Lately I have been thinking about learning to spin silk. I bought myself a small lot of beautiful roving and spun it up on my wheel. It was smooth and easy to spin, it produced a gorgeous, lustrous yarn that took the bright orange dye so well it looked almost glowing. So I decided that silk is my new love (when it comes to fibre) and ordered some cheaper silk hankies, because the roving is anything but cheap. Me being me, I wanted to do the whole process from scratch, not just buy roving and spin it. I want to be the whole machine, not just a cog in it. First I had to find out the details…
I did my usual research and read heaps of books and articles, watched how-to videos and discovered that the beautiful roving I so badly wanted to make came with a price even bigger than money; the pupa are boiled alive so they don’t damage the cocoons when they emerge as moths.That put me off the whole deal, until I discovered that there is a movement called ‘peace silk’ who’s practitioners let every moth hatch and process the cocoons into silk hankies or slubby (rough) roving. While the peace silk method does sound better as it doesn’t involve boiling babies it does leave me with another quandary; what to do with all those eggs. If every female moth mates and lays up to 500 eggs, then those eggs will either need to be destroyed or given away. I thought long and hard on the subject and decided that letting the moths emerge and lay eggs then destroying the eggs is more ethical as science does not consider eggs as living things (they are considered to be non-living things with the potential for life) although there is a lot of contention about this classification. Maybe this train of thought is just hair splitting, but I have to form an opinion one way or the other in order to proceed. Who knows, a better method may present itself in the future.
I found a listing on Gum tree for free silkworm eggs so my silkworm adventure began. The eggs came in the mail and as it had been a warm few days they immediately began to hatch. Luckily I had also ordered some silkworm chow (dehydrated mulberry leaf mush) as our mulberry tree was only just beginning to put on leaf. I made up some of the chow and fed the early arrivals.
The new babies are so tiny they are hard to see.
They grew fast, eating day and night until they were in danger of exploding out of their little box. When my tree had full leaf I began to feed them real leaves instead of the mush, they loved it and grew even faster. I found that the worms are more active and healthy when they eat leaves. So began a period of feeding twice a day on a big pile of mulberry leaves.
As you can see there are different ages in this lot. The eggs took a total of two weeks to hatch.
They are voracious eaters
Just when I was congratulating myself on keeping them all going…disaster struck. Stray cattle ate my mulberry tree down to the bare branches (including a very promising crop of fruit). Which left me begging friends and neighbors for leaves from their trees. Luckily this stage is almost at an end as my poor tree is growing more leaves. The worms eat about a shopping bag full of leaves per day, which is not small amount. I think I will have to plant a few more trees to keep up next year.
Some worms began making silk about eight weeks after the first hatching, this is a very long time to stay worms and I can only guess at the cause. Apparently the worms should start to spin after four weeks (or there about), but not having enough to eat and or colder weather can slow down the process. Maybe the silkworm chow was not enough for them, or maybe the weather was too cold. Possibly they have been bred to be worms for longer as they are now considered as pets by some people. Either way, they have begun to spin cocoons, so I built a spinning retreat for them.
My spinning retreat box. The toilet rolls are perfect for worms to spin in.
New residents getting ready to spin.
One worm decided to spin in an already occupied tube, but it’s best not to disturb them once they start to spin.
You can see the sheen on the cocoons
The sheen or glow stays with the yarn
I don’t know why my worms spin yellow cocoons, but apparently it washes out.
So far the silk making adventure has been fun and very satisfying. Once the cocoons hatch and I can process them the learning will really begin.