The Margaret River Silk Farm is Australia’s first local silk farm. At the farm they grow mulberry trees and raise the silk worms until the cocoons are ready. The silk is then processed in Cambodia in what appears to be a well thought out, ethical way. The amount of silk produced here is too small to make cloth on its own so it is mixed with Cambodian silk to make a 5% West Australian/95% Cambodian product. The Silk Farm hopes to increase its harvest over time to get a fully home grown product.
Whilst the silk produced isn’t fully a local product, I was keen to learn more about silk manufacture and support this fledgling local business as part of the project. Amanda kindly saved a length of home reeled silk thread that they had in house and after I found this video tutorial I decide to buy a small amount of cocoons and see how difficult it was to make silk yarn.
The cocoons arrived and they looked like this. They are really hard to touch in this state.
So following the tutorial and with some assistance from Carolyn and Megan we set about breaking down the hard gum (serracin) so the silk becomes plyable by boiling them with some soapy (olive oil soap again!) water.
Those familiar with silk manufacture will know that these cocoons are unbroken and the worms are still inside. The Silk Farm keeps the worms inside the cocoons when they send them for production and they are eaten by the locals. So this was not peace silk and the worms did also die during this part of our making. Now I have gone through the process, I am sure that you could make it work with broken cocoons also if you have them available.
When the cocoons were quite soft we stretched each one apart to carefully holding 4 corners. This was really quite a bit more difficult than it looks in the video. I think we could have softened the cocoons a little further to make work easier.
We then stretched each cocoon over a picture frame. Here is the frame after the first cocoon, you can see how uneven it was!
About half way
And with all 30 cocoons
Once dried this is called a silk tissue. You can then work with the tissue in numerous ways, you could use it for nuno felting or stretch it out to make a yarn for knitting or weaving.
The silk tissue is in a good state for dyeing, so I dipped it in my pot of freshly soaking native indigo leaves (I know, I know, this needs a whole post of its own and many of these !!!!!!!)
Which gave it a lovely blue grey colour
The last step to making yarn is take a couple of layers at a time and to stretch it out into a yarn, which at the moment, I have left quite chunky as it suits my purposes quite well. I intend to do a little more work on the yarn as I work with it, but for now I am happily cooing over the colour! Blue, glorious blue!
Has anyone else worked directly with cocoons before? What did you make?