Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Easiest Silk Cocoon to Thread Technique.

The easiest way to make a thread from a cocoon is to 'mostly melt' the natural glue that holds the cocoon together and just pull the cocoon into a thread. Make a pH solution of 9  from ash or slaked lime then place cocoons in a laundry bag. Submerse them in the water at 90 degrees centigrade for an hour while occasionally stirring the cocoons in the bag.

Rinse very well.  Left with a high pH the silk will  frazzle over a few hours. In other words, neutralize the silk by gently washing with warm water as soon as the cocoons have collapsed.

simplest silk thread video. 58 seconds.

Here is Elizabeth well over her initial disgust at the whole de-bugging steps.

I've been teaching Elizabeth several silk thread making techniques. The Japanese words for these are pretty obscure and hard to remember so she coins the words in English as we go along. This technique became known as the "squid technique." Easy to remember and reference.

The work is a tad gross and time consuming so we worked on a manageable  50 cocoons at a time. 
After pulling them into threads we hung them up to dry. They harden as there is still a lot of natural glue in them. Once tied together and plied they can be de-gummed properly to make them softer and shinier.

Elizabeth proved herself to be a natural at reeling high quality ten cocoon thread. Almost no slubs to be found. (There is still some snow on the ground.)

We took the fresh reeled silk to a village not far away that used to specialize in throwing silk since the Edo period. I tried to give her the rudiments of throwing (twisting or plying) in a few hours. There are a few old throwing machines at the studio that are somewhat operational.

There are some old photographs on the wall showing life in the village 90 years ago where throwing silk was the main activity thousands of worker's life centered. 

Changing the gears in the throwing machines determines how many spins per meter.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Cocoons to Thread

These 3500 little specks of black pepper are actually baby silkworms born last spring at the house.

Twenty-five days later they were spinning cocoons. (Click to enlarge.)

Cocoons from last spring ready to be processed into thread.

It takes time to process the cocoons into thread. Time was precious the past seven months and reeling  and spinning silk never made it to the priority list. The cocoons were kept in a fridge and once in a while a few hundred were taken out and reeled. 

Reeled silk is when the ends of the thread is found and the cocoons are unravelled using a zaguri. 

Here is the mystery of finding the end of the 1500 meter thread that makes up the cocoon.

Elizabeth from Kentucky, (whom I met in Vancouver at the Maiwa Symposium) is at the house for two weeks learning how to make different kinds of threads from silk cocoons. We started with the reeling ten cocoons at a time. Five to seven of these strands will be played together to make kimono warp threads. We will be working on decreasing the mountains of cocoons on the second floor.

Momo that lovely Minx is guarding the reeled silk.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Fabric Shopping in Tokyo. Nippori is the Place. (?)

Linen thread is of course the best thing in the world to make your indigo vat feel useful and it's life meaningful. Linen woven by hand it is sublime. (Right Jean?)

Hand-spun cotton will also make your indigo vat glow with importance and self-satisfaction.

The indigo vats more or less need cloth as well. Their existence is almost meaningless without it.

The best cloth would be something hand-woven.
(This could be repeated one hundred thousand times by every indigo-dyer and indigo consumer on the planet.)

Good cloth to indigo dye is not easy to find. It is out there but often enough, the selection is limited and you settle for less than satisfaction and a few dips later you're not so choosy.

There is a textile area with eighty-five shops or so in Tokyo. It is on the Yamanote Circle line. (Green one.) The station is called, Nippori. (Not 'Nishi Nippori' which means 'West Nippori'.)  Avoid this place on weekends and during sales because it can be crowded. There are designers from Japan and all over the world buying textiles on these few streets. There is a lot of 'Made in Japan' textiles so you can expect the highest quality. Like the monstrous textile markets in Bangkok, Delhi and Morocco it can be overwhelming. Where did all this stuff come from and where is it going? There are mountains of polyester fabric which essence is shouting, 'throw me away' before it is even made into something.

Unless you read Japanese this map of the area won't be of much use. It just gives you an idea of how the 85 shops are located in the general area. Nippori station is at the bottom of the map.

Students here at the house are always looking for material to dye in the indigo. I suggest they go to Nippori and at times drag them along on my trips in. There are several large stores called, 'Tomato' that have a strong presence in the area. They have good stuff.

Yesterday, I took the luxury of walking around for a few hours and exploring the smaller stores and the upper floors of the big stores. (Usually in a mad rush to get out of the area, I swoop in, shop and run.)

The retro-Japanesque stuff makes good presents to take back to your home countries.

There is a hotel right in the midst of the madness. It would make sense to stay at this hotel your last day in Japan as it is only a two minute walk to the Keisei liner that serves Narita airport.  Go on a textile shopping spree and buy an extra suitcase and take it all home.

It is also a reasonable place to go shopping for cloth if you are coming out to the farmhouse and staying in Tokyo beforehand. Remember all cloth has to be boiled to have the sizing removed and this takes time and energy.

All this written....back home, exhausted from a long day in Tokyo I finished the fringes on these blankets woven last year. The wool is amazing. It is from Nancy Zeller at Longridge Farm. The wool was first dyed with gardenia pods to get a clear yellow and then a few dips in the indigo to get the green. Peddling around on the twill and using Nancy's silk/wool blend yarn for the weft on the lighter blanket.

Thinking....this is what I should be making and teaching. Stop all this Nippori bought stuff nonsense and focus on making thread/yarn from materials at hand and weave them. Hand-made is important. Very very important. Having been a marketing student in the 80s when marketing, targeting youth was about to take off, watching this documentary made me nauseous. It is worth a watch. If you do make things by hand it will definitely make you feel better about yourself as you despair on the future of humanity.
Make You Feel Good About Making Things.