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Sewing with Silk: Understanding Silk Textiles

Video: Threads magazine

In this first episode of Katrina Walker’s Sewing with Silk video series, you can learn about sericulture. Understanding where silk textiles come from is helpful background for eventually sewing with this luxury fiber.

Cocoon types

Katrina shows a variety of cocoons, made by different moth types. Depending on the species, the cocoons may be large or small, white or colored. Those made the the domesticated silkworm, Bombyx mori, are pure white and capsule-shaped. Other types are pale green or gold, and come in various shapes. Dupioni cocoons were made by two silkworms spinning a single cocoon together, so they are large.  When reeled together, they create the slubs that are characteristic of dupioni fabric.

Processing cocoons

To get the silk from a cocoon, you must boil and soak the cocoon. Then the fiber is either spread onto a frame, to create the start of a layered batting, or unreeled as a single strand. The stretched and layered cocoons are combined to make muwata, or silk hankies.

Reeling the silk filament

After soaking a cocoon in hot water, you must remove the outside layer of silk. It’s coarse and not suited to making into fine fabrics. Eventually, you’ll find the start of the cocoon’s single filament. This can be reeled from the cocoon to form raw silk; each strand is made from six to eight separate filaments wound together. The combined strand is then made in to a hank of raw silk, ready to go to a mill and be woven.

Spinning silk fiber

Some silk yarns are made from silk fiber that has been carded and combed into roving, rather than reeled. This silk fiber is usually of lesser quality than the silk that is reeled. The carded silk roving is then spun. Katrina shows two…

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About This Video Series

In this 20-part workshop, textile expert Katrina Walker introduces us to silk fabrics. She covers the gamut from silkworm to crafting beautiful silk garments, so you never need to fear working with this luxury material. Episode topics include sericulture: how silkworms are cultivated, and how the silk filaments are harvested from cocoons. You'll learn about the many categories of woven silk fabrics, including crepes, satins, and jacquards. Katrina also offers advice for matching your fabric…

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  1. OsewViolet | | #1

    This was fascinating. I always wondered how they got that filament started off the cocoon. It just seemed like an impossible task to find the beginning, but It looked easy watching Katrina do it.

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