps. The red book came from there, too.

My New Baby is a Cutie!

Now my studio really looks like a weaving studio. My newest loom is in the center. All my looms except this new sweetie were built by Jim Ahrens. Now the new one was made by AVL looms—the “A” stands for Ahrens, so all the engineering is related. The ‘V’ stands for Jon Violette, who began the company with Jim and the ‘L’ stands for looms.
Are you wondering what the other looms are that circle the new one in the center? Starting with the loom on the left and going around clockwise: 10-shaft, side tie-up, 4-shaft loom, 40-shaft dobby built by Jim Ahrens in the 1940’s, and my love, the 4-shaft loom made of bird’s eye maple wood which I have used exclusively for years and years. Going to 12 is a giant and exciting step for me!

Here she is—a real sweetie. I’ve been trying to reduce and give away things but this loom from Jan Langdon I fell in love with years ago. When she decided to down size, she said I was the only person who had longed for it. It is a 12-shaft dobby about 36” wide. Note that in the photo, my 10-shaft loom with a side tie-up is back behind the new loom. Small in a way but the dobby will increase my capacity for new structures greatly.  I’ve been wanting to weave a structure for years and finally decided to do it until I realized I would run out of treadles. The dobby solves that problem. Two treadles work the mechanism to raise the shafts. Notice it is on wheels—that has been very handy already. I just need a pillow on my bench.

Here’s the back of the loom. The dobby mechanism is on the left side in the photo.

This is the dobby mechanism. Each bar represents one shed or row of weaving.

A close-up shows the pegs in the bars. A special tool makes it easy to ‘peg’ each shed. The holes without pegs are the shafts that will go up. Since there are 12 shafts, there are 12 holes in each bar. When the right treadle is pressed, the mechanism raises the shafts for one bar—one shed. When the left treadle is pressed, the shed closes and the mechanism readies itself for the next shed. When all the holes are filled nothing will go up. It’s a way to mark the end of a repeat.

Here is the first thing I’ve woven! I wanted to shade the 12-shaft satin weave to go from only the warp showing graded to only the weft showing. The white warps are shiny spun silk (2 different yarns) and the weft is handspun silk from Bhutan that is not shiny.Then I dyed the piece lightly in black walnut dye. I was hoping the shades of the color would contrast more, to go in shades from light to dark–but that is what I’ll work on next. I thought the two yarns—one shiny and one mat would contrast more when in the dye. Lately I’ve been weaving cloth for the dye pot—really fun to weave and get my creative juices flowing.

I’m Bending the Rules

Here is my current warp on my loom! Just what I taught my students to avoid–unevenly handspun singles yarns that are lumpy and sticky for warp threads. This is silk yarn I brought back from Bhutan–mainly to show the tour group what handspun yarn looked like. I did use plied threads for the 4 selvedge threads on the edges and weighted them separately. I used 5/2 cotton but a plied silk might have been a better idea.

From Linda Heinrich’s linen workshop at Convergence in 1994 and from her book on weaving linen I learned how easy it is to size a warp on the loom. Before now I’ve always been afraid to size anything. Her recipe is 1 tsp flax seed (any kind will do) to 1 cup of water. Simmer 15 minutes and strain. Refigerate and use within 2 weeks or freeze.I brush on the sizing then strum the threads and then open the shed to dry. Don’t apply too much–sort of like dry painting but pat the threads to get the sizing to go through to the bottom of the threads.

This is the yarn on the skein. I’ve shown it before to show the cross  made in the skein. The threads are horribly sticky but with the cross the threads are coming off perfectly. There are plenty of soft-spun lumps and thin areas where it is twisted tighter. I knew from winding the yarn off the skein that the threads were strong–that’s what convinced me to try them for a warp. The stickyness would have prevented the sheds from opening without sizing I realized.

Here is the cloth off the loom and wet finished. I got the cloth really wet in the sink then blotted with a towel. And ironed until dry I love ironing and ironing until dry and I love the sheen I got with the totally mat yarns.

