Antherea polyphemus is closely related
to the tussah silkmoth, Antherea mylitta. It produces a very similar
silk, tan in color and very shiny and strong. I spun the silk on a tahkli spindle
into a fairly fine yarn, to make the small amount of silk go as far as possible.
This is what the cocoons look like. They are wrapped in oak leaves, which provides
them with natural camouflage as they hang in the tree.
This shows the scale. These cocoons are a little larger, on average, than the
bombyx cocoons. These are about 1 3/4 inches long.
The first step is to remove as much of the leaf matter and debris as possible.
You can’t see it from this photo, but I have also taken out the pupal shell
from the inside, and tried to get it as clean as possible. It’s much easier
to get it out now, than after the silk has been degummed.
This is a single cocoon’s worth of silk, after degumming. To degum the cocoons,
I simmered them in a solution of 1/4 cup Orvus paste and 1/4 cup washing soda
to a gallon of water, for about 40 – 50 minutes. I teased the fibers apart a
little, and set them out to dry. I discovered that some of the cocoons had been
out in the sun too much (they were wild collected) and were sun-rotted. I discarded
those that were rotted, because the fibers were too fragile to make good thread.
This is the silk after carding. I carded the cocoons out into "fluff"
using wool hand cards. This aligns the fibers, and helps to eliminate the noils
and any bits of leaf or bug.
This is the silk, spun and plied on a brass tahkli spindle. This skein is about
four or five cocoons worth.
This closeup shows the scale of the yarn, and catches a little of the sparkle
Pretty – so pretty in the picture; I can only imagine how beautiful it must be in real life…
Technical question – your camera does amazing close-up work – what kind is it?
It’s a Canon PowerShot S-20; Chris got it on Ebay, I think – we found out after getting it, that it’s not in production any more, so it’s tough to get batteries, etc. I sometimes wish I had one that would do more mega-macro stuff – there’s a delicate balance on how close I can get before it becomes a blur.