Tag Archives: silk worms

Japan: String and yarn

Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Japan with my beloved, who had a fortnight long work commitment in Kyoto.  I took annual leave and went for the ride.


If I’d had the chance to choose where to go, I might have chosen Kyoto. It is a historical wonder even in Japan.  It was not bombed and has retained ancient sites of global significance.  It is one of the textile centres of Japan from historical times into the present.  And it is beautiful.  I had less opportunity to prepare than I would have liked because of my own work commitments.  But I did what I could and since I have not been much of a traveler, I expected to wander about with my mouth open in awe.  Only my attempts to be polite prevented this, and I’m hoping to write a series of posts about this experience, in which some topics will be bigger and some will be smaller, because I was fascinated by small things no less than big ones.


On our last day in Japan, we went the shrine sale at To-Ji Temple, which is a famous flea market and antiques market. There is a lot to say about this amazing event! But I’m going to begin with the string seller.  There is a link at the end of the post to the very interesting www site for Aoni Textiles given to me by the man in this picture.


Just quietly, Kyoto was sweltering through record heat the entire time we were there.  Australians know what 39C feels like, and it was at least 39C every day we were there. We had the sad experience of sharing the hottest day Kyoto has ever had.  I hope their media is not like ours and that it was saying CLIMATE CHANGE.  Being in Kyoto did make me think that the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in Kyoto surely at least in part because in Kyoto there is much to be lost and therefore much to be gained by concerted international climate action.  Anyway–the man in this picture is hot! And he is selling “string”.


By the time we found this stall, I’d been to the Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts with our friend (who shared one of the weeks we were there), in which string is an entirely different category to thread that would be used, for example, for weaving garments.  It seemed to encompass things I would think of as rope (for industrial use) as well as things I would think of as strapping or narrow weaving.  But of a quality unknown in most contexts where any of these things are used where I live.  This was (mostly) not string in any sense I have known it. Some of what was on sale here was extremely fine and came with example knitted lace garments. Some was robust and quite thick. Some was plied, quite a bit was singles (not plied). While I don’t doubt the complexity of translation is part of it, and so is my ignorance, I think string is treated with more respect in Japan. I have not seen such quantities of rope made from natural fibres since I was a child, and perhaps not then.


Some of the fibres on sale seemed to me to be one of the lesser known silks. The cocoons (if indeed I have understood what I was looking at) in the bowl at bottom left in the image above were huge by comparison with those for regular old silkworms, and the yarns made from them were relatively thick and coarse.


This might be hemp or ramie fibre (and just look at the way it comes wound, with a waist on the “ball”–something I’ve never seen before). After some time with the three of us muddling our way through conversation and speculation, the stall owner put down his fan and pulled out a guide to the fibres he was selling that confirmed some were ramie, some hemp, some banana fibre (but not as I have previously known it), some pineapple leaf fibre–and there was more I was unable to understand, and the pressure of time and heat and the enormity of the flea market. The bunches of strappy materials visible hanging from the canopy in the first image were mostly hemp which I assume was being sold for other people to spin or use for basketry and other crafts/purposes.  But perhaps this is all my imagination!

Should you wish to see more, the www site can be found here. As I write it is in Japanese, and Google translate helps a little but in a poetic rather than an entirely informative way. It is richly illustrated and there are some amazing videos.  There is also an inactive button/link that makes me think they intend to translate into English but haven’t quite got there yet.  So if, like me, you speak English but not Japanese–maybe more will be revealed in the future!



Filed under Fibre preparation

Week 4 Silkworm update

It’s well and truly spring,  Our native orchids are in bloom.

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So is E Torquata, the Coolgardie gum.  The bees are happy about the whole thing.

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I’ve been out demanding action on climate change, with people all over the world (and hundreds locally).

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Fledging birds are getting in strife all over the metropolitan area (and many more are flying without difficulty, I hope)!

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The nettle harvest is in, such as it is.  I have gathered the largest nettles from our backyard, my parents’ garden and the local verges.

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And the silkworms are growing.  The small ones are still very small, and there is still only one mulberry tree with enough leaves to pick in the neighbourhood.  I’m picking fruit as well as leaves.

