Bombyx "Hankies" February 08 2014

Just as a refresher, Bombyx Mori is the Latin name for the moth that spins silk. In order to get the silk out of the cocoon, either, the moth chews a hole in the cocoon so it can get out or the cocoons are immersed in hot water. The moth dyes and the cocoon remains intact. The benefit of this is that when the cocoon is unwound, there will be one continuous thread. The other way to get the silk out of the cocoon is to soak the cocoon in hot soapy water with a tiny bit of washing soda. When the cocoon is soft enough, a small wad of silk can be removed along with the moth.

When this bit of silk is worked and pulled apart, or expanded into a square, it is called a "hankie", because it sort of looks like a hankie. However, this is not your common nose-blowing hankie!

The Japanese name for this form of silk is mawata, pronounced just like it looks. It means expanded cocoon. Those who have traveled to Asia tell me there are factories where ladies expand cocoons into the size of comforters, layer them to a certain amount, then put this enormous hankie into a duvet, or comforter cover. The comforters are light as a feather and very warm! Silk is 3 times warmer than wool.

Since this form of silk is easy to work, it can easily be drafted and spun. For someone working with hankie for the first time, it might be easiest to do all the drafting first. I used to draft, then just wind it into a ball. Then it's all ready to go. Or one can draft some mawata then spin it, and repeat.

Here in the states, mawata is available by the ounce from retailers :-) either natural or dyed :-). 

One way to prepare the mawata for spinning is to peel off as thin a layer as possible (this is usually at least one hankie, probably more). The more layers with which one works, the more difficult it is to draft. Silk is incredibly strong and can cause cuts, sort of like paper cuts. The next thing to do is poke a hole in the middle of the hankie and keep pulling on the hole until the silk is a big ring. Keep pulling till there is a thin enough place to pull apart. Now there is a place for joining to the spindle or spinning wheel lead string. Continue this process until all the silk is ready to spin.

The other way to start drafting mawata is to go around the perimeter and sort of gently pop the edges. The edges are a bit thicker than the interior. Then just pick a spot and start to draft. If one is working with a dyed hankie, it's fun to either try to start at the same spot on each one, OR start anywhere and see what happens to the colors.

Another way to start is by grabbing the middle from both sides with both hands and pull. The possibilities are endless.

The most important thing to keep in mind when spinning mawata is that it is one continuous thread and therefore the staple length is as long as the length of the thread that made the cocoon! So when drafting, keep your hands quite far apart, maybe as much as a foot. If your hands are too close together you will not be able to draft.

I've spun my thinest yarns from mawata. It's one of my favorite things to spin.