Silk Spinning Practice

Sara Spins Silk

Spinning finer silk singles and plying up for the desired grist of yarn allows for color gradation effects. Changing one color at a time in the plying gradually shifts colors in the project.  Photo by Joe Coca.

In nearly a decade of knowing Sara Lamb, I've never seen her without silk. Whether she's wearing it, spinning it, or knitting it, there's always some nearby: brilliant dyed top on a spindle, handwoven silk in one of her signature kimono, an off-white knitted shawl waiting to be painted.

Sara may be best known as a spinner and weaver, but she loves knitting with silk, too. The following is an excerpt from her article in the Winter 2011 issue of the eMag SpinKnit entitled "Spin to Knit Silk!"

"Wool is our spinning benchmark, and specialty fibers like mohair, angora, and alpaca are more commonly spun than silk (at least in pure form; silk is often added to top, batts, and other blends). But silk can be fun to spin too: it takes dye beautifully and produces the most stunning and lustrous fabrics. It should be a part of every spinner's repertoire.

"Silk is an elastic fiber, second only to wool in its ability to stretch without breaking. But silk, once stretched, will not return to its original configuration; it will stretch permanently by about 8 percent of its length. Silk yarn is ideal for lace shawls and scarves, where stretch is less likely and not critical to shape or size. Silk can also be used successfully in ribbing, cables, and elastic knit structures, which help keep the shape of the garment when the fiber itself does not."

Sara's cable-plied 2-ply tussah made a nice size yarn and sample with a bit of texture from the cabling. Photo by Joe Coca.

Exploring Knitted Silk
"I began knitting silk with samples. The first was a small square knitted in a commercial yarn that would be easy to substitute in patterns for garments. Problems arose immediately, even with this small sample: the yarn became fuzzy with knitting and seemed unlikely to hold up to use without degrading.

"I decided to spin my singles finer and ply up to the size of yarn I wished to use for knitting. This would capture all the fine silk fibers in the twist insertion process and prevent them from fuzzing up (fibrillating) during the knitting and wearing of the garment. I spun a variety of yarns, knitted samples, washed them, and pressed the samples dry."

Sara's explorations of silk for knitting and weaving were the basis of her book The Practical Spinner's Guide to Silk. From preparation and dyeing to spinning and plying, her curiosity knows no bounds. Check out her book and learn a variety of spinning techniques for yourself.

Happy spinning,


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