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The silkworms are stripy in some cases and creamy in others, just like last year… and I still have no idea why.  We’ve done our 12km City to Bay run!!  And work has been overwhelming.  Hopefully, less so from this point forward–so there might be a bit more crafting and posting.

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Neighbourhood pleasures

Week 3 Silkworm Update with bonus Quilt and Gusset updates

The munching goes on.  Stone fruit are in blossom and coming into leaf, the Manchurian pears in our suburb have been snowing white petals and growing leaves… and I live in hope that more mulberry trees will do likewise very soon!  The one I am depending on is fruiting already.  The worms are getting bigger.


And, I am delighted to announce that confiding in you has moved me to actually do something with my quilt parts.  I have confirmed that I have 20 nicely trimmed panels.


I chose one of my stash fabrics for some sashing.  It’s black, but you know how it is with mood lighting, like the stuff my sewing machine provides in an indoor setting.  I calculated.  I cut.  I stitched it to two sides of each block!


Then, a friend came over with her gallabeya-in-progress.  This is a flowing long-sleeved dress for Egyptian dancing (and, no doubt, other purposes depending on the wearer).  It’s a relative of the caftan.  There was a small problem involving ‘a rhomboid gusset’.  I was afraid when I realised that this pattern piece needed to be reverse engineered and that it wasn’t only a matter of inserting the fiddly little rhomboid…. I had agreed to help on the basis that two minds are better than one on almost every day.  With some help from my stash of retro sewing manuals and the interweb, we sorted it out.  The somewhat random prize goes to this YouTube video by Niler Taylor (who clearly knows her sewing) and Gertie’s blog, which I’ve enjoyed before–just in case anyone out there is having a gusset problem of their own!


Filed under Fibre preparation, Sewing

An invitation, a week 2 silkworm update and some random happenings

Let me begin with some dignity, because it won’t last. Soon we’ll be back to silkworms and other silly stuff.  Anne Harris of Annie’s Workroom would like to invite you to her exhibition.  It’s in Brisbane, Queensland–I am sorry to report this means I won’t be able to see it.

Invite Back & Front

Expressions of Love: Lovingly Interrupted brings together established contemporary artist Kim Schoenberger’s collection of treasured memories assembled from the humble teabag. And introduces emerging artist Anne Harris’s work of naturally dyed, painted and stitched images exploring the emotions of love. Official Opening 14th September 3.30pm. Closes 28th September: Gallery 159, 159 Payne Road, The Gap, Brisbane.  There is a special bus to make it easy for sunshine coast people to attend. Please call  Anne 0433 162 847 for more information or visit her on the web.

And now… for the silkworm update of the week.  OMG, as they say in the classics, the silkworms are still hatching!  I have been struggling to figure out a cross-national item to give a sense of scale (US coins don’t work for me).  Here is my trial object.  Let me know how I’m doing!


Here is a close up of silk worms in several stages of growth–with more hatching every single day two weeks after they started!  They were all laid as eggs within a couple of days of one another, I hasten to add. What more can I say? There is still just one mulberry tree with leaves on it in the neighbourhood.


On the weekend, there was lemon preserving (the salty kind)… inspired in part by an anonymous donation of a bag of Meyer lemons left on our porch.  Three cheers for the grower and the tree!


I had the urge to cast on, a lot.


I also had the urge to dye and since it was warm and sunny, took advantage by mordanting fabric for future leaf prints.  I had the realisation some time ago that I had somehow managed not to find a section on mordanting cellulose fabrics, with quite specific instructions, in Eco-Colour.  I had always wished there was a section like that in there.  Happily India Flint has indeed put it in her gorgeous book and if only I had paid more attention… Anyway, since I can’t change the past, I have been waiting for sunny weather to dip and dry and dip and dry on a principle somewhat different to the one I have been experimenting with–and now the sunshine is here I got to it!  Good dyeing times are coming…




Filed under Fibre preparation, Knitting, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Early silkworm hatchlings: Week 1, day 2

Last year, the silkworms hatched in September.  This year, in August.  I am not sure if that has more to do with the micro climate in my front room or global warming.  I am sorry to report I believe global warming is more likely.  Last night I went out and picked young lettuce for them.  This morning, I’ve been out examining the neighbourhood mulberry trees.  In good news for my little tiny silkworms, they are in leaf.

