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Knitting from Silk Cap


Alison Waskom

Alison Waskom writes about knitting directly from silk cap - drafting the silk cap directly into yarn.

I did this knitting as part of a silk spinning workshop that I took last year.

Silk caps are layers of silk cocoons that have been stretched out and flattened. Try holding the entire cap sort of in the middle, so it hangs down like a bell or hat, using your non-dominant hand (my left hand). Then, reach inside the cap with your dominant (my right hand) hand, and separate a layer from the whole mass. It will be sticky, and you will likely get more than one layer, but try for just one. It is easier to find the layers in the center than at the edges, where they have been more "mashed together".

Here is a photo of silk cap dyed varying colors, courtesy of  Elizabeth's Fiber & Yarn Store.  You can see that the individual caps have been rolled up:

Pull your two hands away from each other so that you are pulling the single layer away from the majority of the cap, sort of pulling it inside out in the process. When you have a single layer separated, put the larger part of the cap to the side, and work only with the single layer. You kind of "stretch" the cap layer out into a bigger and bigger circle, by punching a hole in the center with a finger and then pulling it out. Think of it likek having a hank of yarn that you are getting ready to put on a swift, that is sticking to itself, and you have the idea. Eventually one edge will get thinner than the rest (and the whole hank keeps getting a bigger and bigger circumference). This is where you then concentrate the stretching, until it finally breaks.

Now you have a length of silk, of varying densities. Draft this, holding your hands much further apart than you think you should. (My hands were probably 4 to 6 inches apart when I started drafting a section, moving out to 6 to 8 inches apart.)  I drafted the silk down to about a 1/8" diameter - somewhere between sport and fingering weight yarn if you are a knitter.

I would draft about 3 or 4 feet worth of knittable stuff, wind it around my hand very gently, and then knit with it. I wouldn't try to get the knittable section separate from the less-drafted portion - that was just as much as I could do before my hands would get tired and I'd need to do something else with them for a bit.

The silk is sticky, and it will adhere to everything around. Drafting this cap was the only time in my life that I've used hand lotion to keep my hands from catching and pulling individual little strands of the silk. Also, I am dealing with an overuse injury in one hand, so I try to vary my fiber activities frequently. Drafting this was hard on the injury, because of the stickiness of the fiber. If it isn't drafting - move your hands farther apart!

I don't think there's a big difference between a silk cap and a silk hankie in practice for spinners / knitters. A cap has been spread over a rounded form as the silk cocoon is opened up, and a hankie has been made into a square shape. Each cocoon is another layer to the preparation, so a silk cap/bell (they seem to be interchangeable terms) and a silk hankie both contain multiple cocoons, laid out in layers for the handling of shipping and sale.

If you have questions about this technique, leave a message to AlisonWaskom.

Uploaded: 2/25/2004