Lao Silk Article in SpinKnit

I’m fascinated with some of the new avenues that publishing is taking.  I wrote an article for the Winter 2011 edition of Interweave’s new electronic fiber-arts magazine, SpinKnit.  It has cool little galleries for pictures, it has video (not my article, unfortunately – I had trouble trying to record video properly – but some of them do) and it has animated illustrations showing how some of the tricky parts go.  Y’all check it out!

The Spice Girls

I got a new cell phone (an HTC Inspire 4G), and decided to take a few shots to see what kind of quality it gets in photos.  It has an 8MP camera and an LED flash, but only a tiny lens, so depth of field and focus aren’t amazing – but it’s not bad.

A fritillary butterfly nectaring on a lantana.  We get dozens of these every day – they not only enjoy the nectar, but they also lay eggs on the passionflower vines.  The vines don’t get stripped too badly, though – our local wasps keep them in check.

Poor Jeanette is looking really rough.  She’s in the process of molting her feathers; the new black ones are starting to come in, but she’s looking shabby while they do. In a chicken, this is referred to as “unthrifty.”

The Spice Girls (the Marans chicks that Sue hatched out just after Easter) are looking great. They still have all their wing feathers, and they can get out of the fenced side yard to wander through the garden.  I haven’t yet been able to convince them that nutgrass is delicious – but they’ve been good about eating bugs and digging in the dirt, without doing much damage to plants I love.

Clove is looking particularly stunning.  With the way she’s posing for this picture, she looks almost like a young rooster.  I love the iridescent sheen of green and purple on her shoulders and back.  She doesn’t have any copper at all; Cardamom has a little, and Cinnamon has the most.

Prometheas – third and fourth instars

This is what they looked like a week ago, on 8/31:

This is the third instar; the thoracic tubercules are spiky, but not actually very sharp, and they’re bright yellow.


Most of the time, this happens on a twig, and it’s very difficult to see – I’m lucky that this time, a couple of the caterpillars spun their silk pads on the side of the plastic container, and I could see what was happening!


If you look just in front of the caterpillar’s head, you can see the swirls of silk that it lays on the surface.  It will then hook its feet into this silk, to help it peel out of its skin.


This is the same thing, viewed through the clear plastic. The silk pad covers the whole area that the caterpillar is standing on.


I didn’t see any in the process of changing, but this is what you get afterward – the shed skin is attached to the silk, and the caterpillar has walked out in its fancy new suit.


This is the fourth instar, with bright orange tubercules.  I *love* the smiley face!


The knob at the back is still yellow.


Some of the larvae appear to be skipping the fourth instar, and going directly to the red-knobbed fifth instar skin. There are just enough that I can’t be absolutely certain these aren’t just a little ahead of the others – but they’re not all that much larger.  We’ll see if they change again!



Hot Chickens, Cool Caterpillars

The chickens are holding up OK in our record summer heat. We did lose one to heat stroke, early on… one of the young roosters was trying to be close to Momma while she was trying to lay an egg in the middle of the afternoon, and it was just too much. I set up a stand mister and a fan, which cools off a small section of the back yard.

I set it up so that this area is also screened by trees, so it’s not only shady, but safer from hawks.

The Marans pullets are growing right along.  I have started calling them Cinnamon, Cardamom, and Clove – the Spice Girls.  The remaining rooster… was delicious.  I had hoped that he would get a little older and more robust before we had to kill and process him, but he was getting too noisy.  There’s a misconception that roosters crow *only* at dawn… roosters *start* crowing at dawn.  They also crow whenever something frightens or threatens them, whenever they feel the need to prove their manly roosterfulness, or just whenever the joy of song bubbles up from within and cannot be denied.  They crow a LOT.  Hundreds of times each day.  Quite loudly.  That’s the main reason that we’re not allowed to have roosters in the City of Dallas.

The Marans hens, although not as brightly colored as the roosters, have a lovely iridescent green/purple sheen to their feathers.

Freebird looks like she’s picking a wedgie, or trying to impersonate the Escher Dragon.  She’s molting by bits, and the new feathers look distinctly blue against the aging yellower ones.

I also set up a brazier that holds enough water for a little wading – the chickens shed heat through their skin, especially on their feet, legs, and combs, so getting their feet wet makes them cooler.