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So, brace yourselves!  We are re-entering the silkworm rollercoaster for another season!

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Neighbourhood pleasures

Of silkworms and socks

The very last silkworm went to silk yesterday, so there’s an end to silkworm updates for this year.  I can’t pretend to be sorry.  There have been a lot of weeks of feeding the hungry caterpillars multiple times a day and foraging on their behalf, and I’m happy to wait until next September to do that again.  I found an extra two cocoons under the guitar case on the floor below the silkworm raising station.  They must  either have crawled there to pupate (music loving caterpillars?) or fallen after chewing off the piece of leaf that connected them to the rest of their mates. Happily, I don’t think we  lost a single silkworm, which is good, since stories of silkworm tragedy came back to me from some of the people who took them home from the Guild! 

Meanwhile, a breakout of meetings and presentations at work has enabled the completion of these socks in Naturally Waikiwi Prints.


I have only had them on the needles since August!  While the other hemisphere is celebrating Wovember, here we have had our first days over 30C.  These socks will be waiting a while to go onto a foot. They contain possum fur, which makes them delectably soft, while making use of the oversupply of possum fur in New Zealand/Aotearoa. Possums are incredibly cute, and as an Australian I am in a good position to know this because the possums in Aotearoa are feral.  They are native to Australia.  Without intervention, they would be well on their way to denuding those lovely islands and making life impossible for the plants and animals native there.  Since Australia also struggles under the weight of feral animals (including cute ones like rabbits and cats), the damage that can be done is very obvious even if the sadness of having to cull them is equally clear.  My apologies to any Kiwis who might be reading, for the introduction of our cute but damaging possums to your lovely land!


Filed under Fibre preparation, Knitting

What to do with art yarns/textured spinning

The other night, treasured friends came round for dinner and brought with them someone I hadn’t met before.  She saw the display of tea cosies and loved them.  She collects.  The honest truth is, I don’t even drink tea.  Nor does my beloved.  I just buy random teapots at the op shop and make them cosies for my own entertainment and the joy of giving them away.

Naturally, I said ‘would you like to take one home?’  She struggled to choose and I offered that she take two, but that wasn’t happening… it is difficult to make people understand just how far I am from having a yarn or tea cosy shortage.  So a particularly ugly teapot was disrobed and a corespun cosy with recycled sari silk threads went home with her.  That had me in a tea cosy frame of mind… So I delved into the stash and came out with this the very next night:


The yarn is felted wool blobs spun onto crossbred wool from a sheep known by the glorious name of Macchiato the Mongrel.  I believe the epithet was added after Macchiato ate the neighbour’s pea crop and had to be found a new home.  That fleece came to me from a friend of a friend who lives in the hills. The pattern is a fast and loose adaptation of Funhouse Fibers’ Fast and Fun Tea Cozy.

This twining vine yarn (commercial wool top, felted leaves) was in the same bag.  I started in on a cosy and the audience decided it was too cute and really should be a child’s hat.  I guess we’ll wait to see who it fits come winter!  I started with a three stitch i-cord and made the rest up, ending with a stitched cast off for stretchy edge…



And, some silk cocoons went off to be reeled by a friend with a  lot more patience than me, and here are the rest.  I have no idea why they are in two colours, but if anyone else knows, please tell.  I keep thinking I will finally get back to the nettle stems, but I fear it won’t happen today…



Filed under Fibre preparation, Knitting

Silkworms: 7 week update + more wild textured spinning

Well, here are the late bloomers. Yes, only 5 left.


