Thursday, July 29, 2010


For those of you who don't like talk of mayhem concerning bugs....look away. Nothing for you here folks. Move along.

For the rest of you, I purchased some silk cocoons a couple of months ago. I got a kilogram. I know it would be a lot, but I didn't realise that it would be about two grocery bags full! I now have a lot of cocoons to experiment with! I gave a few away to one of the graduating students that expressed an interest in them but still have plenty left.
Last month I led a silk scarf dyeing workshop for which I mixed the dyes ahead of time. I wasn't sure which colours people would like, and I knew that I had at least 9 people and I wanted to make sure that no one ran out. I mixed way too much dye. There was a lot left over.
So dyed some warps and wefts. Enough for 16 scarves. And still there was dye left over!
I dyed some soy silk  and still there was dye left over!
So I searched around for something else to dye and found my cocoons! I dumped them straight in the bottles of dyes and added some of the dye fixative and shook. No pictures of this because my gloves were covered in dye by this time. The silk scarves need to sit for 5 days. I let my cocoons sit for 2 before realizing that they looked really dark. It was hard to distinguish the black from the green from the purple. The red was easy too pick out. I dried them out and they sat.
Then I did my residency in the very humid museum where I had my cocoons on display. Then I packed them up is a Ziploc bag and came home.
Bad idea as it turned out.
About a week later I was digging through my stuff and found my bag of cocoons. And they were MOLDY! ARRRRRGGGGHHHHHH! I brought them out side, washed them in the bag with the hose several times and decided that they must be dealt with right away. Grrrrrr.
Into the dye pot they went with some sythropol and baking soda. And they simmered for a while. And it smelled kind of gross.
Cocoons being rinse. they smell much better now.
But the good news was that all that boiling pulled a little of the dye out and I was able to distinguish the colours. Sort of.

They little pupa that did all the work. In the you tube videos I watched, the people giving the tours said that you could eat these guys. they were good and full of protein. I think I'll pass.
I guess that boiling them for a while wasn't quite long enough because I didn't managed to boil all of the sericin out of them. As a result, Mira, who helped with the stretching, and I managed to pull them into some pretty interesting shapes with interesting little lumps and bumps in them. I was amazed at how firm they still were and how had you had to pull them in order to stretch them out.
We pulled about 5 or 6 trays worth. She has already used some of hers in a small felt dress for a felted alien that she is making. Mine are still languishing waiting for me to put on my felting cap again. I am busy weaving and trying to breath in all this heat and humidity.


Valerie said...

very interesting. I didn't realize the cocoons could be so difficult to pull out.

Julia said...

This is all very new to me. I just thought that you had to unroll the cocoon like like a ball of twine to release the silk. How nice of Mira to be so creative with felting silk.


jackie said...

Valerie, I didn't know either. I think that I have a bit more research to do.
Julia, If you are reeling or unwinding the cocoon, you still have to boil them to let the outside filaments soften and separate so that they will unreel. And as the cocoon rolls around in the simmering water the under layers get softened. There are some really interesting you tube videos.

David T. Macknet said...

I've always liked these guys, having had one or two in a terrarium when I was in 5th grade or so. I think they turned into moths before I got to play with the silk, though.

Dave Daniels said...

I have a few ounces of cocoons, but haven't yet worked up the courage to attempt dyeing them. (I may wait after reading your post!)
I once saw a person reeling them in person, and she had them in a boiling kettle as she was reeling them to help release the sericin.