Silk Like A River

I love to spin and knit silk, but there’s something about perfectly smooth silk on a loom that’s simply irresistible.


The Winter 2011 issue of SpinKnit features silk in many forms: handspun in Mexico for weaving on a backstrap loom, stretched into mawata and attenuated into unspun yarn, spun for handpainting, and reeled using an indigenous Lao technique. All provide lovely drape and the unmistakable hand of silk, but two articles really show how silk shines when woven.


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Dyed reeled silk awaits a project
in the Wujin weaving studio.
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Reeled silk can be so smooth that it’s difficult to knit with, but when held under tension for tablet weaving, it becomes a lovely glassy-looking warp. John Mullarkey, an accomplished and passionate tablet weaver, used just four colors of reeled silk as the warp for his Rocky River Band. Very simple patterns for threading and turning create a shimmery narrow band with a sinuous pattern. Between the rhythm of the turning cards and the sleek surface of the band, this is a project I’m planning to make on a sunlit day when I want to imagine floating down a river. (I prefer weaving to flyfishing!)

SpinKnit also includes an article about the silkworking traditions in Wuzhen, China, from legend to the twentieth century. Silk is reeled there for use in the town’s weaving shop, which is renowned for its woven brocade.


 Spacer 5x5 pixels Two Story Loom
  In a crow's-nest perch, one weaver
moves huge groups of heddles
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In the weaving studio, simple looms are used for plain weave, the long shining warps converted quickly into exquisite cloth. The main attractions are the enormous wooden structures larger than some studio apartments, which are made up of thousands of pieces. Each brocade loom is operated by two weaving masters, one of whom sits on the stop story and manipulates groups of heddle threads with her feet. The other master weaver sits on the bench with a paintbox of tiny bobbins wound with colorful silk. Using a pickup stick, he lifts groups of warp threads and moves a combination of bobbins left or right, following the large cartoon at his side.


My weaving skills are limited (though not as limited as my Chinese language skills), so rather than attempting to explain what I saw, I’ll give you a video peek into the Wujin brocade workshop.


There are plenty of other silk treasures—along with woolly goodness—in SpinKnit. I hope you’ll join us on an armchair fiber trip around the world.

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