The Promethea caterpillars are chowing right along.  They’re getting noticeably bigger; you can tell especially by the proportion of head to body.  Their head casings are inflexible, like a helmet, but their bodies stretch – they start out with tiny bodies and huge heads, and end up just the opposite as the body outgrows the head.  Then, they shed their skin, and it starts all over with a new bigger head.

And this is what the larvae do to a sweetgum branch!  As they grow, I put new branches in their container, and they walk from the old leaves to the new ones.

I walked into the kitchen with the camera from taking chicken pictures, and Chris didn’t even have time to duck – he just kind of flinched.  I think it’s a good picture of him, though!  Behind him is the new chrome-yellow wall of the kitchen; he painted all the downstairs rooms in new, rich colors.



Promethea – second instar

The Promethea caterpillars are changing to second instar. They’re seven days old.

They have not all shifted yet – they may have hatched across two days, or some may just be a little delayed. You can see that the remaining first-instar caterpillars are smaller, and also yellower than their second-instar siblings.

You can see – especially on the stripe behind the head – that they’re beginning to develop a white, flaky cortex – as they get older, it will develop almost into a crust. I don’t know whether this helps to make them unpalatable to birds, or what.

A New (to me) Moth – Promethea

The Promethea moth (Callosamia promethea) lives in Texas, but not the part where I live – they want the far-eastern reaches of the state, up against Louisiana. They have a wide range in the eastern US, all the way to the Atlantic.

These are the eggs after hatching. They remind me a lot of the Eri silkmoth, Samia ricini and the Calleta Silkmoth, Eupackardia calleta, both of which are cousins of Promethea.

On the day of hatching, the larvae are very big-headed. They tend to be gregarious; they will wander for a while, but then settle in little clumps. They remind me of tiny sheep, the way they line up shoulder-to-shoulder to eat.

Although they’re only a day older than the hatchlings, these guys have noticeably lengthened out – and you can see the clumping behavior. They will stick together like this until they get to the third instar, if they follow the pattern of their cousins… we’ll see as they grow up!

These guys tend to prefer tulip tree and sassafras and spice bush – I have them on sweetgum (liquidambar), as I don’t have easy access to the other trees. They seem to be doing OK so far.

Teenage Chickens

The chickens are growing up fast! They’re eight weeks old today.  They will spend long periods of time some distance from their momma, although they still tend to hang out with her when the other hens are around, and she’s still feeding them and gathering them up into the coop at night.


We’ve quite definitely got three pullets (young hens) and two cockerels (young roosters) – this time around, the differences were clear quite young, and have become more pronounced as they grow.


One of the pullets.   This one has a little more of the copper on her back than she really should have, but I think she’s going to grow up to be a lovely hen.


One of the cockerels.  This one is more than a little on the gangly-and-awkward side; hopefully he will eventually grow into the length of his legs, and stop being such a momma’s boy. We call him Urkel.


Another family grouping, with a photo-bomb from Ginger.


I *love* Ginger’s expression.  She always has this look in her eye.  Ginger takes no crap from anybody.

Hatching Day

Chris got me a new camera for our anniversary; a Canon T2i.  I’ve been playing around with the new camera, looking at some hatchling silkworms.

This one’s in the process of hatching.  They bite through the egg shell, bit by bit, and then crawl out.


The lenses on the new camera are working for me quite well; it takes a lot of light and some serious care in the focusing, but I’m getting pretty much what I want.  The thing I want to work on next, is a tiny bit more depth of field…  I’m already shooting with lots of additional light, but I still get a less-than-paper-thin depth of field on these super close shots.  Actually, the straw-like substrate that the worm is walking on, is the fiber in a brown paper sack.

After enough of them hatch out, I brush them off the paper into a little tray, and sprinkle finely chopped mulberry leaf over them.

For comparison, here’s a link to some shots I took a few years back, using the old camera and the add-on tube lens.  The new camera is SO much sharper!  You can really see the difference in the detail level between the shot above, with the T2i, and the one below from the PowerShot (a point-and-shoot):



Please Vote for our Idea!

The Sammons Center for the Arts,  the amazingly cool place where I work, is part of the Refresh Everything Pepsi Challenge.  Our idea is a Family Arts Festival; we want to introduce people to the Arts. You can vote online here, and you can also text 106158 to 73774 from your cell phone.  If you can, vote twice each day – it makes a huge difference.
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