A Fine-Silk-Thread Saga: Part One

Drum - Beamimg Raddle
I have been fascinated with stiff silk—raw silk—undegummed silk for a few years. These threads and fabrics are not silky but crisp. Silk organza is an example. On a trip to Japan with Yoshiko Wada we found a few skeins of it and I grabbed them. They were lovely in the skeins and I didn’t notice how very, very fine the individual threads were! When I tried to wind the threads from a skein onto a spool it was a nightmare: threads broke, I couldn’t find an end etc., etc. I asked Takako Ueki, owner of Habu Textiles in New York, how to wind off fine threads and she said she would do it in her store, when I got a skein back it was on about 10 cones—I guess she kept starting over and over when threads broke. (It was expensive.)

Now I want to weave with that silk thread. The previous fine silk threads (enormous in comparison) were on spools (much easier) and collapsed when wetted or dyed. Now I want to weave and dye the cloth with indigo—hence the undegummed silk was needed.

I wound my previous warps with 10 spools at a time so I thought I would with this fine stuff, too. Snags, broken threads, cones messed up—all kinds of problems. So I tried 6 and finally ended up with 4 good cones and made a 10-yard warp. I have a wonderful warping reel with a heck block and leaser so winding with multiple threads is efficient. I tied many, many choke ties before I took the warp off the reel—turned out unnecessary for these threads but critical for the previous warps with the threads that collapsed. I decided I had to recalculate the sett because the threads were so fragile and fine so I went from 96 threads per inch to 120.
Rattle Loading
This first photo shows me loading my 5-dent raddle with 24 ends per dent. I skipped a space after every 2 dents to widen the warp and with more threads in a dent they worked together so that they did not break. For the 24 threads I used 2 raddle groups, each with 12 ends. [be sure to click the photos to see the fine details]
Drum - Raddle on Loom
Drum with Choke Ties


I use a warping drum to hold the warp on tension while I beam. I clamped the raddle onto the loom and left the lease sticks in to keep the threads organized and in order in their groups of 24 threads.



Drum - Errant Threads One photo shows a few errant threads but all in all the threads did fine under the tension of the warping drum while winding it onto the warp beam on the loom. The first group of threads was the one where I tried 10 and then 6 cones and had the breakage, etc. I will discard that group I’m thinking—that snarled errant thread shows you why.
Drum - Beamimg Raddle
The drum is across the room in my studio—maybe 15 feet away from the loom. I have to push a lot of stuff out of the way in the studio to make room for the beaming process. I stand at the loom and turn the warp beam roller and that pulls the warp off the drum under a lot of tension. The warp looks really great on the beam—tight and orderly.

The final step in this part of my saga is at the end of the warp as it came off the drum.
Drum - End of Warp
This illustration is from Page 148 in the chapter: The Warping Drum in my Book #2, Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps which is now available again in PDF format. The rope to the drum is attached to the end stick which I put in the end of the warp and the lease sticks are in place—for the tread-by-thread cross. This I did today. Now the remaining part of the warp can be beamed and ready for threading the heddles. I think it will take a couple of weeks for that step—there are around 600 threads and sometimes I can’t even see them—just feel them. Wish me luck.