Everyone else is in here now in another form…


And meanwhile I decided to try a spinning challenge set up on Ravelry… a yarn generator based on a date system.  What genius on the part of its originator! Sounded like fun to me… I put in the date for my birthday and that meant creating a yarn that incorporated autowrapping (see that rayon thread over the white section?), metallic elements (there are strange and peculiar glitter pompoms from the op shop as well as sparkly gold fibre and gold recycled ribbon)…


Yellow is required too, so there is some of the coreopsis dyed corriedale, some yellow preloved ribbon (there has to be fabric spinning too), and last year’s silk cocoons…


Then there is chain plying and the ever present eucalyptus dyed merino… and one mighty strange yarn overall!



Filed under Fibre preparation, Spinning

Silkworms: 6 week update

We still have a few silkworms.  28, to be exact.  The largest are now 7 cm or about 2 3/4 inches long. It’s hard to make photos of silkworms exciting, but here they are:


Here is a picture of one silkworm starting its cocoon, or to put it the way we’ve been putting it around here, ‘becoming silk’.


We have cocoons in two very distinct colours.  Mysterious.  All of the cocoons last year began pale and became golden very quickly–within the first 24 hours.  Not these.  Some are pale silver-white, with a slightly green hue in some cases. This is the view from above, looking down on a tray of paper and cardboard tubes.


We have quite a few.  And about 28 still to add!  Luckily, I gave away about 70.  Some of which have been delighting schoolchildren, apparently.


I am feeling deeply grateful to the friend who told me there was a mulberry tree behind the Japanese garden in the parklands.  It turned out there were three trees, two varieties of mulberry, and one of them was trailing leaves on the ground and down at head height across a path.  Begging to be pruned when I happened to pass with secateurs and a big bag, I tell you! I even ate a couple of mulberries that were almost ripe.

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Neighbourhood pleasures, Uncategorized

Indigo vat with colour run remover

I am a bit intimidated by indigo.  Perhaps I have just made it a major performance each time I have attempted it so far–overreach is a superpower I have in spades.  But the temperature maintenance, chemistry, my lack of experience and (in the case of the hydrosulphite vat) my aversion to the chemicals involved, all make me wary.  Anyway, I overcame my reluctance and ran a vat last weekend.  I made an assessment of the fleece I might dye –in varying states of yellowness and natural whiteness (with a little tan), corriedale and polwarth.


The quiescent vat has been dormant since January, since I failed to make a successful fermentation vat using ambient summer temperatures. It has only been waiting 10 months for resurrection!  It contained madder and bran as well as indigo due to its first life as a potential fermentation vat, so the night before,  I sieved out all the larger particles remaining rather than have them distributed throughout my already less than pristine fleece.


I wetted out my fleece and some brown polwarth slippers in readiness.


The vat was a far more exciting colour after warming and the addition of colour run remover.


I had read Vivien Prideaux and Jenny Dean in preparation and realised some guesswork would be required. How much colour run remover?  How much could I hope to dye? Just the same, this is the second half of this vat I have managed to render useable by this method, another reason to think I should give up being intimidated and get on to practising fermentation methods.  Perhaps, just like sourdough bread, it isn’t as delicate as you might think at first–even if time needs to be on your side. It was very reassuring to see that telltale yellow-green colour appear under the surface on my silk embroidery thread.


Some of the yellow fibre going into the indigo:


And afterward, while still wet. Some of the greens will be quite emerald when they are dry, I think, but the paler yellows became blue rather than green.


The white fleece became many shades of blue in a very satisfying way that will let me create graduated yarns.  Here it is, going into the vat:


Here it is still wet but rather gloriously blue…


The slippers took up blue where they were white or pale purple from the tail end of a logwood exhaust bath, but took virtually no colour on the brown parts, which is to say, most parts.  It may be that the vat was exhausted–not completely, or the pale parts would not have taken up colour–but sufficiently that no colour change showed up on the brown.  It may also be that they were greasy enough to repel the dye somewhat and that so much wet fleece having entered it, the vat was diluted.  So I have kept the vat aside for another day or a new thought on the matter.

Meanwhile, there has been a breakout of the urge to spin silk and enter the cocoon…  But not for every single silkworm, and the ones that remain are SO HUNGRY!  So now I am off to look for a mulberry tree in the parklands I heard about on the weekend…



Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing