learning to spin with silk yarns

Learning to Spin Silk Yarns

For the longest time, I felt intimidated by the idea of learning to spin silk yarns. It felt like the epitome of luxury fibres for me. At a KnitCity festival, looking at the Sanjo silk studio booth, I became mesmerised by the shine and character of the silk yarns. As a then-beginner spinner, I got myself a few packs of silk and wool-silk spinning fibres which I promptly sampled going home. After looking at my plyback samples, I stashed those fibres for the longest time, for whenever I would be good enough to spin them.

Ready to Spin Silk Yarns

Back to 2020, stuck at home like most people, I had the opportunity to take an online class with Kim McKenna—our Nuances to Spinning Better Yarns teacher. It encouraged and guided me to approach these beautiful and mesmerizing fibres. I decided to explore and spin CVM wool and silk combos (2 parts wool to 1 part silk) using many of the techniques I learnt in the videos.

With great pleasure, we organized the fantastic group, Spinning Luxury Fibres, with spinning teacher Rachel Smith. Spinning Luxury Fibres: Silk is the first set of classes in the series. After watching Rachel’s handling of silk fibres, and her spinning plyback samples to find the spinning sweet spot, she enticed me to dig out my precious silk fibres and sampling began again.

First Spinning Silk Tests

My first 100% silk exploration was with Peduncle silk. I was careful to moisturize my hands twenty minutes or so before sitting at my wheel, and lay a slippery silk napkin on my lap to keep the fibres from getting stuck on my pants—helpful tricks gleaned from the courses.

Spinning with Silk Greta Cornejo Muga Peduncle
100% Muga silk 2-ply sample (left) and 100% Peduncle silk 2-ply sample (right)

Using the second smaller pulley on my Schacht Matchless wheel with the 17:1 ratio, I spun a five-gram sample of singles to a bobbin. I used a short forward draft, adding another colour of singles as a marker. Rewinding the singles to bobbins and plying through the rings makes plying a breeze and the final yarns are more even. As Rachel mentions, the woolly nature made it an easy introduction to silk spinning. I found it a lovely, full-of-character experience.

For my second 100% silk exploration, I chose Muga silk and decided to spin with the 20:1 speed and a continuous backward draft. I did notice my singles had much more twist compared to my first silk sample, but as I was a bit distracted by a guild meeting while spinning, I decided to let the singles be tightly twisted and call it a “twist experiment” after finishing my skeins.

Spinning with Silk 100% Muga silk 2-ply sample (left) and 100% Peduncle silk 2-ply sample (right)
100% Muga silk 2-ply sample (left) and 100% Peduncle silk 2-ply sample (right)

After plying the silk samples, I submerged them both in a warm soapy bath for a couple of hours and let them dry undisturbed. Comparing both samples is fascinating. Both feel so soft on my fingers, with a “dryness” I usually don’t feel with wool. Both samples are really lovely, though the shine of the muga silk screams silk to my senses.

My Own Learning Library

Keeping control cards for all of my spins is a great way to keep learning. It is great to remind myself how I chose to spin a fibre or blend and use it to inform my future decisions. After watching Rachel’s specific silk lessons and looking at my old control cards for silk spinning, I chose to use a small pulley for my next project. My plyback samples reminded me how much twist these fibres need. I also decided on worsted drafts to enhance and showcase the natural shine of the fibres. Looking at my previous knitting projects worked in wool-silk blends will help inform my decision when choosing and swatching for my next project. Building onto the knowledge base, I keep growing as a multi-crafter.

If you are a spinner, even if you are just starting, I encourage you to source some luxury fibres (SweetGeorgia has lovely kits) and add them to your spinning stash. Or unearth that luxury fibre you got a few seasons ago and play. Even five grams can ignite a lot of fun and creativity to your craft. If you do, please share with us in the community forums. We are looking forward to your take on silk.

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