Here is the cloth I just dyed with black walnuts I collected last week. What frun all this is. I can’t wait for the warp to dry and begin weaving again.

I’m Weaving Again!

The fine silk warp at 125 ends per inch stymied me and I walked away and left it on the loom for a year and a half. I thenbegan dyeing. I knew there were enough threads left unbroken to weave so I began weaving with some heavier handspun silk from Bhutan. When I took off the entire warp, This piece is what I found had already been woven–and I loved it. Originally I was weaving a tube but had decided to weave two separate layers–hence this piece was formed! [click photos to enlarge to see detail]

Here is the cloth woven with the silk from Bhutan. I decided just to weave off the warp with it so I could cut it up to dye later with the natural dyes I’ve been playing with.

You may remember the skein from Bhutan from another post. The skein was unusual because there was a cross in it. Even this extremely sticky thread came off the skein perfectly.

Here is my latest peice–5 yards to try the new silk/retted bamboo thread I saw in Handwoven Magazine. I love it. I the twill warp face on one side and weft faced on the other so when I dye it I’ll have two choices of tones of color.

Weaving Again!

Today I started to weave again after over a year. It takes two swifts to hold the skein.

This skein of raw silk from Bhutan has a cross in the middle of it! I’d never seen such a skein before. However it really makes it easy to ball off the yarn because of the cross. This is definitely hand spun and sticky.

Here’s that hand spun yarn woven with my fine silk warp at 125 EPI.

I decided to try a fatter weft so the weaving would go faster. I may have a dog on the loom. I’ve spent so much time already with broken ends I can’t quite give it up yet. I think I’ll use the cloth to dye with my dyes I brought back from Japan. I’m weaving two layers at once. Well since I’m going slowly anyway, why not?

Japan Tour 2017 – Day 4

Day 4. We flew to Kume Island for the day and visited a spectacular place where they make traditional cloth from raising the silk worms, reeling the silk off the cocoons, tying and dyeing the warp and weft threads and weaving. It is the Kumejoma Tsumugi Museum.

Here are baby silk worms being taken care of I can’t remember why the women were taking off the worms and putting them in the boxes. I think they were in the process of feeding them. They eat a lot of fresh mulberry leaves and will grow to the size of a thumb.

Here the women are unwinding the silk thread from the cocoons. You can see how many cocoons are making a single silk thread.

Here the tied and dyed warp threads are being adjusted so the pattern will be exactly lined up for each and every thread. The little bobbin is putting a bit of extra tension on a warp to keep the thread lined up.

This is a small area showing how the dyed threads come together in the woven cloth. This tiny motif is precise and woven by one of the experts.


More Dyed Pieces

I took a workshop with Yoshiko Wada’s Slow Fiber Studios in Berkeley, California recently. We learned to fold cloth in origami-like ways and then we did arashi shibori (pole wrapping shibori) with the cloth and got these lovely simple patterns. The teacher was Chris Palmer and his book is called Shadow folds: Surprisingly Easy-to-Make Geometric Designs in Fabric by Jeffrey Rutzky and Chris K. Palmer.

I folded and dyed 11” silk squares I got already hemmed from Dharma Trading Company. This was my first attempt at arashi shibori and I used my own indigo vat. I am proud of the results for such a novice. They can be used singly or as a group as pieces for the wall or gifts.

I took small pieces I’ve dyed and made little collage compositions and mounted them on squares of dark indigo linen I got in India a few years ago.  We went to see the Matisse and Diebenkorn show yesterday and I decided to call these pieces “My Little Diebenkorns”!  They can be used singly or in a group, too. I have put similar pieces in CD cases to present them! They also could be little coasters or gifts.

Weaving with Fine Silk Threads

Finally! I wove a record of 7 1/2 inches the other day–in a 2-hour session. I think most of the repairs are done now and I can weave along. You can see how it is going on the video.

