Silk – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

What is not to like about silk?  Like certain types of woollen clothing, it will keep you warm when it is cold and keep you cool when it is hot.  Silk is a labor intensive luxury fabric.  Although it is a natural product, many steps are taken to make silk fabric.  There is washing, bleaching and dyeing, all with their own unique effects on the environment, before it is even turned into a fabric.  There is a lot of information about silk on the internet.  Have a look.

Silk fabric and silk products are used a lot in modern feltmaking techniques.  Silk fabric is used in nuno felting to make scarves and shawls and added as decoration to most wearables, and sometimes it is used in felted art.  Silk, and silk fibers will not felt, but they will stick like glue to fine wool.  As the wool shrinks, the silk make wonderful textures.  The skill is in learning how to use it well.  However, silk can be expensive and is why viscose and other plant based fibers are being used more in feltmaking as they give similar effects, but without the cost.  Plus, they are considered vegan, although not necessarily more environmentally friendly.

Many people know that silk is produced by silk worms.  What most people don’t realise is that many silk worms are killed in the processing of silk cocoons as the worms are still inside them.  I will let you pause here to think about that.  You will not get such a wonderful product without a bit of sacrifice.  There are many by products in the production of silk and one of those is silk carrier rods.  There is information on the internet about silk carrier rods and a bit about how to use them.  I purchased some from World of Wool a few years ago as a 100g bag was quite cheap and they were silk.  I didn’t know much about anything then.  In fact, there is more information about them now than there was when I bought them.  I bring up carrier rods as I had a bag I never used and I was having a dyeing weekend of silk items.

This is what it looks like out of the bag (photo courtesy of World of Wool).


It doesn’t look very attractive, does it?  This is what gets caught on the rods during the degumming and when they are pulling the threads.  The first thing I noticed when I took them out of the bag was the smell.  It was stinky.  They are also hard.  They are hard because they have not been degummed and contain sericin, which is what the larva produce to make the cocoons.  If you want to dye silk carrier rods, you need to soak them in cold water and vinegar, preferrably overnight, to soften them up to take the dye.  So that is what I did.

IMG_0555Here I am getting everything ready to soak for a weekend of dyeing silk items.  I’ve had some silk hankies (because they were a good deal and for the same reason I mentioned earlier) for some time, but now that I know what to do with them, I split them up for dyeing.  I got my first batch from Wingham Wool Works and the second batch I purchased from a lady on one of the needle felting groups (she bought from World of Wool) for a bargain.  Neither of these retailers currently has this item in stock and DHG is very expensive in comparison.  But I digress, I also have tussah silk, Margilan silk gauze and sparse, ready made scarves and handkerchiefs, silk laps, and ramie and hemp fibers, just because.

So, on dyeing day, I had a look at my silk carrier rods.  They were soft enough to start dyeing, but there were other issues I needed to deal with first.  If you are squeamish, do not look at the photo below.

IMG_0556This is what you don’t see when you purchase your hand dyed carrier rods.  I went through every rod to check and see if there were cocoons trapped in them.  This is what I pulled out from a 100g bag.  Each one of those cocoons has a dead larvae in them.  I left one for you to look at on the top left corner.  I wondered if it was worth taking them out of the cocoon, but really it wasn’t as they weren’t all in good shape as the first one I took out.  It took me a while to pick them out.  Although not a very nice job, I am not that squeamish.  These went in the bin and the rest of it went into the dye pot.  If you ever work with silk hankies and sari silk fibers, you will always find a bit of silkworm.  That is what the black bits are that you think might be dirt or vegetable matter.  You can purchase commercially prepared cocoons whole or degummed, but there could be a surprise.  Eri silk is silk produced from silkworms that make their cocoons on the ground and they are then harvested after the worm has pupated and come out.  However, this silk is more fine and that makes it more expensive.  I am a firm believer in knowing how things I purchase are produced.  Although not ideal, I can live with buying silk fabric, but I will be limiting my purchase of silk fibers just for the sake of decoration.

This is how my carrier rods turned out.


I got some really lovely colors here.  I used acid dyes.  I still don’t know yet what I am going to use them for.  They are actually good for felting.  When they are wet, they can be split into very thin layers.  They can be stretched when dry and they can be spun.  Here is a video I found about a couple of things you can do with them.  I am sure there is more.



4 thoughts on “Silk – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. Hi Arlene,
    Thanks so much for your post! I’m so grateful to you for giving us all the benefit of your knowledge and research.

    I too have always had an enquiring mind and have always wanted to understand how things work.

    I really am very grateful to you for sharing what you learn and how you give your knowledge very freely to us all!

    Liked by 1 person

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