Makin' Mawatas

Tonight’s adventure in silk management… making mawatas – silk hankies!

This is the cocoon after it comes out of the simmering degumming solution. It’s in a little crock pot for about an hour, in a special mix of water, Rodin powder, Orvus paste, and washing soda.

I wiggle the end open, without breaking or cutting the fibers, and take the bug out.

This is what comes out – each one gives up a dead pupa, and a piece of caterpillar skin.

Then, I begin to stretch out and attenuate the cocoon. I can’t show the part where I hook one corner on a post sticking out of the frame, then spread it out to hook on all the other posts, because I’m taking these pictures myself and it’s a two-handed operation.

Here’s a stack of about a dozen cocoons that I’ve spread out on the frame, one on top another.

This is a side view; you can see the thickness it builds up.

This is a single mawata, after it’s dried. The patch that didn’t spread out smoothly is the cradle – the last bit of silk that the worm spun before changing its skin inside the cocoon. My mawatas aren’t quite as smoothly spread out as the commercial version, but they’ve been improving consistently, so I imagine it’s just a practice issue.

17 replies
  1. sandthistle
    sandthistle says:

    Love the pic of the silk on the frame – that’s beautiful!

    But I have to ask for an elaboration on “mawata”…? Please? 🙂

    Looks like things fiberly are fun there…

    Yours in mutual madness, ~ Sand (back to weeny needle sock project)

  2. eljefe
    eljefe says:


    You are so talented.
    I am so envious.
    GLad to see you real life alchemical experiments are yielding you some fruit.

  3. admin
    admin says:

    Hmm… well, most of it comes from “around”… the only place that I’ve gotten stuff here in town, was from Anna with White Rock Weaving & Craft Center – but I’ve never been there, I got stuff from her at a guild meeting. A lot of it, I’ve gotten from online places. And the silk I raise myself! Let me know if you need some eggs – it’s their season now.

  4. misoranomegami
    misoranomegami says:

    Sorry I got really excited. I didn’t even realize Dallas had a weaving and spinning guild! I was just wondering because ever since Woolen Works went away I’ve been having to go to Grandview to visit Heritage Arts which is a bit of a drive so I rarely go. And no thank you, I would have no idea where to put them or what to do with them. 🙂

  5. treeskin
    treeskin says:

    I gottta ask: those look really nifty, but what in the world are you going to do with them? I can think of lots of things I’d do with it (float on top of handmade paper, etc), but what is it supposed to be for?

  6. admin
    admin says:

    It’s difficult to spin straight from a cocoon; the hankie makes it easy to attenuate the fibers out to spin them. They’re also used for things like paper and such – the web of shiny fibers is really beautiful.

    The plan is, I’m going to post a photojournal about how to spin it, and then one on dyeing, soon.

  7. treeskin
    treeskin says:

    I am enlightened.

    Thank you for posting this series, by the way–I’ve always wondered about the worm-to-silk process.

    Now, everyone in my head, repeat after me:
    We have enough hobbies.
    We have enough hobbies.
    We have enough hobbies….

  8. admin
    admin says:

    Hee hee. Yup… I was realizing as I started on the moth rearing adventure, that it’s going to be a whole new addition, with special equipment, materials, books, tools… same thing with the dyeing.

    Fortunately, after a while, many of the tools interchange… the reel for winding the silk is a yarn winder for the spinning wheel… the soap kettle works as a dye vat…

  9. treeskin
    treeskin says:

    A month or so back, a trip to Hobby Lobby’s “handmade journals” section sparked a “I could read the instructions and make something better than that” challenge. By’s done some bookbinding before, and enjoyed it, so he’s encouraging me, like I needed it.

    And that’s why I was up until 1am last night, doing a stack of small Japanese-style books. These actually had something inside them, poems I liked, mostly, a little drawing.

    The rational voice in my head says I should worry that I’m justifying my new hobby (bookbinding) because it intersects with my calligraphy and drawing hobbies, and gee, I already have the tools and supplies from other projects. And since I started scrounging in the print shop scrap bin at work, the paper’s free, cardboard and chipboard out of our recycle bin for covers….And all of this encourages Byron, who likes to make tools, and who was muttering last night about making me a platten press so I didn’t have to use a stack of phone books to press my finished books.

  10. admin
    admin says:

    I had actually started to sign up for a bookbinding class here at the Craft Guild back in November… financial reasons made me change my mind at the time, but it’s still on The List.

    Byron, who likes to make tools
    Any chance he’d be interested in making a Zakuri? It’s a Japanese silk reel, typically made of hard wood, with gearing to make the silk wind in a pattern like yarn on a cone (overlapping angled lines)… I don’t have a pattern, but can provide several good photos…
    gives you a rough idea…

    I’ve been working for a while to find a tools person willing to undertake this as a commission; let me know if he’s interested!

  11. treeskin
    treeskin says:

    Re bookbinding: you might check out and , that’s where I found the instructions I used. (Check the comments on recent posts on , there are several useful links there.) It’s not hard.

    I’ll show the pic of the zakuri to By tonight when he gets home from work. Neat looking thing, isn’t it?

  12. admin
    admin says:

    I’m up to my arse in alligators right now… or at least monster worms! I’m gonna have to start looking at bookbinding again when silk season has at least gotten smoothed out, if not finished. Thanks for the links!

    I’ve got photos of a zakuri with more closeup shots of the gearing – let me know if Byron’s intrigued enough to want more info!

  13. byronsart
    byronsart says:

    OK I’ll bite

    This looks nifty and would deffinitely be fun to try and reproduce. But from your origonal description I envisioned something more like the ball winders that you can buy for winding balls off of big skeins for knitting.

    Show me the pictures, it can’t be all that tuff to create.

  14. admin
    admin says:

    Re: OK I’ll bite


    This is in the collection of a friend of mine, if you need more specifics, like measurements or different-angled photos. I imagine that it’s more important for the gears to go *with each other*, though, than for any of them to match a specific measurement.

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