by Sara Lamb
In June of 2009, I started spinning frequently on spindles, rather than my wheel. At first, I spun wool, intended for knitting or knotted pile, but soon I tried silk, and I began to accumulate skeins I thought would be perfect for knitting a silk shawl.
I had enough silk yardage spun to try a knitting sample in March of 2010, which was, alas, a failure:
There was too much twist in the yarn, and the stockinette knitting had a left-leaning torque. There were 8 skeins plied, and several more spun waiting to be plied, so this was disappointing.
But! I knew that twist would be an asset if I wove the silk into fabric, so I changed course, and ran a warp out of all the silk I had spun so far, and dyed it red:
I would need a lot more silk to weave a piece of fabric: this was 317 ends, and I would need close to 1000 to make a fabric 22 to 23” wide. I decided to experiment with adding wheel spun silk warps that I had on hand, to the spindle spun silk. I painted the rest of the warps using various red-based colors to go with the spindle spun silk: orange, red, magenta, fuschia, etc.
I knew the yarns were slightly different in grist, the spindle yarns were finer. All of the silk was Bombyx, but from two different sources. I did not know if the variations in twist insertion and origin would cause the yarns to shrink differently, or behave differently in the weaving, or the finished woven fabric, any of which could be either interesting, or a disaster. I could mitigate any behavior variations by intermingling all the yarns, but I wanted to find out if the two types of spun yarns would behave differently.
I decided to warp them as distinct stripes, segregating the spindle and wheel spun yarns.
Warping and weaving went well: the yarns were sett at 48 ends per inch, there were just over 1000 ends, making a fabric slightly wider than 22” on the loom, and 4 yards long. There would be shrinkage, take up and loom waste, but I counted on about 3 yards of finished fabric, which could be a shawl or a vest. The weft was a commercial angora/silk blend, and it did not vary in packing or spacing while I wove.
The left edge (spindle yarns) felt different, lighter, certainly, but not too sleazy. Then I put the fabric on a light table and it became clear which yarns were which:
More light shows through in the spindle yarn section, and the warps that extend beyond the fabric are clearly finer, of a different grist. The fabric feels different in each section: the hand of the spindle-yarn section is finer, softer fabric, the wheel spun section is firmer, sturdier fabric.
What to do with fabric with these anomolies? Clearly, it’s a great sample for classes: we can see and feel the difference in the yarns and fabric, and talk about ways to mitigate these effects. How would I do it? I would intermingle the warps, so there were fine and less fine yarns next to each other, not in large areas by themselves.
But what of thisfabric? Is it still useful?
I’d say yes, still useful, although perhaps not as a shawl.
I would not want the finer yarns, the weaker part of this fabric, to be subjected to the wear that the edges of a shawl must endure. But this fabric could be easily cut and sewn into a garment, and the finer edge used as hem facing certainly, or interfaced and used in the body of the garment, as trim, or pockets.There are lots of ways a clever seamstress might find to put two fabrics of similar color, one fine and one heavier, to good use.
And frankly? It’s beautiful- silky, shiny, drapes well, great colors; everything I want in a hand-spun silk fabric!
Photos © Sara Lamb.