Because I have really cool fiber friends

One of my silk friends in England sent me some spidrex artificial spider silk. She’s been working with it, seeing how it behaves in various textile applications.

Of course, my first instinct was to see how it would degum…

The strands are perfectly even. The individual strands are 30 denier, which is apparently 14 “ply” of the original filament – which means that the filaments should be close to the same size as bombyx silk.

But, I didn’t know if spider silk even *has* silk gum. It’s not made from fibroin and sericin – it’s made from “spidroin.”

So the experiment – to throw and degum a skein of the synthetic spider silk, to see if it behaves at all like silkworm silk.

First, I threw a four-strand tram. This is moderately twisted with an electric spinning wheel, so that the fibers will all play nicely together.

This is the thrown spidrex on the reel, where I’ve wound it into a skein. The filaments are wiry and slightly golden. They feel exactly like raw bombyx silk. The curly piece is some of the single filaments, for size comparison to the thrown tram.

When I took the skein off the winder, it twisted up very tightly. No surprise there – this is a twisted singles, so it’s got a lot of energy.

Fortunately, once I lowered it into the hot degumming solution, it loosened up. Just like with bombyx silk, the thread spread out, making a cloud-like puddle of silk. The spoon is in there to keep the center of the skein open.

This is a comparison of the finished degummed strand (left) and the raw filament (right.)

Here, you can see how the tied end of the skein has fuzzed out. I can’t count them, but I imagine that each strand has split into its 14 component fibers; the fuzz is about the right weight for that.

You can see that it catches the light very well; the finished strand has a sheen very similar to reeled bombyx silk, although the color is closer to that of tussah. It’s also very soft – the photos can’t show that, but it is so much softer than before. It’s also got the slightly snaggy hand that reeled silk does; it catches on rough spots in the skin, because the fine fibers are so long.

Overall, a very successful and thoroughly enjoyable experiment. Next (probably on Saturday) will be to see how it takes dye!

15 replies
  1. shadowduchess
    shadowduchess says:

    Very cool, so is this just an experiment or something you’d actually incorporate into your weaving?
    I look forward to seeing how the dye works with it!!

  2. admin
    admin says:

    I have a very small amount, so I’m not going to be making anything large out of it. I might be able to make a very, very narrow ribbon – or something like kumihimo. If it takes dye well, I may try combining it in a project with bombyx silk; it’s got a very compatible hand.

  3. greyfortholly
    greyfortholly says:

    What is “tussah”?
    I have started spinning and have a small bag of silk tussah.
    Should I be spinning it with wool?

    I know how lightweight really good silk is in a garment: with this spider silk, would a garment be even lighter? (That is, supposing one could acquire enough to weave enough fabric to make a dress.)

  4. admin
    admin says:

    Tussah is a species (actually, a family of species) of silk moth. They eat trees high in natural tannin, and produce a beige to tan silk. You can spin it by itself (I prefer that) or blend with wool if you like. It spins well from the fold – gently tug at the end of the roving until it gives up a small bunch of fibers the same length, then fold that over your fingertip and spin from the folded area.

    I’ve raised the temperate tussah moth, Antherea pernyi – check it out here.

  5. admin
    admin says:

    As far as garment weight – I honestly have no idea. It feels a lot like regular silk, but once you got enough of it to weave a wide fabric, it might show other characteristics. I’ve just got the tiny skein.

  6. misoranomegami
    misoranomegami says:

    Once again, you rock! Ohh my weaving teacher (Leslie) brought Phyllis’s silk worm project notes to class yesterday! I have to say that the stiffled cocoons weren’t nearly as bad as I thought they’ld be. Kind of musical in fact! ^.^

  7. admin
    admin says:

    The cocoons are slightly stinky, but if they’ve been dry for a long time, that’s probably mostly gone.

    Let Leslie know, if she ever needs a silk-reeling demo, I’m your man… I’m always keen to talk to folks about silk, and I would love to meet more fiber arts people.

  8. hatchepsut
    hatchepsut says:

    you should try and get your hands on some of that spider goat milk…

    where “they” bio-genetically engineered a goat and a spider so the goats produces spider silk from it’s udder.

    it’s going to be used in bullet proof vests.


  9. admin
    admin says:

    That’s what this is. Did you click on the link?

    She’s working with it in the experimental phase – a medical company is investigating how to use it as a matrix to make artificial skin grafts.

  10. Marisa
    Marisa says:

    could I use one of your pictures (the fifth) for a blog about spider silk? It’s this page It’s in Dutch, sorry;-)
    The homepage is a site about nature education. Of course I make a link, to this page or any other you want and I’ll add your name (or the one who made the picture), if you tell me which name. You can send the info by email. I hope it’s oke with you.
    Thanks in advance!
    Regards, Marisa

  11. Guglielmi Luca
    Guglielmi Luca says:

    Good morning,
    sorry for the trouble, but I’d like if You can help me in my unusual request.
    I need some information about spider textiles, because I’m doing an University research of this type of
    material. My goal for this research could be to have information about it and or better having indication
    how to receive a sample of this textile.
    I’m waiting for Your kind reply and, thanking for Your cooperation, I give You my address below :

    Via Gramsci, 20
    10044 Pianezza (Turin) Italy
    Kind regards
    Luca Guglielmi

  12. Michael
    Michael says:

    Unfortunately, there’s just no source on the regular market for spider textile materials. I would suggest getting in touch with the folks who worked on the Madagascar project; I don’t have a way to reach them.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Security Code:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.