reeling silk

equipment: spoon and colander for moving cocoons about, toothbrush to pick up silk from the outside of the cocoons, skein winder for reeling off thread. cocoons are pre-soaking in hot tap water.

pot and burner, water is kept hot but not simmering. guide hook for gathering threads (i’m using the hook on the end of a drop spindle).

when you first add the cocoons to the pan they float.

the colander keeps them below the surface so they can soften and take in water, the air from inside bubbles out.

they’re ready to reel once they’re semi-submerged like this. then you start fishing around with the toothbrush to catch the loose fibres on the edge of the cocoon. at first you get a net of fibres but as you pull it narrows down to a single thread. the tangled waste discarded in this process can be degummed and spun. this is the most time consuming and frustrating part. the outer silk from where the cocoons were just started is more temperamental than the later thread. if the thread snaps you have to start over with the toothbrush. i used 25 cocoons in this batch.

as you gather the threads you run them over the hook, the warmth, wet and natural gum in the cocoons joins them into a single thread.

then you wind onto the skeiner, trying to adjust where you lay the thread so wet doesn’t sit on wet and stick together. it turns out this part is really important, thanks to sticky threads i’ve had a nightmare getting it off the skeiner.

this picture is from my first try and shows the silk from 7 cocoons. i rapidly upped that number to 25 because the thread was far too fine to handle, it kept snapping when i tried to wind it off the skeiner. even the thicker thread is tricky, as the thickness tails off as cocoons are exhausted. in future i’ll wind off the starts and ends and only skein the solid thread from the middle. once the cocoons are firmly attached there’s much less breakage and you can wind off the centre portions impressively quickly.

i had to cut my first sample off the skeiner, but i need continuous lengths to weave (unless i cut the threads into spinnable lengths of about 6 inches, degum, card and spin, which kind of negates the point of reeling single threads in the first place). my plan is to wind off long sections that i can then ply together into fine yarn strong enough for warping my little loom.

but at the moment i’m still working on getting it off the skeiner…

method adapted from original and improved versions on wormspit 🙂


laser loom

how to combine a 50-year-old technology with a 25,000-year-old one? laser cut a loom 🙂

i wanted a small sampling loom, following the pattern of this cardboard box loom. it’s a simple rigid heddle set up producing a plain weave cloth (one over, one under). but i wanted it to weave fine yarn, much finer than i could have achieved making one by hand.

the laser cutter did a brilliant job. i used 3mm ply which looks as though it will hold up if i don’t warp it too tightly. i made two end pieces to wrap the warp ends around and a reed/heddle with eyes/slots 1mm across and 1mm apart (which amounts to just over 12.5 dpi, which is the closest commercially available reed). depending on the thickness of the yarn i might have to sley multiple ends per hole/slot. after testing i might cut a long shuttle which i can also use to beat the warp.

as for the yarn – if all goes according to plan – reeled silk 🙂

work in progress: radio

radio cityscape
industrial area
telecom tower
residential area
civic centre

the model radio behind is a mock up for laser cut clear acrylic case (to scale). there’s a small speaker on the side of the power station attached to an ipod shuffle playing fragments of international broadcast radio.

enamelling #6

two finished cloisonné samples, an exercise in shading (cobalt, turquoise and clear transparent enamels).


i washed the enamels for these samples and i’m really pleased with the results. they’ve retained their translucence and the texture below is still visible.

washing takes a leap of faith. you repeatedly swirl the powders in water, allow them to settle and pour off the milky water until it starts to run clear. i was afraid of losing a large percentage but that wasn’t the case. enamels can then be directly wet-inlaid or dried on foil on top of the kiln for sifting.

moon 1

this sample used rectangular cloisonné wire, which deforms quite easily. the colours come out well, considering the initial layer of flux had a yellowish tinge (also present in my final pieces). the texture of the base silver foil also appears to have flattened out somewhat. i shaded the dark outer section and i’m very happy with the result.

moon 2

the second sample used round wire, which is more forgiving. this piece still shows the green colour of the flux layer above the silver foil. it also retains the texture of the foil, which in this case is pleasing, but my final pieces have ridges down the centre that i hope will even out a little. i applied cobalt blue without shading on the outer sections and it looks a little flat compared to the first sample.

rather than stone the pieces flat i chose to use a final sifted layer of transparent flux, since the wires were still prominent. i may experiment with stoning before deciding how to finish my final pieces.

all layers were fired for 2 minutes at 805•c