Sorry, folks, this rambles a lot… but it’s interesting stuff.

In order to make silk by hand, I’ve had to learn how to devise some of the tools that I need that can’t be easily procured in America. These are textile eyes; I order them from a company that makes them out of technical ceramic so that they are durable and will neither chemically interact with the silk, nor snag or catch anything. They’re called “trap eyes” because the tiny little curl in the center means that you can literally push the thread toward the eye, and it pops in and stays in. They are expensive and fragile, but they’re the right tool (or tool tip – these go into a fitting on big factory machines, they’re more of a part than a tool) for the job, and they make a lot of processes much nicer, and they improve the quality of the silk. I’ve also had excellent success using a single hole of a bone button, or the guide eye from an old fly-fishing setup. I have had to make WEIRD tools, and so I’ve had to get inventive. You can’t ever use most kinds of metal. Wood is rough on the silk. Glass is actually a historical favorite, or agate. I have some of both. The inestimable and sorely missed Bill Wyatt, when he was working through the prototypes for the silk reel I still use for my primary work, one idea he had was two little stainless steel rods set at angles to make a narrowing V as a silk guide, and that literally skinned the silk fiber, and it wasn’t helpful at all. Next version was an update sent to me in the mail to attach instead, and it was cut from a piece of sheet teflon with a notch almost like a gun sight, narrowing down to a V with a rounded base. And I set it up and reeled silk, and I watched as the silk slowly sawed through the teflon, cutting itself a meandering new path. Then I researched and figured out about textile eyes, and we got that worked into the design. The ones he used in the final draft of the reel were carbide ceramic fishing-line guides.

In order to get the trap eyes to interact with my copper croissure assembly for reeling filament, I have to secure them to copper pipe caps. I use epoxy putty. There is likely some much more elegant method, but this is cheap and quick, and I know that it’s not going to interact with the silk because it’s made safe for drinking pipe fixes. And I kind of like that they have my fingerprints in them.

I did a video for the American Museum of Natural History.

I broke their link, because I’m kind of annoyed… I put a lot of work into the video, and they USE A CELL FROM IT for a button to click for more info about silk… and they don’t use the video.

You think they decided it was somehow inappropriate? I mean, they flew a producer from Manhattan down, hired a local videographer and a sound guy, and they used an amazing camera that really get right in there and catch everything in Super HD without having to over-light it. I’m really proud of the video. But the thing that I think when I see this… I’m definitely too white to be the person standing in for the “China” part of this Traveling the Silk Road exhibit. I really struggle with this some times. The Asian Festival used to put me under a banner that says CHINA, and then most of the other booths with names like that, were run by people from those countries. I’m not 100% sure that I was the only white dude running one of the named country booths… but I felt like I was. I get invited to do paid gigs for groups like Families with Children from China, and it’s all these families with beautiful little Chinese girls, and the mommies and daddies are pretty much all Caucasian. But regardless, I’m glad that I was able to show them how caterpillars aren’t gross at all, and see, you can see the caterpillar spinning, and do you want to hold the moth? And see, this is how I get the silk to unwind from the cocoons. This one kid, showed up for two different years. I think he held that caterpillar for probably ten minutes, just kind of communing with it. His mom said he always came looking for the bug one. He went home with a live cocoon the second year, because I know when somebody really needs one and will be cool and careful and reverent. Oops, that kind of went sideways. My point is, I wonder if they didn’t link to it, because there was some issue of cultural appropriation of having a white dude teaching one of the most Asian things you can find. I know Bryan Whitehead has dealt with this in Japan. Being a white guy telling Asian people about Asian traditional arts.

Chris and I went to the opening of the exhibit at the big American Museum of Natural History in NYC. All the people that I knew – that is, TWO of them, the video producer and the live animal care specialist that I’d helped get live silkworms into the exhibit, were not at the party, and I thought they would be, and we spent half an hour trying to sort out where they were… if I had been better mentally prepared for being there without the people I knew, to be able to get them to introduce me to the kinds of people I should have been meeting there – the people who fund things, the people who might need me to come and talk live at one of their exhibits – I have to have a good run-up to switch into my socially aggressive howdy-and-handshake self, and chasing around trying to find the one familiar face put me in a frame of minds (see also: James Fadiman, “Your Symphony of Selves”) where I felt lost, stood up, awkward. I kind of stood next to the big screen where my face was a time and a half life size, hoping somebody would want to talk about silk, or at least say hi, but they were all museum development people and rich fancy-dressed VIP patrons who were cocktailing their way through the exhibit at the elegant grand opening, before they opened it up to the hoi polloi. A couple of people said, “Oh, that’s you!” and thanked me for coming. Don’t you hate it when you go to a Natural History museum and nobody wants to talk about bugs or the marvel of silk? I mean, I had COCOONS WITH ME. In the pocket of my nice wool suit. It’s like when nobody wants to know your favorite dinosaur. (For me, I love lots of them, but the four-winged bird one, the Microraptoria, really have my heart. FOUR WINGS, dude. They have FOUR WINGS.