More Boros: Dying with Oak Galls and Rust

Oak Gall Hammer
I discovered these oak galls under an oak tree. I have always thought they were gorgeous—and that they make a nice dye, too. I’ve given away all my dye chemicals and pots but wanted to see what color they would give. I smashed some of the less-beautiful galls and poured boiling water over them and let them steep with a couple of scraps from my boro project—silks and cotton flannel. I soaked them over night and was not impressed with what I found the next morning. So I went to the internet and of course there were entries about dyeing with oak galls (and more about the galls). 
I discovered I needed to soak the cloth in a solution of rust and vinegar or lemon juice after soaking the cloth overnight in the gall and water solution. You can see what I’ve gotten so far. [click photos to enlarge]
Oak Gall - First Samples
I’m seduced with the subtle colors so far and want to continue experimenting with longer gall-soaks followed by longer rust soaks. So far I’ve just done overnight. The info said I should get black with this recipe but I’m very far from that. Greys and darker shades would be fine. The two darker pieces were light indigo dyed before I did the two oak gall processes. I think they have a lot of possibilities, too.
Silk Off LoomSilk Oak Galls
This before-and-after photo show the silk crepe cloth I wove before and after dyeing. It took the dye much stronger than the other silks. The cotton flannel hardly took any color at all. I think it was darker because the threads were undegummed silk—silk organza is made of this type of silk. I clamped the middle to make the resist that formed the diamond in the center.
Oak Galls and Rust in Glasses
You can see my “dye pots”. Dying in my tiny kitchen(ette) in the retirement place where I live is a challenge. I found a chipped latte glass and glasses from Starbucks and The Oakville Grocery. That way I can keep them separate from the glasses I drink from. I heat water in the microwave and stir with a chop stick. This is perfect for the small scraps I want to use in a new boro piece. On the left is a solution with just the pulverized oak galls and galls. The right glass has just the solution of rust and lemon juice (and some water) and some rust before it was pulverized. Getting the rust was a lucky break for me. I told a friend I needed some and her son chipped off a jarful of it with 2 cups of gorgeous rust. When I pounded the rust into a powder it worked much better giving darker results. Rusty nails or steel wool is supposed to work for the rust. Taking the photos was a challenge. Bob, my photographer and web guru, had me lying on my stomach to shoot me pounding the oak galls.
Oak Gall Peggy

Crepe Silk: Before and After Wetting

I’ve been using my crepe silk cloth in my small Boro pieces where the cloth is crinkled (collapsed) or shrunk because it was intentionally wetted in the indigo dye vat. I then wanted to show a friend what my cloth looked like before it got wet (off the loom). So, here it is: before and after the cloth was put in water. We show a close-up of both cloths. The original piece I wove was 5″ wide and after shrunk down to 3″. The two photos are super-imposed on each other. To see the change, move the slider back and forth.
Crepe - Before

Crepe - After

Indigo Dying in the Boro Class

Indigo Papers

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Yoshiko wanted us to be able to make our own indigo vats at home and her method seems doable, even to me. I am so excited about what we got in the class (and an extra day on our own) that I will surely make a vat of my own. You can see from the photos why I’m so excited. We did clamping and stitch resist and dipping multiple times. I dyed pages from an old Japanese book I have and scraps of my own weaving and a wonderful white  silk cloth that I bought long ago to make an outfit.The picture of the used clamps just look nice and arty, so I included it. More of our dying results are in the previous Boro class post.

A New Wrinkle for My Ruffles

Peggy Osterkamp - Ruffles in Motion
Peggy Osterkamp – Ruffles in Motion – [click to enlarge]

It was thrilling to see these little ruffles float and rotate in the air today when they were photographed. I am entering this piece in a show–deadline is day-after-tomorrow. I hope the juror likes it. (I don’t like being rejected). Submitting entries for juried shows is really hard for me. The technology needed to fit all the requirements is daunting. Thankfully I have wonderful help. A video is coming soon. It really looks nice as the components spin around independently.
Peggy Osterkamp - Ruffles in Motion-Detail 1Peggy Osterkamp - Ruffles in Motion-Detail 2

