Adventures in silk

I’ve now finished spinning my first full batch of tussah silk and I thought I’d share the ups and down of the whole adventure.

First of all, it really allowed me to get properly comfortable with supported spinning and with my Russian spindle in particular, and I loved every minute of spindling this. So back in December I started out on this:

Annia and honey-coloured tussah silk

I set out to spin a 2-ply laceweight, which could then be knitted into a stole. As I was spinning I became more specific: I wanted to try and possibly get one skein out of 100g of fibers (bought at Wingham Wool), and I wanted the whole thing to be spun on my Russian spindle Annia.

If you remember my warnings about silk hankies, you might understand that I was a bit wary of two plying my silk on itself using an Andean bracelet, which is what I have often done with wool. So here I was, too scared of doing an Andean bracelet to ply my silk single on itself, and wanting to free up my spindle for the second batch.

The single was pretty thin, and I imagined would have taken ages to wind off the cop without a ball winder. I therefore decided to slip the cop off my spindle and onto something else to store it. A gentle tug easily dislodged it, and it looked like it would slip off in a tidy fashion. I’ve seen it done with straws before… but didn’t have any in the house, so I tried rolling up a piece of cardboard but that looked too thick for the core of my cop. I eventually opted for a thin dowel.

Bad. Idea. Very. Bad. Idea.

The end of the dowel got caught on the silk, and in the 2 seconds it took me to  withdraw it, the tip of the cop came undone and tangled…

Silk single, all tangled up.

I decided to leave it as it was until I was done spindling the remainder of the fibres.

I spun a second cop, you might remember seeing it in progress before:

One cop of silk complete, the second one well on its way

I have since read of some people using knitting needles to slip the cop on… It could have been a much better choice with the pointed end of Annia. But I still think a drinking straw would have been better.  Once I was done with the second spindleful, I decided to just slip it off the shaft because it seems to be pretty stable if I didn’t up muck up the end by trying to insert something in it.

I usually ply straight from the spindles but this time I decided to make a plying ball so I could deal with any potential problems created by the tangle I had on the first cop. I took it with me to the Friday morning Crafty Coffee group and was delighted I’d done that because it didn’t take long to realise that sliding those two silk cops off the spindle without anything to stabilise their centres had been extremely stupid.

It might come from the way I’d wound the cop, but its extremeties were prone to tangle from the start, and as the cops grew smaller they became more and more difficult to handle, as the silk was grabbing onto itself. We had a six hand operation going for a while in the sofa corner, and I am ever so grateful for Caitriona and Eddie to have helped for a couple of hours. Eventually, we gave up on the centre of the smallest cop. But then Lisa, who loves untangling, had a go. In the end, only a tiny bit got thrown away and I think it is quite an achievement given how delicate it was, how grabby silk is, and how long the whole operation took.

I have to say I really liked using a plying ball. It was fast and easy, although my singles were broken in places, and the silk failed to grasp on itself in the plying, making it a bit more fiddly to make joints. In the end, I plied it into three skeins. Here is the plying in progress,  with two skeins plied and the third one on the go.


I just love the sheen of the finished yarn. It’s not as shiny as other silks I’ve seen but I love the more subtle look. I think it’s due to the drafting method I used on the Russian, long draw, which gave me an ever so slightly hairy yarn. It is also closer to a 3-ply/light fingering weight than to the laceweight I was aiming for originally.

Here is a sneak peak of what the yarn is now becoming… and I’m loving knitting it. The feel of the 100% silk, the drapiness and the satisfaction of having spun it… I sometimes can’t help but smile smugly while I knit it…

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7 responses to “Adventures in silk

  • yantangle

    I do hope I can learn from your experiences Cecile! I have a takhli full of banana fibre, no second takhli-style spindle and haven’t even thought about how I might ply it!
    I only wanted to see how it would spin – I got small samples of banana, milk protein and crab from Wingham when they were down last year and hope to make some more of my sampler bookmarks.
    I think I’ll try winding it off onto cardboard nostepinnes (like I used to with the merino before I realised it was easier to make more spindles and ply from them in their shoebox lazy kate).

    And yes, I have taken the first tentative steps into the blogosphere, but I’ve got a long way to go to emulate your erudite excursions into fibreholism!

    Kate x

    • Cecile

      Oooh, I’ll be quite curious to see what your banana fibre looks like once you’ve finished your yarn! I haven’t tried those yet, I have a bagful of soya fibres waiting for the same type of experiment. I’ll be awaiting photos on your new blog! Going there now to have a look!

  • brandy

    It’s beautiful! I am amazed with the patience you must have! :)

    I cringe with great pain at the sight of that first cop disaster. I successfully slipped the cop of my spindle onto a straw exactly one time. The second time it went like yours did and I cried at the sight of that tangled mess and was not able to rescue it. I would rather spend hours rewinding onto a cardboard tube now rather than tempt fate again! (and in all actuality, it doesn’t really take that long to do.)

    • Cecile

      Thanks, although I’m not sure I would have had as much patience without the help of so many more hands. Sorry about your lost cop, the path of learning is paved with pot holes, and I’ve had a few casualties myself. I now consider myself warned about the shortcoming of straws as far as cop slippage goes, thanks for the cautionary tale.

  • sajhowar13

    Cecile,I just discovered your blog. Very interesting and informative. I loved the spinning you have done on your Russian Spindle, especially the Tussah Silk. Fleegle’s video, and your blog make me want to try my hand at supported spindling. Is it as much fun as it looks?

    • Cecile

      It really is a lot of fun. It can seem a bit slow to start with, but once it clicks (and hopefully Fleegle’s video can help you there) it’s quite wonderfully fast.
      And for me, it’s the best way to sit when I’m comfortably sitting on the sofa!

  • weekend knitter

    Beautiful! I have some Tussah silk I haven’t tried yet. I’m just using fiber I practice with on my new Russian until I get the hang of supported spinning. I have a Tibetan on the way too. I am determined to get more acquainted with the process while on Christmas break. This is excellent inspiration!

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