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I’m Learning To Handspin Silk

I really goofed up.

Here I was, with a bunch of hatched silk cocoons. I’d found good instructions for cleaning and de-gumming the cocoons, and was excited to try spinning the silk. I treated the silk like wool, and carded it in preparation for spinning.

Don’t do that.

It was clear to me right away as I was carding the silk that something wasn’t right. When I spun, the results were lumpy, irregular and just not pretty. So I consulted my good friend Google (as I probably should have done in the first place.)

Wormspit.com came to my rescue again, with the best instructions I’ve found for preparing hatched silk moth cocoons for hand-spinning. Another nice resource when it comes to actually spinning the silk is this article on Knitty.

You can see in my photo, the yarn on the right was my first attempt to spin the silk, and to the left was my second try, after my research. Probably still not the best silk spinning ever, but a huge improvement, if I do say so myself!

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Silkworms, Day 56 – Silkmoths!

There she is! (At least I think it’s a she from the books. . .) I woke up this morning and found this little moth sitting in the cocoon box. So cute! But a lot smaller than I thought she’d be. Most of the photos are so zoomed in and blown up, I thought she’d be bigger.

I looked up about that red liquid you can see in the foreground. Silkmoth pee. She also squirted some sort of tan liquid on me when I picked her up to move her off the cocoon and onto a paper roll. Don’t know if that was more pee, or the pheromones I’ve read about, but it sure came out in a violent jet!

I’ve decided this these are the biggest and smallest cocoons in our set. I’m still amazed with how different they are in size, but almost all the others are just a little smaller than the big one. These are really the unusual ones.

As I was searching for the big and small cocoons, a second moth emerged. Here you can compare how they look fresh out of the cocoon, with their little smooshed, wet wings, compared to the one that had been out for hours already.

As a sort of sad follow up to the last silkworm post, one of those two straggler caterpillars died later that day. The other finally started spinning his cocoon, but didn’t complete it. I suspect he’s dead inside the partial cocoon he started, but I haven’t been motivated to investigate inside it to make sure.

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Silkworms – Day 38

Early this morning (the morning of this photo that is) a few of the silkworm caterpillars started spinning their cocoons. When I got up in the morning, 4 of our 180 silkworms were working on their cocoons, by the evening, about 12 were working at it. The rest are still eating up a storm.

As you can see, we gave them some egg cartons and toilet paper rolls to use to attach their cocoons to. They seemed to go for the toilet paper rolls first, but one used the egg carton. I’ll have to come up with more space for the others when they start spinning because there aren’t enough compartments for them all right now. I plan to build a grid out of cardboard strips for them.

Since I’m getting close to being finished with the feeding phase of silkworm rearing, I started to do some research tonight about what to do with the silk. I found a really fabulous website about silkworm care and how to harvest the silk. Wormspit.com . It’s the only source I’ve found so far that gives great detailed explanations of how to harvest and use silk without killing the pupae. I do my best to avoid killing things, so I’m excited to have found this reference.

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Silkworms, Day 8


From my very zoomed in photos, I don’t how well you can tell how much they have grown so far, but they look like real little caterpillars now. From my observations, and my research, I think I’ve been feeding them too much. I’d heard that they can really eat a lot, so I was afraid of underfeeding, but I guess I could have waited until they were out of the microscopic phase before I worried about leaving their tiny tummies too empty.

I wanted to keep giving fresh, pretty leaves to them, but was surprised that many of them wouldn’t leave the old, pitiful looking leaves. Then I read that you shouldn’t give them new leaves until the ones they have are totally dry. And this matches what I’m seeing in their behavior so far. The only leaves with no caterpillars on them that I can remove, are the super dry leaves. The ones that are still flexible, no matter how sad in other respects, all have some silkworms still clinging to them (and they are super hard to scoot off onto a better leaf. I’ve given up trying.)

But I also think that these stubborn silkworms that won’t move onto the better leaves are making bad decisions. Guess that’s why “As clever as a silkworm” isn’t a phrase you hear much. There is a growing variance in the size of the caterpillars. I’m assuming the big, beefy ones are the ones that hop onto the new food right away. Does the size difference show here? Pretty dramatic, I think.

I also found this little pocket of silk today. That’s one other thing I didn’t really expect – that they would make a little silk so early. I first discovered they could when I tried scooting them onto the good leaves, I could see them tethered to their crappy leaf by some invisible line. One even fell off and appeared to dangle in the air, like a spider that hangs by a bit of silk you can’t really see, but can watch them climb on it. Cool, huh?

A few online resources I’ve found helpful so far:
(but still no book. I may take Amanda’s suggestion and write my own mini guide at the end of this, ’cause there’s still a lot of info I want but am having trouble finding. Like how to harvest the silk – without killing the larva of course – and cleaning the silk, and all that good stuff.) I may be forced into – *shudder* – asking someone about it, and if I go to all that work, I’d like to share what I learn.

http://lawrencehallofscience.org/foss/fossweb/teachers/materials/plantanimal/silkwormmoths.html

http://www.silkwormshop.com/silkworm_info.html (This is also where I bought our eggs. Thumbs up to their service.)

http://www.permaculturevisions.com/silkworms.htm

http://www.insectlore.com/xinsectucational_stuff/instructions/silkworm_city.html

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SIlkworms, Day 1

Our silkworms started hatching Easter evening, and by Monday morning, almost all of them had hatched. Aren’t they cute! They were about 1/2 a centimeter long when they first hatched.

I really want to call them silk caterpillars, because they aren’t really “worms”, but since most folks know them as silkworms, I guess I’ll stick with it. Or should I try to start a movement to change the terminology?

I’m on the hunt for a good book about silkworms (aka silk caterpillars) and silk moths to learn more about these little guys and gals that we now have. I was very disappointed when I was unable to find a good book in our local children’s library (or any book at all for that matter) Raising silkworms is popular enough that I would have thought finding reading materials about them would have been a cinch. I found a few decent websites, but books are just so much easier to look together as a family. So, I’m open to suggestions.

I’ll have new pictures tomorrow to show off their growth for the week!