Mexico Day 9 – A Big Tree and Two Big Churches Today

> click to enlarge
> click to enlarge

We left Mitla after breakfast and drove north toward Oaxaca City, stopping at the Tule tree which is the biggest tree in the world and we all believed it.
Then we continued north up through Oaxaca heading northwest turning southwest at Nochixtlan. We were on an old north to south route across Mexico up to Alaska and down to Patigonia.
We stopped at two huge old churches built In the 1500’s by the Spanish. They both are being restored to a point. You can see areas that are gold and very decorative and much area that is just bare walls. Originally the walls were solidly decorated with paint and paintings. One is at the town of Yanhuitlan; the other at Teposcolula. And both are directly related to the history of silk in the region.
The Spanish brought over sericulture (producing silk). Mulberry trees had to be cultivated and raising the silk worms is a time consuming process. There was a huge boom and then bust when much silk was produced in Mexico and then when disease and competition from Asia destroyed the industry. These two churches were built by the Spanish during the boom years. One could only imagine how much money silk was bringing in at the time. High quality silk that was reeled from the cocoons was processed by the indigenous people while only the Spaniards were allowed to weave it. The indigenous people in the area wore silk sashes, however.

Mexico Trip Day 8 – Silk: From Cocoons to Weaving It

Girl in yellow weaving - Click to enlarge
Girl in yellow weaving – Click to enlarge

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Today we drove two hours on very winding mountain roads to a village in the Eastern Sierra Madre to the Zapotec village of San Pedro Cajonos where they raise silk worms, spin silk thread, dye it and weave it on backstrap looms. We walked down steps on the side of the mountain and came into this room where generations of people were weaving and spinning silk. The pictures of the village don’t quite convey how steep the mountain side is. The girl in the yellow shirt is 10 years old. She was one of the featured children in an exhibit the Oaxaca Textile museum put on two years ago when she was eight. Kids, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers were all part of the production. What used to be only women’s work is done by everyone now that it brings in money.

The silk worms are raised and the cocoons made and then they are collected after the adult moths emerge from the cocoons. That means there is a significant hole in each cocoon so the thread cannot be unwound in a long thread. Instead the cocoons are boiled then spun. The picture shows masses of cocoons dried after boiling.
Then the spinner takes a cocoon and separates it from the mass and teases it or pulls it apart until it is a mass of silk fiber. Then the spinner spins it using a spindle that is supported in a small bowl. The grandfather and grandmother sat and spun the whole time we were there. The pictures show how both of them went about the teasing and pulling apart and lining up the fibers before twisting them with the spindle making a thread.
After the scarves were off the looms the fringe was knotted in what we call macrame.
We went outside to the dye area where some of the woven scarves were dyed with natural dyes.
They used two types of cocoons. The yellow was a wild silk and the white made by commercially raised silk worms provided my the Mexican government. You can see there are some tiny hatched eggs on the yellow cocoon.
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Peggy Osterkamp

Saturday night was the opening reception and end of the TSA Symposium. For me it was glorious in every way. My pieces were in the most prime location: in the front window and the first thing to be seen in the show. When it got dark the lighting was great with reflections in the window.

I stood nearby and got lots and lots of nice comments. The nicest part was getting praise from other artists and people who knew me or knew my name.
> click photos to enlarge


Textile Society of America Symposium, Day One

Serena Lee
Serena Lee


I met two former students who are very accomplished.
Serena Lee, from San Francisco, was my Home Ec student when she was in the seventh grade. She is giving a lecture at the symposium about ethnic dress of the Lolo/ Yi groups across the Vietnam- China border. I heard her practice her riveting talk this morning. She leads textile trips to that area of the world and is an expert on the various ethnic costumes.




Laurel Wilson
Laurel Wilson

Laurel Wilson, PhD was my weaving student in New York where she became interested in textiles. Her dissertation is ” ‘De Novo Modo’: the birth of Fashion in the Middle Ages”. She is passionate about her research and has given lectures around the country. Her concentration is on 14th century and how the introduction of the horizontal pedal loom in the 11th century caused big changes in class structure , gender relations, and ultimately the birth of fashion in Western Europe. It was fascinating to listen to what all she had to say.


