Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Silk Spinning Challenge! Halfway Point

Okay, so I realize that we're about halfway through the spinning challenge now, but then I moved halfway around the world again. If you're interested in spinning silk, and want some buddies to spin with, join us over on Ravelry. There will be mystery prizes when I get them made (I had to unpack all of my tools and get it all set up). Things are rolling almost at a normal speed!

Silk is one of those categories of fiber that a lot of people shy away from for a long time because they hear that it is a slippery and often difficult to spin fiber. And it's not cheap, so if you mess it up, it's tough to just jump in if you're not confident with your spinning skills. I've been in that spot. No matter what you spin, there's a chance it won't turn out like you want it--even now, I spin yarns that don't turn out like I imagined, but that's a rare occurrence. So, when you realize that there's a chance you might mess it up, you're more free to just jump in. But we can minimize this chance of messing it up by working on it together. Here's my first finished silk yarn:

It looks a bit different than silk you may have used, and that's because I used silk hankies instead of combed silk top. For beginners, silk hankies can help you bridge the gap into spinning silk top. It's more forgiving in some ways, but you do have to learn a new skill set. Drafting hankies is way different than drafting other fibers, but when it comes to the spinning and plying, you don't have to worry about the twist amounts as much so you're free to focus on the differences between silk and wool.

I will do a video and show you how I like to draft out hankies so I don't get blisters or make my hands sore, which are common problems when you first start spinning silk hankies. I try to use more natural pulling motions to prevent strain on the shoulders, and I use the pad of my hand instead of my fingers to reduce the chance of blisters, cuts (silk is a very strong fiber!), and sore fingers. I will schedule it for tomorrow, and we'll see how that goes. I'm working without my main laptop, so I'll have to double check the quality.

Here is my challenge yarn, still on the spindle.

It's very easy to spin silk hankies with a drop spindle, and due to silk's strength, you can make a thinner weight yarn with a heavier spindle and it'll be fine. Silk will still snap if there is too much twist in a thin spot (or if you pull too much on the silk), but you don't necessarily need a lace weight spindle to spin a lace weight silk hankie yarn.

Pros and cons of spinning silk hankies. The pros:

  • Generally less expensive than silk top
  • Has the characteristics of silk (shine/drape/thermal properties/so on)
  • Easy to spin (and ply)
  • You can add more or less twists per inch, to make a softer or firmer yarn.
  • Easy to dye and takes colors well
  • Singles can be spun very thin or very thick and it won't draft apart
  • The noils prevent a smooth, uninterrupted surface, so it has that 'rustic' look
  • Drafting is more difficult and requires a skill you won't use for most other fibers
  • You can't draft if there is any twist in the hankie, and difficult to do at the wheel
  • It sticks to everything, so you should always spin with lotion nearby

However, silk hankies aren't best for everyone. Some won't like the noil texture which interrupts it's smoothness and shine. Spinning silk top will be worth the extra effort for some, and that's totally okay! Spinning silk top is a smooth experience, and the silk yarn practically makes itself when you learn to deal with its slipperiness. If you have spun fibers like alpaca and angora, you will be able to use those skills when spinning silk combed top. For your first time spinning silk, I recommend using tussah silk because it tends to grab neighbor fibers a little better than finer silks (like mulberry silk).

So, is silk top going to work for you as your first silk yarn? The pros:

  • It's very shiny and spins up into a smooth yarn
  • No noils
  • Drafting at the wheel is very easy and similar to drafting other fibers
  • Takes dyes well
  • Has all of the properties of silk
  • You can easily find silk top online
  • It's more expensive than hankies
  • You can't find other silks like muga or eri silk as easily
  • It's very slippery and spindles are prone to dropping if you don't watch the twist carefully
  • You can't spin any gauge of silk as a single--thick singles will pill and begin to fall apart

The point is, silk hankies and silk top are both great for those interested in learning how to spin silk. You don't have to start out with one or the other, but if you know some of the pros/cons of each, you can choose the silk you want to start with based on your skills/interests/budget. And if you do run into a problem, stop by and we'll help you sort it out!