Sunday, 6 July 2014

Silk babies to Cocoons. One month.

This year is the 16th that I have raised silkworms. For the past three years I've wanted to take a break.   The whole thing was more of a chore than before. To have the mulberry fields in good condition takes time and effort. The equipment sterilized and organized takes time and muscle power.

 To raise the silkworms themselves takes a month. From cocoon making to breeding the moths for the next season takes a few weeks. Reeling the cocoons into threads takes a week of solid reeling and throwing. The thread from the last five years has just been sleeping in a box upstairs. The last umpfff to dye it and weave it just hasn't been accessible. There has been too many other things on the burner with carpentry work and teaching.

Enthusiasm was waning and I was one step away from....." I used to raise silkworms and reeled the silk into thread and wove it for 15 years but I quit."

 I found the time and energy to do it this year. Although the mulberry wasn't perfectly branched and the trays could have used a dip in the river all turned out well. There was a group of students at the house and some of them were able to see steps from the eggs hatching until the cocooning.

The entire intricate process was what interested me at first. The history and beauty of the silk was hypnotic. Nothing new was going on the past few years. The nostalgia of the process is all that kept it going.   I've made a lot of things from the silk in the past. Some good some not so good. A few brilliant pieces. (No false modesty here.) Now is the challenge to make something more satisfying. That will take some serious focus time. To take time with a clear head to make the threads and dye them to perfection and weave them with care. The right balance of everything.
To make double cocoons, (two silkworms in a single cocoon) I keep fresh newspaper under the boxes and when I hear and see a silkworm pee (They pee once when they have completed the rough outline of the cocoon they stick their butt out and get ride of the extra water that did not make it into silk.) it is taken out of the box and then introduced to a friend in another box and cover it in glass forcing the two to make a single cocoon. This takes forever.  (And is a tad on the gross side.) The double cocoons produce a shiny slightly slubby thread when reeled. I'll use it for every second warp thread. The single cocoons will be reeled for part of the warp and weft. I'll melt one thousand of them in an ash lye solution and spin them for most of the weft.   There is a lot of work ahead. The beautiful perfection of kimono design was obvious with Mark and Gwen's and Dillon's and Sana'a and Melody's kimono they stitched last week. I haven't sewn one in years and want to get back to that kind of work.

Eggs hatching and being brushed off:

Time has just melted together. Where did the past five months go? It was just yesterday that we were dealing with the snow.

It is hard to imagine that this monsoon garden was sleeping under all that.


  1. great pictures, love all the cocoons in the rows, what is the snow clearing machine? Didn't know you could reel double cocoons. I have lots of experience at baby sitting - and spinning, maybe I should plan a visit.

  2. so glad you had the energy for the silkworms this year Bryan. It. must feel wonderful getting back to what helped entice you to stay in Japan. looking forward to seeing you soon

  3. your description of the attentiveness reminds me of lambing and kidding season, rising every couple of hours during the cold winter to check the status of pregnant ewes and does...and then with the goats, there was the twice daily milking. it was good work, indeed.