Zvezdana Dode
Zvezdana Dode

I sat under an umbrella this afternoon with Zvezdana Dode from Stravropol, Russia who I met on the Italy trip. She is working on a book : ” ‘Silk Horde’: Costume and Textiles of the Mongolian Empire”. She is also giving a paper here at the symposium and was so interesting to talk to.
So, there are a lot of experts here and everyone is passionate about textiles.


Tonight was a reception with the menu planned by Alice Waters. I was thrilled to have the rest of the world experience her local grown sustainable foods. There was an almost full moon and lots of interesting people. It was really nice when someone I didn’t know knew my name.
Full Moon Reception

Preparing for the TSA Show: postcards

The TSA show in Los Angeles is getting pretty close. Today we sent off the files for 4 postcards that I can hand out to people at the show and at the conference. We will drive down on September 9 to hand deliver my piece: Four Veils. I’m thrilled with the cards and am getting excited. New business cards are in the works as well.
Photos advance automatically. 

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The New Warp on the Drum

Silk Warp on Warping Drum - Peggy Osterkamp
Silk Warp on Warping Drum – Peggy Osterkamp

The warp was taken off the reel and rolled onto the drum. You can see the ties for the raddle (group) cross dangling at the end of the warp. Then the raddle was loaded. See the rubberbands on top so the threads don’t come out of the teeth.

Warp Loaded in Raddle - Peggy Osterkamp
Warp Loaded in Raddle – Peggy Osterkamp

The raddle was then clamped onto the loom so beaming could begin. The warp comes off the drum under tension, goes through the raddle and onto the warp beam. The drum is essential to keep all the threads under tension while I crank the beam. Directions for building a warping drum are in my book no. two “Warping your Loom and Tying On New Warps”.

Beaming with the Warping Drum _ Peggy Osterkamp
Beaming with the Warping Drum _ Peggy Osterkamp

A New Warp

Finally I got to my studio and made a warp this week. Another 10-yard one with the fine silk threads I used for the bookmarks, rullfes, and other sheer pieces. Here ae some details and the equipment I need for this fine and kinky thread. It kinks horribly if off tension a second. I warped with 10 spools on the reel that Jim Ahrens built and used. There is also a heck block which makes the path on the reel and makes the cross with two tiny shafts (called the leaser).

Because the thread kinks so much I had to use a creel that holds the spools horizontally. I had this built by a friend. I discovered to keep the threads in order and on tension from the creel to the reel I needed several lease sticks. That way if a thread broke, I could find it, too. I clamp the stick onto two boards coming out of the creel.

The heck block rides up and down on the two poles, attached to the floor and the ceiling.

By the way, the colors are fugitive–as soon as they are on the reel they all are the honey color with a tiny tinge of the original colors.

You can see the drum waiting beside the reel. That’s the next order in the process.
[click on first photo for slide show]

My Japanese Silk Reeling Print

Silk Reeling Print
I found this print while wandering shops in Japan. The shop was so tiny we had to remove our backpacks and go in single file. This print caught my eye immediately. I knew it had to do with reeling silk, but couldn’t quite figure out what all was going on.

[click photos to enlarge]

Silk Reeling Print Detail Reeling
Here’s the reeling of the silk from the cocoons.


Silk Reeling Print Detail Moths
Two silk moths – why are they shown this way? And is the hairdo significant?
Here is a scene but I wonder if it has anything to do with silk.
Here is a scene but I wonder if it has anything to do with silk.


Loot from Japan #1

Japan Yarn and Kimono
Here is silk thread I bought–and a lovely child’s under kimono. The really rough skeins in the bundle are raw silk made of the waste silk that is on the outside of the cocoons. I got it at a co-op where the framers took their cocoons to be unwound and made into skeins. The silk was reeled off of the cocoons by machines. It was fascinating to watch and the beautiful, shiny silk skeins being wound. I don’t know how the wide silk yarn was made, but I hope to find a way to weave something interesting with it.

I love the little kimono–we visited a woman who researched how the red dyes used to be made. Red for under the kimono was really a popular thing!