Now, I think my reaction would be very different. Psychedelic-assisted therapy has given me what Chris and I call The New Brain, and it’s a LOT different. I just connect very differently. I have very little sense of modesty or discomfort with telling people how I feel, and I get a lot less of the physical symptoms of anxiety which used to accompany any kind of potentially challenging engagement – I used to get shaky hands, sweaty, felt like my chest was too tight… and it’s pretty much gone. I keep doing the work. And for whatever reason, it seems like it works on the connections themselves, too – people seem to engage with me much more comfortably than used to be the case.

But anyway. Long story really long… here you can see the croissure working:

We had just moved into this house, the one that Chris and I bought together, and it was like a month later that the American Museum of Natural History had the appointment to come shoot the video. We were moving in boxes a few at a time – we would unpack stuff for an hour or two, then do something different… but the garage was still full of boxes. Then we were moving boxes, and found a brown recluse. My grandmother had a bite from one on her forehead when I was a kid, and had necrosis and eventually plastic surgery, and it was a thing. I know, rationally, that they wouldn’t come up under the covers, and there’s growing evidence that most “spider bites” are actually MRSA lesions… but my skin was crawling when I’d try to sleep. Then we moved a bunch of boxes one day, and we found another recluse. And then another. We found twenty that day in the garage. So in my mind, the entire house was CRAWLING with them in all the nooks and crannies. And I had the AMNH producer and the videographer coming in like a week, but the lack of sleep plus the creepy-crawlies in my mind were putting me in a pretty mentally-unwell state. So we called the exterminators, and told them that we’re pretty organic, but OMG, and what could they do. And about the moths and caterpillars. “I want for this one room upstairs with the caterpillars, to have nothing die. I want all the spiders to die. Other than the intense “DEMON WETTABLE POWDER” (OMG, y’all we had DEMON POWDER in the attic, it sounds like a Gothic horror story.) And then I packed up three cats and three dogs and a Noah’s Ark representative sample of all the life cycle parts into my car, and went and hung out at my office while they worked. I left many caterpillars at the house – partly just because I could only carry so many, but mostly because I wanted them to be coal mine canaries for me, and make sure that the studio room didn’t get too toxified. It’s important if you’re raising silkworms; they have been so thoroughly over-bred for the silk, they don’t have much resistance to toxins. And we set up all these different areas with silkworm life cycle, and still life of yarn, and things for them to shoot with the camera.

And the last picture is just for funny. A yarn friend, Julie Hwang, was at a film festival in Taipei, and she saw this. One of the difficult conversations with the video producer, was about what to title me. They usually have people with PhD’s on these videos, and they have to have a title under my name to justify my opinions. “Sericulturist” is what they wanted, and technically, it’s right… but now, in most of the silk-producing countries, that’s a degreed title, like being a lawyer, or a CPA. IF you are a silkworm farmer (which I’m really not; I just have some in shoeboxes) then a Sericulturist is the smart guy who comes a few times a year to inspect your facilities and confirm that your stock is healthy, and make recommendations for improving quality, etc.

But she wouldn’t accept any modifiers like “amateur” or “hobby” – so I got a title that was only OK because it doesn’t have that specific meaning here in the US. I’m a sericulturist in the sense that I raise and work with silk; I’m not a Sericulturist with the big S. And there, underneath my name, I’m pretty sure we’re looking at, “Michael Cook, Sericulturist.” I can pick out the ideogram for silk, but I’m not sure what the others mean.

Anyway. Croissure. It’s the trick nobody told me about. And I figured out how to do it and teach it, with parts from Home Depot. Plus these tiny high-tech bits.