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Fiber Review: Tussah Silk


Being a big fan of taking dramatic, bipolar shifts in whatever projects I am working on (apparently), I took a break from my scratchy, wild Icelandic wool roving pile to work on spinning something else. While I am still enjoying the tangly, tugworthy, charms of the wild pile I featured in my last spinning post, I wanted to test out some fiber I’ve had in my basket for a long time: Tussah Silk.

Drop-spun Icelandic wool: 240 yards, 19-22 WPI, 1.9 oz.

So different from the Icelandic! First, a word on Tussah:

Tussah silk is the “wild” type of silk, collected from worms “not specifically bred for silk production” according to this great post at Craftsy Blog. The cultivated type of silk is called Bombyx silk. The natural length of silk filament is about a kilometer long, produced from the worm all in one go to make a cocoon which is later boiled down and unwound to make the fiber. Yep, silk is made by boiling little worms to death, at least in traditional sericulture (silk production). I was a little traumatized about this, but then went on to read that there are silks made from cocoons that the worms have been allowed to leave. Still a pretty big bummer for the worms, though.

I purchased this fiber from Corgi Hill Farm on Etsy, one of my favorite homegrown dye operations.  This 2.1 oz silk top roving came in a simple but lovely dual-tone, chocolate brown with patches of the natural silk color, a very pretty cream with a golden sheen.  I couldn’t wait to see how it would spin.

Silk feels so delicate that I was handling this light, thin roving like it was a relic from the lost city of Atlantis… until I pulled out a piece to test the staple length. It was long. The staple length of my silk top wasn’t a kilometer (thank goodness) – but it was about 5-6 inches, making for a much easier drafting length than I expected.

Flash forward to me spinning. What a smooth, dreamy quality this fiber has, allowing me to release the twist into the roving and just steadily draw the fibers out, with relatively little stopping and starting – OH CRAP the continuity just broke. And that is how it happens – in the blink of an eye, the gorgeous smooth silk just POOF falls away, giving almost no signals that the fiber is losing its grip. Usually when drop spinning I rely on the sight of my drafting fiber beginning to thin combined with the feel of the twist moving into my drafted fiber to tell me when I need to adjust.

Because while I have spun silk, I have never spun 100% silk, and the difference between silk and wool is amazing. Wool fibers are rough, scaly things that like to grab each other – so much that if you have owned a significant amount of wool clothing in your life, you know that it can be very hard to stop them from grabbing each other – and connecting and NEVER LETTING GO. It’s almost cute, if you are insane and like to personify fibers. I am and I do.

Image originally from National Geographic (I think).

Silk doesn’t have those scales like wool, and so I like to think of silk fibers as the cool kids. Yeah, they will go along with the spinning or whatever, but like.. don’t expect them to try. Perhaps, as the Craftsy article I mentioned earlier suggested, I should have started out with silk hankies instead of combed silk top.

The end result is that I have to pay closer attention to my staple length in order to get that sweet, smooth draw without the silk fibers slipping out back to have a smoke (a.k.a- completely falling apart without notice).

But I really love working with this fiber, not only because it was a fun learning experience, but because it exemplifies those things I love about working with fiber in general – the surprising characters that can be coaxed from the simplest materials, the unending combinations of texture and color and stitch, the meditative level of concentration needed to transform a raw material, and most of all the constant reminder that we are linked by unbreakable fibers to the rest of our world… that our conveniences don’t come just from the store but are ultimately sourced from the complex living web of creatures of which we will always be a part.

Also it’s fun to pet.


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