My Color Stash for Weaving

I’ve been planning a little lesson for my weaving guild about color—especially optical mixing. I’m going to show color wheels we are used to seeing and talk about using yarns and threads that aren’t on the wheels, per se. That is, not the vibrant, intense colors you see but what I think are more beautiful colors. I’ll show how beautiful colors are made and how to use them, using the information on the color wheels.

My spools of weaving thread - Peggy Osterkamp
My color stash of sewing threads.
Peggy Osterkamp
My color stash of sewing threads.Peggy Osterkamp
My color stash of sewing threads.
Peggy Osterkamp







Here is my color stash of sewing threads. I just picked spools of colors that I liked when visiting a shop in the garment district of Manhattan on several trips. I expected to mix them together and whenever possible I took colors with different dye lots. Variations in colors make them more beautiful, in my opinion.

A Weaver’s Knitted Sweater

Peggy Osterkamp’s Knitted Sweater
> click to enlarge

I love to knit mindlessly (or nearly so). This sweater I knitted using stainless steel and silk thread and cotton yarn. The yarns and pattern are from Habu Textiles in New York. If you don’t know them, please check the web for amazing things. I thought it would take a year but I’m now sewing the pieces together having begun the knitting in September. It was easy—all stockinet and easy to keep track of the rows for shaping. I hope to wear it to the opening of my show which is on January 8. We’ll see. At first I thought it would be too small, then too large. You can’t tell anything until you start sewing it together and trying it on the body. I think it will be just fine. I can’t decide yet whether to sew the side seams or let them loose. The stainless steel/silk yarn has a wild mind of its own. Any thoughts? Also, I’m not sure if I’ll block the stainless part—so far I only blocked the cotton areas.

Weaving the Ruffle

Weaving the Ruffle – Peggy Osterkamp > click to enlarge

Here is a close-up of what the ruffle I’m weaving is supposed to look like. Who knows, I may vary it, but this is the plan. I’ve woven ½ of it so far—74”. I’m enjoying it and the patience needed as well. I have to check for symptoms pretty often to catch a broken thread or let down the selvedge threads, etc. (I usually weight my selvedges separately.) The weft is so fine that it breaks when I pull the shuttle out of the shed fairly frequently. I thought about putting in a colored thread to mark all the weft breaks, but it became too cumbersome. I do repair the warp threads with a blue sewing thread. It gives a little variation, but it makes it so I can see what I am doing.

Peggy Weaving a Sheer Ruffle

Peggy Weaving a Sheer Ruffle – click to enlarge

The weaving is going along slowly. The fine, fine weft breaks, a warp thread breaks. But the warp is OK and didn’t tangle, thank goodness. There are 491 ends in about 5” width for 96 ends in an inch. The threading photo shows most of the threads treaded through the heddles. It was a 10-hour job. I was careful and there were no threading mistakes! Hooray! The 12-dent reed has 8 ends per dent. Repairing a broken warp thread is a serious issue. It would be impossible if I didn’t have the lease sticks in behind the heddles. They allow me to track where the thread belongs and find the exact heddle required.

A New (sort-of-old) Piece!

Ruffle Number 1: Turn it horizontally

This is my first ruffle, maybe a year or two “old”. Today a special friend held it horizontally–it looked fabulous! I’m thrilled to be entering it in an exhibit where there will be mostly painters. I think it will hold its own in the show. There will be 144 pieces. I’ll keep you posted. Be sure to look at it horizontally (turn it 90 degrees).

Detail, Ruffle No. 1: Turn it 90 degrees.



It’s Off the Loom!

Yellow sewing thread warp detail (click to enlarge)

My sewing thread piece is off the loom and ready for action. Here is a detail. There are so many ways to manipulate the piece that I’m letting it marinate awhile (if you know what I mean).  The hand is very nice and there is a lot of transparent area–all this pleases me. Stay tuned.