Here is a close up of the cloth with only one broken thread repair–hooray! I think I am finally on my way now. I make the repairs with colored sewing thread so I can see what I’m doing. Usually those threads will continue until the end of the warp so it will be a bit of a surprise to see what it looks like off the loom. I have about a yard done so far with the previous sessions averaging an inch or so each because of all the repairs that needed to be done. For each repair, I have to find the missing heddle and route the repair thread in the exact position where the broken thread was. I join the sewing thread to the silk one and weight it at the back of the loom. See a previous post of my set-up to weight the threads and keep them in order–keeping them in order is crucial so I have a cross on the stand where the weighted threads are.

Collages of My Dyed Fabrics

Each composition is made up of fabrics that were in the same dye pot. The differences in the tones are due to the different fabrics I put into the pot. I love these subtle “colors”. The yellows were from woad plants. The browns were from green persimmons over dyed with indigo. I especially find myself liking things that have almost no color at all. One of these is from oak galls. I can’t remember all the specifics but I like to put dyed fabrics in a bath of iron water to “sadden” the color.

Fine Threads, Oh, MY! A Video

Threading My Loom with Threads that are as Fine as Hairs

I’ve been threading the heddles now for a few weeks—about an hour at a time and when I can get into the studio. It’s such a meditative thing that I wanted to have a film made. I’ve never used so fine a thread before and I hope it can stand up to the tension and abrasion of weaving. This short segment is the beginning of the film I’m dreaming of. I hope we can put together the rest of setting up the loom and me weaving—and an end result. This time threading is both soothing and ‘hair’ raising—you’ll see why in the video. If you’re not a weaver and don’t want details, go to the video now.

The thread is so fine that I couldn’t get it wound off from the skein so I sent it to Japan for them to wind it off (my friend with the equipment in the US couldn’t do it). It came back on about 15 cones—each with a very small amount of thread on it. So even the experts had a hard time—so many cones means that the thread kept breaking and they had to find an end and start a new cone over and over.

I’m planning on 120 threads per inch—the threads in my other sheer warps have been only 96 ends per inch. That gives you an idea of how fine we are talking about—like hairs.

I thought I’d warp 10 cones at a time as I’ve done with the other thread. Well, things kept breaking and threads blew around in the air and I almost gave up. I did end up using 4 cones at a time. I could keep track of those and repair them every time one broke and find its own exact path to the heddles in the heck block on my warping reel.

I didn’t notice that the 4 cones weren’t in position to make a perfect cross so I ended up with a 2×2 cross. You’ll notice that in the video. Jim Ahrens taught us that 2 threads at a time can work but never more than that. (3 or more threads will braid up on one another.) I’m hoping that is true because every thread has a mate in the cross. The reason to use a paddle is so you can always make a thread-by-thread cross. In my case I have a heck block that does that job connected to my reel. I am lucky enough to have a warping reel that Jim Ahrens made.

Fine-Threads Saga Part Two: Threading the Heddles!

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Well, this job will take a good while, but I think it will work out. In my books I show a trick for threading that isn’t really a trick; it’s a technique I always use. Jim Ahrens taught it to us in our Production Weaving classes. What you do is put tension on the threads so they are taut when they are in the lease sticks making it easier to see which is the next thread. I usually use a 3 ½-ounce wrench for a weight (it lives in my apron pocket). WrenchI separate out a bundle of cut warp threads about the thickness of a medium-sized carrot to tension. When you select a strand to thread next you pull it out of the weighted bundle using the threading hook. This is described on page 71 in Weaving for Beginners and on page 51 in Book #2, Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps available now in PDF format.  [click any photo to enlarge]
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For these tiny threads I used very small fishing weights and tied many ties along the lengths of small bundles just so none of the threads flew around.Peggy post 7-24-15-3
You can see them hanging down at the back of the loom if you look closely. ( My loom is folded up for threading.) The fishing weights were from weaving velvet one time.


Peggy post 7-24-15-4 This photo shows the threads in the lease sticks. Peggy post 7-24-15
This photo shows the threads behind the heddles as they go into the heddles.
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These photos show the
threads coming out of the heddles.

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This last photo shows where I am so far—threads that are in the heddles and held to the side out of the way by a tiny ball of UHU removable putty.

These fantastic photos are by Bob Hemstock, my miraculous web guy.