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Voltinism

Voltinism refers to the number of broods that a silkmoth strain (or species) will have per year.  Most of the silkworm strains in cultivation are univoltine (or monovoltine) – meaning they have one brood per year, and the eggs laid by the moths of that brood will go into diapause to hatch the next year.  Some strains are bivoltine, and have one generation that overwinters, and one that has non-diapausing eggs.

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This strain from Thailand is multivoltine, meaning that it has multiple generations per year.  This makes sense in a region that has a very mild winter, and allows rearers to take advantage of the long growing season.  The first generation in spring lays eggs which hatch without diapause, and they continue to do so until the light cycle tells the worms that summer is drawing to a close, and then the moths will lay diapause eggs.  Some strains never diapause, like the Cambodians – but because of that, I wasn’t able to keep up with the strain.  I don’t have fresh mulberry in December.

The non-diapause eggs don’t mature the same way that diapause eggs do.  Instead of turning from pale yellow to brown and then gray, they stay pale yellow.  The only indication that they are fertile (and about to hatch!) is when you can see the head of the developing silkworm through the eggshell; it’s called “blue eye stage,” and it usually means you have a day or two before hatch time.

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Fortunately, these moths are beginning to get the feel that summer is fading – they are laying some diapause eggs amongst the non-diapause.  I think that this is actually the work of multiple moths, one laying diapause eggs and one laying non-diapause eggs, but I wasn’t segregating them and can’t be sure.

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The diapause eggs are tan colored, and will shift to dark gray, indicating they’re developed and in diapause – at that point, they can be refrigerated for storage until spring.

SpinOff’s 2010 Calendar

I got an email a while back from Amy Clarke Moore, asking if they could include some of my silk in their upcoming calendar.  I was delighted – and they have done such a neat job on the whole thing!

The calendar is here, available for pre-order. I can’t wait to see it in person; they have put together some very creative fiber collages.

Here’s the image from their website of the page with the silk on it:

The red and blue cocoons are somebody else’s, and the dyed silk wastes up at the top – the (natural!) yellow and peach and white cocoons, skeins of green filament embroidery floss, and multicolored spools of floss are all my worm spit!

Kudos to Amy, these turned out great.

Giant Bugs Invade Manhattan

I was contacted last September by a video producer in the exhibits department of the American Museum of Natural History. They’re working on an exhibit about the Silk Road, and they want some footage of silk being made, silkworms doing their thing, etc. She asked if I would be willing to help out – and, of course I would!

So now, coming soon to a prestigious world-class museum near you (if you live in New York…) – it’s me, and the silkworms, on a 48″ screen!

Mindy, the Director/Producer (one person, doing two jobs) flew in from New York, and Russell, the Light/Sound/Camera man (one person doing three jobs!) met up with her here. They came over last Sunday for a walk-through, and then we did the shooting all day Monday. Between staging, lighting, and shooting, it was a long day – we started at 7:30 in the morning, and wrapped a little after 4:00 PM.

We did three different setups – the first one was in my upstairs studio/office, with the various stages of silkworm growth.  Mindy (the Director) took these shots – and she was mostly busy figuring out what footage they needed, so we got pictures only when she had a slow spot.  The footage was all shot in 1080i HD, and even on the monitor looked GORGEOUS. I had arranged to have everything from eggs hatched that morning, to moths laying fresh eggs – I figured that way they can show the whole cycle.

Second setup was downstairs, for the reeling.  It’s always fun having your home turned into a video shoot – things get rearranged, clipped out of the way, lit, screened…

Here’s Russell shooting closeups of me reeling.

… and here’s what the camera sees.

I was surprised at how dim some of the lighting was – they were aiming for “dramatic,” and apparently the HD cameras are *fast* and can capture very good detail in less light.

We did an interview at the end, so they could have “talking head” footage of me explaining things – and also material to mix into voice-overs of the caterpillars, etc.  I had to have some make-up, because I was shiny.

They did beauty shots of some of my work, which was cool to look at. It’s amazing, how the eye of the camera, whether still or video, can change the way you see something.

So: “Traveling the Silk Road” will open November 14 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  I’m hoping that I can get there, one way or another, to see it!

And special thanks to Chris, who took the day off and wrangled the dogs.  I couldn’t do it without you, love.

Upcoming event – The Culture of Cloth

Originally published at WormSpit. You can comment here or there.

For the most part, my fabulous Day Job as Assistant Director of a performing arts center and my fascinating hobby job as a sericulturist and weaver stay pretty separate.  Everybody at the office knows about my weaving and silk work, and a lot of them have seen me other places – but our mission at the Center is *performing* arts, so my creative endeavors don’t interact much with my administrative work.

UNTIL NOW!  Our building is 100 years old this year, and as part of our Century Celebration, we’re doing an event on August 8 called The Culture of Cloth (link to PDF of event flyer).  Artist Sue Benner, who coordinated the weaving of the big tapestry panels in our Meadows Hall, will give a presentation of her work, members of the Dallas Handweavers and Spinners Guild will be demonstrating weaving, spinning, and surface design of textiles, and I’ll be reeling silk.

Artist Sue Benner with Cellular Structure VII

Artist Sue Benner with Cellular Structure VII

Me, reeling silk.  I did these videos for an article in Spindlicity, and filmed them in Meadows Hall where we will be demonstrating.

