Knitting with Unspun Silk Mawata

Mawata, sometimes called silk hankies, are a preparation of silk associated with spinning and felting.  But many fiber artists don’t know that you can knit with unspun silk as well.  It creates a very light, textured yarn.

What You Need:

  • silk mawata, dyed or plain
  • US size 11 (8.0mm) knitting needles or needles of your choice
  • toilet paper cardboard tube or cardstock

Preparing the Silk

Begin by taking a thin layer of hankies, no more than 2-3 cocoons.  You should be able to easily see through the hankies.  Silk is incredibly strong.  The more layers of silk you try to work with at once, the harder it will be to stretch.  Be careful, because I promise you the silk is stronger than your epidermis.

Put your fingers through the center of the mawata and begin to stretch it.  Make a silk donut.  Depending on how you want to handle to colors, you may also stretch from the edges instead.  The goal is to stretch the fiber into a silk roving.

Continue to stretch the silk.  Try to stretch it evenly across the length.  If you need to, place your foot in the loop and use your leg as leverage to continue stretching.

How Thin Do I Stretch It?

It depends on how thick you want your silk “yarn” to be.  A good guide is to twist the roving slightly between two fingers.  This will show you roughly what weight of yarn you have, even though the finished yarn won’t have twist in it and may appear thicker.  Twisting it compacts the fibers in a similar way to the way the stitches compact it.

Remember, it is better to understretch than overstretch.  You can draft a thick area, but it is much more difficult  to make a thin spot thicker.

And Then What?

Then, when your roving is fairly consistently the thickness you want, find a weak spot and break it.  Instead of a giant donut, you now have a long strand of silk.  Wrap your roving around a piece of cardboard or cardstock to keep it from getting tangled.  I don’t recommend making a ball without something in the center, as the silk will stick to itself and become tangled or messy.

You Are Ready to Knit!

Treat your silk roving as you would yarn.  Silk is a very long fiber.  Each cocoon is one long strand of fiber.  When we stretch mawata, we break that fiber, but we’re still working with very long fibers.  As a result, we can knit, crochet or weave with the silk without adding any twist.

What’s the Caveat?

Silk holds onto static and the fibers are so fine, they stick to everything.  If you make a cowl with unspun silk, don’t plan to wear it with anything that has zippers or velcro and stay away from angular jewelry.  While the individual fibers are strong, they aren’t twisted together and don’t create a cohesive yarn.  Anything that catches on the fiber can disorganize it.

While it does have some downfalls, it is another opportunity to play with silk and different textures.  It is an opportunity to learn about the qualities of silk.

Have you made something with unspun silk?  Share it to our Twitter account!

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