silk reeling!

I got a chance the past couple of weekends to do some SERIOUS silk-reeling. Whipping through cocoons by the dozens and eventually hundreds, and making skeins that I can actually visualize making an entire project with, rather than using for tiny detail embellishment!

My meter says that there are a thousand feet on the itomaki bobbin at this point. The filament is reeled from approximately 15 cocoons – it’s about the size of a fine human hair. The reel is a custom design from Bill Wyatt of Wyatt Wheels – it takes a special bobbin that he designed, but it will also fit these antique Japanese itomaki bobbins.

This is all the silk from a single sitting. Probably between six and eight thousand feet; I didn’t count this one, but it compares about the same with one that had 6,800 feet – a little over a mile and a quarter. About fifty cocoons, total.

These are the two skeins I worked up. On the left is a skein of 8-strand Soie Platte, or flat silk – it’s doubled up for thickness, but not twisted at all. It is amazingly shiny and very, very soft – it’s perfect for applications where maximum sheen is desired, but heavy wear isn’t expected. Good for embroidery and brocading. The skein on the right is 2×4 Organzine – four reel filaments twisted together to make a “tram,” which is then thrown back with another strand to make the organzine. Sturdy enough for weft, warp, or other fabric uses.

Closeup, showing the two skein ends. You can really see the twist in this picture. Skein on the left is .4 oz; skein on the right is .5 oz. I haven’t measured them, but I’m guessing close to a thousand yards per skein.

This is the thing that I’m most excited about – they’re actually big enough to do something with! My previous reeled skeins were so tiny, I couldn’t really make a whole project with them.

17 replies
  1. admin
    admin says:


    I’m looking forward to being able to enter something at the fair next year that’s made *entirely* from my hand-reeled silk. And skeins that people can actually see!

  2. admin
    admin says:

    Re: the new silk

    I sent Bill an Itomaki yesterday, in hopes that he can make a quick-n-convenient chuck to secure it on the reel. He’s manufactured the jigs to mass-produce them effectively, and says they’ll take about a day, and run $400.

    New and interesting wrinkle: the silk is eating through the Delrin at the end of the wagger arm. I thought it was doing OK, but then last night noticed where it’s sawing a tiny fine line through the plastic. In another twenty hours or so of reel work, it’s going to chop off half the V. What’s the traditional material for that part? I’ve found the bone buttons work well on mine, but that’s just a rig-up because mine didn’t have anything there, just a stick with a tiny rough hole where something had obviously been attached.

    I need to send you some thread samples, so you can tell me how many filaments you want in the tram for the shawl.

  3. hugh_mannity
    hugh_mannity says:

    Picks up lower jaw from floor. Grabs bath towel to sop up drool before it ruins ‘puter.

    Damnitall Man!!!!! You do Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine work!

    That is gorgeous and yummy and a useable quantity.

    FWIW, you’re running at about 18 -20 miles per pound there. My best spun silk (done on a spindle is about 3000 yards (2 miles) per pount or about 10 times as thick.

  4. fragiletender
    fragiletender says:

    Ooh, what lovely silk.

    I saw a beautiful thing today that you would have liked – a large antique (it looked Victorian) wool winder made from brass and wood. Sadly out of my price range and I don’t need one anyway but it was stunning.

  5. admin
    admin says:

    I need to do an actual denier count – measure a skein of standard length (a kilometer, probably) and figure the grams per 9 kilometers (denier) count.

    One of the things I love about reeled silk, is how LIGHT it is – per size, it’s got more air in it than most fine fibers, so it’s very lofty. Makes sense that they used to make parachutes and balloons out of it!

  6. greyfortholly
    greyfortholly says:

    Remember the really huge boofy gowns that were made in the 1700’s? When they are made with silk that is as fine as yours, all of that fabric is much easier to wear without having to work out for a week first.

    Oh, I’m a fabric freak too. I have a small square of the sweetest moss green silk you ever saw, from a friend who actually made the above said dress for her costume design class at university. The entire dress was as light as a feather.

  7. admin
    admin says:

    I’m working on a bobbin full of organzine now, that’s going to be about 2x as much as both of those together. I want to roll in it.

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