The event is FREE, but we do ask that folks let us know they’ll be coming – please call the Sammons Center at 214-520-7789, or email me at michael@sammonsartcenter.org or Diane at diane@sammonsartcenter.org

Hey-lolly-golly, get it any way you can!

This is especially for Darina, because she can’t believe my moths are SO KINKY.

These are both males.

They’re hooked together really well.

This little grouping is one male, mated with a female – and then another male who has hooked up his claspers on the other male’s wing. I can’t imagine that would be comfortable.

But, once again… you can see that they’re firmly attached. Imagine supporting your entire weight by your prehensile penis, and you can get an idea what’s going on.

These two males must have timed it just right, because they usually can’t hook up with a female without a fairly clean mating of the genitalia. I’m not sure if one, both, or neither was actually hooked up enough to get the job done.

Trimoulters

I am raising a Thai strain of silkworms.  This spring, I had one good-sized group, and they all made moderately sized cocoons – except for one, which turned out tiny.  The summer group, I will admit, got a little bit neglected; I moved during the middle of their cycle, and  so they sometimes got not enough food, or old leaves because I couldn’t find the new ones near my new house… you get the idea.  Poor little red-headed step-child worms.

So – some of them decided that life was tough, and they would cocoon early.  They spun up in the fourth instar, making TINY but perfectly-shaped cocoons.  My friend Eika explained that these are called trimoulters, and they are typically caused by feeding over-matured leaves.

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Now – these are a naturally small strain.  Chihuahua puppies are never going to grow up to be German shepherds – but the trimoulters are *freakishly* small.  Here’s a comparison of normal Thai cocoons, hybrid Chinese cocoons, and the trimoulters.

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and here’s a comparison of the normal (smallish) Thai pupa, and the trimoulter pupa

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And, in a move that should surprise no-one, they hatch out as freakishly small moths.  They’re SO CUTE.  Like pinchums-widdle-cheekses cute.

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Despite being tiny, they are breeding vigorously.  I’m curious to see what will come of it – and whether the eggs will be visible.

Fiddlebacks

Originally published at WormSpit. You can comment here or there.

I haven’t been writing much lately, but a LOT has been happening.  Chris and I moved house, I’ve written an article, getting ready to film a presentation for a museum – I really need to write it all up, but not tonight.

Tonight, I’m stuck with spiders.  In the past couple of weeks, we have found five brown recluse, or fiddleback, spiders, in the house.  They’re not aggressive, or dramatic – but they push my buttons.  For some reason, I can hold bees in my hands and let them lick the honey off, but these *particular* spiders freak me right out.

My grandmother was bitten by one many years ago.  I was probably ten or eleven at the time, maybe a little older.  She got a necrotizing wound on her forehead which required daily medication for many months, and eventually plastic surgery to replace a void in the flesh.

If I didn’t have several hundred silkworms currently chomping away, and a video to shoot for a major museum in two weeks, I would probably go get some heavy-duty spray and “nuke ‘em ’til they glow so you can shoot ‘em in the dark.”   I’m usually more of an Integrated Pest Management type, slow and careful with chemicals – but there’s something about these particular pests.  I’ve ordered glue traps, and will start out with those and see if I need to move up to wettable powder around the baseboards.

One thing that they don’t mention in the literature (that I have found, at least) is that if a recluse is hiding out beneath the treadles of your loom, and you bump the loom with the vacuum, it will run out and bounce up and down on the carpet.  I don’t know whether it’s a threat posture, or if it was just freaking out from the vibration – but it’s not what I’d call reassuring.

Photo behind the jump, for those of you who don’t care for big pictures of wiggly critters…

Read the rest of this entry »

More on the sewing thread

The Lendrum has made it SO MUCH EASIER to produce sewing thread. This is a three-ply tightly twisted organzine. I’m using three filaments per ply, and it’s making up to about the weight of Size C from Belding Corticelli; I hope to be able to make some Size A as well, for finer weaving.

This is the three ply, approximately 20 twists per inch each way.

Because the raw silk is stiff, the skein stands upright, like a stick.

The silk, boiled off. Yes, I used this picture earlier.

Laid across a spool of Belding Corticelli Size C sewing silk. I want to make Size A, too – but I may end up having to adjust the filament size to get there. We’ll see what a 2×3 looks like!

Thread Counter

Originally published at WormSpit. You can comment here or there.

I found this item on Ebay a while back, and have been finding more and more of its information.  This photo isn’t of the individual piece that I got (it’s from another site that had one on offer) but it’s identical.

from the seller’s description:

“Thread Counter Micrometer for Cotton, Linen, Silk and other Textile and Fabric. This brass and steel precision instrument measures the density of woven and knitted fabrics as well as wire meshes. Made in 1910 by E. V. Cook & Co. in Manchester with 5 graduated scales on rotating silver rules as follows: 1. Inch scale divided into quarters. 2. Inch scale divided into ten parts. 3. Linen measure (L). 4. French millimeter (mm). 5. French Ligne (F), a traditional unit of distance in French speaking countries, equal to 1/12 French inch (pouce). The magnifying lens ocular (X15) can be easily adjusted. The instrument comes with a leaflet with operating instruction and a box (size: 10X8X7.5 cm) lined with purple velvet.”

I’m looking forward to using this for counting the twists in tiny threads.