Silk Caps – per 100 grams (from Treenway)
One of the most unusual fibre forms available to handspinners today is a glistening web of silk filaments that has been stretched into either a mawata square (hankie) or a cap shape. Mawata is a Japanese word that loosely translated means expanded cocoon. Hankies and caps are made most commonly from Bombyx silk cocoons that are not suitable for the reeling process. The cocoons used to make caps and hankies may have been misshapen, discolored or have a hole pierced in them.
Silk caps from China are also made from degummed cocoons that have been stretched into a cap shape over an arched bamboo slat. Ten cocoons are pulled over the frame to make one cap. Caps generally weigh 14-20 grams. Enough caps are stacked on top of each other until the pile weighs about 500 gm (1lb). One more cap is opened and slipped over the stack, like a hat and tied at the bottom to make a neat, compact package called a bell.
The spinning method is basically the same for caps and hankies. You need to work with a very thin layer of these long, strong silk fibres, otherwise they will be impossible to draft. Even with a thin layer, the edges of the cap or hankie are strong and dense, and must be snapped apart to facilitate drafting.
Peeling a layer of cap is essentially the same. I start at the open end of the cap, and peel a layer up and over the top of the cap. You can also slip the cap over a chair back to hold it as you peel off layers. After you peel a thin layer, divide it further by pulling from the inside and outside on top of the cap. Slip one hand inside the cap, right up to the top, where you will pinch half the thickness in your fingers. Pinch the other half of the layer with the other hand, which is also on top of the cap, but on the outside – so your fingers are touching. Slowly peel the layer of cap in half. Holding on opposite ends of the open edge of the cap, snap outwards to form a rectangle. Snap the silk until you can feel that strong edge give a little, but try to keep the rectangle at least 2-3″ wide.
Another method is to snap the cap or hankie once or twice to make a wide rectangle, then poke your fingers in the centre to make a hole. With your hands inside the hole, snap outwards to make a loop, which will form a roving when broken. Take care not to thin the loop too much (aim for 2″ wide). If the roving is too thin, the twist can advance into the roving too far, making drafting impossible. The twist cannot physically compress a wider roving easily, and you have more time to draft your fibres without incident.
Spinning Caps and Hankies
With the thin, stretched layer of silk in hand, spinning can begin. Caps and hankies tend to spin into fine yarns, so adjust your wheel with a light takeup. Pull out a few fibres and tie them onto your leader (they tend to slip off otherwise). There are two important points to keep in mind:
1.keep the drafting triangle wide
2.keep your hands far apart (12 inches is a good average distance).
The spinning method is worsted. Pinch the yarn right where it joins the fibres. With your other hand, draw the fibres out away from the orifice, and then slide over the drafted fibres with the pinching hand. Pinch, draw, slide is the chant. The pinch gives you something to draft against. You will feel some resistance as you draft, but it should not be a struggle. That would aggravate wrists, fingers and your spirit! Keep the fibres open and your hands far apart. The fibres are long and if your hands are too close together, you are pulling on two ends of the same fibre! The idea in drafting is to slip the fibres past each other: slip, don’t rip!! Since there are also very short fibres present in both caps and hankies, occasionally your drafting hand will have to jump forward to stretch out fibres that are shorter than the distance between your hands, or the short fibres will make slubs in the yarn. If you run into a clump of short fibres, it’s best to remove them. One other cause of slubs is a result of letting the twist enter too many fibres before they are drafted.