Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: PLY Magazine Spring 2014 Issue

Back in January, I set aside time to do all of my magazine reviews so I was all caught up, but for some odd reason, I completely forgot. No, it's not my age...I think I should write down the lists for things I need to do all in one spot, instead of keeping to-do lists in a couple of different places. So, this review is about 3 months late. Forgive me! Regardless, this issue, the Silk issue, is totally worth reading, no matter when my review of it comes out.

Where to start. I always get fired up after reading one of these issues and each issue has so much content that it's difficult for me to keep my review on point. Afterall, what's the point of me re-writing the whole magazine in summarized form? I've stressed several times before how crucial it is to put lots of relevant pictures into a magazine of this type, and they surely delivered, again, in this issue about silk.


Today I learned that I don't know much about silk. Sure, I knew about it's properties, keeping you warm when it was warm, and keeping you cool when it was cool. And I know about how much silk you need to make a shiny wool blend. But I didn't know there was an anatomy to silk cocoons. But first, let's talk about from where the silk comes. It is extruded from the mouth of a silk worm, liquid in form and then extruded, solidifying as it becomes exposed to the air. And there isn't just one kind of silk worm, there are at least four kinds which are used with high demand. Bombyx, comprising the majority of the silk world, tussah, the warm champagne silk which comes in a far distant second contributor to the silk world, eri, otherwise known in India as 'poor man's silk', and muga, a dark, fantastically golden silk. Much of the silk which falls into our hands as combed top is actually the not-as-good silk leftover from silk reeling.

The first article I want to talk about is S, Z, and Why? because it addresses an issue of twist and determines whether silk has a good side, or if twist direction carries no significant impact. Why do we twist yarn in the Z direction and ply in the S direction? Well, there might be hidden reasons for spinning a fiber one direction rather than the other but we don't consider them because we're used to spinning silk only one way. PLY is about taking established notions and turning them on their head, all in the quest to uncover the 'why' of X or Y; I love that, and the scientist in me gets all giddy when they experiment with established notions. All four types of silk were spun for this experiment, where each silk type were spun in both ssZ and zzS plied yarns. ssZ is short hand for s-spun singles and plied in the Z direction. The author makes several insightful observations, and it was shown in this experiment that twist/ply direction impacts spun silk in various ways. It was a fascinating read and I plan to get some silk to try this experiment for myself after our cotton spinning challenge is over.


I just had to throw this picture of natural dyed silk into this review post. If you get the chance to do some natural dyeing, definitely make silk one of the things you dye. It's very cool to see how the different silks took up the dye colors...they're not all equal!


This next article, Science in your spin: silk under a microscope, there is some technical jargon which might be difficult for non-science readers to completely understand, but it is written for all audiences. I read it twice because I don't typically work with molecular sized artifacts. This article unpacks the differences of between the silks on the molecular level so we can understand why they're so different. The feel different, for a reason. They shine differently, for a reason. And it's all explained in this article. The coolest tidbit I got from this article is the fact that tussah silk has microscopic striations along the fiber, which is probably why it is referred to as a 'toothy' silk...and probably why I have so much more success spinning it the way I want, as opposed to mulberry (bombyx) silk. Remember when I mentioned that silk cocoons have an anatomy? Evidently, the silk thread becomes thinner as the worm spins his cocoon, so that the exterior silk is thick and weak and the interior silk is thin and strong, and the crystalline structure of the silk as it's extruded greatly impact its thickness (or in the case of bombyx silk, thinness).


The last article is one which is dear to me, because it basically told me I'm not crazy. Years ago, I made a silk/cheviot blend yarn, and you can still find it on Etsy (someone, please buy it! lol). When I was first getting started with blending my own wools, I received a lot of negativity in regards to my idea of blending a fiber like silk with a medium coarse wool like cheviot. I thought it would emphasize the best qualities of both types of fibers, yet others professed that it was a waste of silk. The article Calculating the Silken Ratio experimented with adding silk to various other fibers, in this case, wool, to determine which ratio is the best to bring out the desirable qualities of the ingredients. The wool you're bringing to the mix has its own luster and behavior, which goes into the calculation for determining how much silk to add to achieve the desired result. BFL and silk is a common blend, and you'll typically find it in an 85/15 or 80/20 BFL/silk blend ratio, because BFL is already a lustrous wool. Fine wools tend to be less lustrous due to crimp, so more silk is needed to achieve similar results. So, the next time you find yourself standing at your blending device with silk in one hand and wool in the other, give it a blend and see how it turns out.


There is so much more information in these hundred pages than I can justly review here. If I could, I would break this a 3-part review...but I can imagine that many of you are inspired enough to hunt down this copy for your resource library; and I can't blame you for it either! I have one more PLY issue on my bookshelf to review, so I'll get that done this month. I'm three issues behind the release schedule, so it's time to order some more! I can't wait until I'm a bit more settled so I can just get a subscription. Stop by my Ravelry group, Expertly Dyed Friends, to discuss this some more!