Wednesday, May 07, 2008

One of the delights of my childhood was having the opportunity to have silkworms. It really came into the category of one of those passing fads that got passed around and shared for a period of time, until we all got sick of it, like a schoolyard game.
Some kid would get hold of a few worms, and they would go through their breeding cycle, and sooner or later they would have more than they could handle in the shoe box we all used to keep them in. An exasperated parent would insist that some of them be given away, and so we would all take a shoe box to school, and receive a few tiny worms to start our own farm.

As the worms grew, they developed voracious appetites, and it became something of a preoccupation to find enough mulberry leaves to feed them. Any kid with a mulberry tree was definitely top of the popularity stakes.
It was said that if you fed the worms on violet leaves, you would get lovely purple silk cocoons, and other diets were also recommended for producing all colours of the rainbow. I do not recall us ever putting them to the test, and I only remember the cocoons having yellow silk.
For the first few weeks the worms received our every attention. Our parents insisted that these worms be confined to their shoeboxes in our bedrooms, usually under the bed. Sometimes they escaped, and then there was trouble. I suppose that to our mums, they just looked like white grubs or caterpillars, in spite of the exotic name!

The climax came when they eventually began to spin their cocoons, and the time spent waiting for the moths to hatch was endless and exciting. Meanwhile there would be the occasional experiment of plunging a cocoon into boiling water and spinning off the silk. We grew tired of that process very quickly when we realised it would take years to produce anything worthwhile!
Finally the metamorphosis took place, and the appearance of the dull greyish white of the moths was a little disappointing.
Then came another time of waiting, for the eggs to be laid and hatched – and so the cycle began once more, in more ways than one, because by now, our parents were insisting that we give the new baby worms away. We usually didn’t mind at this stage. The moths had died, and the shoeboxes were starting to get smelly anyway, and some of us had started to neglect our little farms so that the worms died of starvation.
I was reminded of all this when I received my latest parcel from the Thread Studio.
Beautiful silk fibres, silk “hankies”, silk carrier rods, and bleached cocoons, ready for dyeing, silk roving, and the loveliest of all-the crimped and curly silk “throwster’s waste”, dyed in all sorts of variegated and exotic hues.
Silk hankies - layers of silk that can be peeled off in small sheets- with silk "carrier rods", and cocoons, both dyed and bleached.

All these treasures are destined for collages and textile work.
Just running my fingers through it conjures up feelings of exotic luxury. I always say there is nothing so sensuous as silk, although the sensation of smooth chocolate melting in one’s mouth comes fairly close!

Silk roving is carded silk, dyed in wonderful hues

Silk is so versatile, whether it be fabric or fibre. It can be dyed into beautiful vibrant colours. It is not the fragile and difficult to manage fabric that many believe, although it does come in some delicate forms. Old silks used to be treated with a metal substance, so that they would “rustle”. Treated in this way, they used to shatter and disintegrate. This tended to give them a bad name. Nowadays they rank up with the other natural fibres of cotton and wool for versatility and durability, not to mention the sheer aesthetic pleasure they give!

Throwster's waste - collected from the floor when the silk is being processed - provides wonderful texture and richness to textile work

Now - for the strict and purist vegans among us- did you know there was such a substance as "Soy silk"? The fibres are made from a protein that is obtained from manufacturer's waste when Tofu is produced. Not a single silkworm dies inits production - but I bet it does not feel quite so wonderful to the touch!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you have the worms, I have the huge weeping mulberry tree.

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