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Silk Cocoons, Yarn Choices, and Free Stuff

Apr 10, 2008

It had to happen sooner or later: KD Girl Gets Sick. I'm at home, all snuffly, valiantly tapping away at the keys, but the barking seals in my chest say I can't stay long to play with all you nice people. So: Today's post is going to be a grab-bag of fun and amazing bits. (Well, at least, I hope they are fun and amazing. A bit random, but also fun-and-amazing.) Here we go!

Where are you going to be on Monday?

Not me, dear readers. YOU. At some point in your busy Monday life, I suspect you will be right here, on good ol', because Monday is the day we are announcing your Top Five Readers' Choice Designs! And yes, we will have the booklet of the Top Five Patterns available for (free!) download. Woot! Don't miss the fun and frolic.

Silk cocoon sitting on a bed of silk :)

The Best Shroud In The World

OK, that sounded a little grim. What I mean is: It's absolutely 100% true that for some types of silk, the worm's gotta die. See the photo? That's a silkworm cocoon that I got from Maggie Casey during her spinning class. It's really a lovely little cocoon, and you can actually see the individual oh-so-slender thread (one single unbroken thread!) of silk that winds around and around and around to enclose the little wormie in a safe little pre-moth haven. However, the pre-moth that is in this particular cocoon has gone on to a better life—if I pick up the cocoon and shake it gently, it, rattles. ('Nuff said?)

I honor the spirit of the wormie, with respect and gratitude for the beauty of the silk s/he made. My enjoyment of the silk brings honor to his/her life.

There are some sorts of silk which are worm-death free. The production of these silks allow the wormie (not actually a worm, but a pre-moth caterpillar) to get out of the cocoon before using the silk. This process cuts the one, long, continuous silk thread that makes up the cocoon so that it isn't one long thread anymore. Still beautiful, just different. How do you tell which sort of silk is in the yarn you are using? That's a very, very good question, and I don't know an easy answer to that. Yarns are not often labelled with that level of detail. Let me consult the oracles and get back to you on this. Anyone else know?

Will this cable hold? We shall see...

Why did I say the yarn I chose for my Gathered Pullover might or might not be the right choice?

Because, as Birgit S. finally pointed out in comments on Wednesday's postie, both Merino and silk are very, very smooth fibers. Like Birgit, I am worried that these fibers do not provide quite enough "stickiness" to hold a cable well. However, not every cable needs to be able to stand up stiffly to attention. There are soft cables and strong cables. I like the cables on my swatch. However, the cables in the Gathered Pullover have a job to do besides just looking pretty. The center cables pull in the fabric, providing a gentle sort of waist shaping (whoo hoo! waist shaping! we loves it, we do). The question here is: Will my Merino/silk cables pull in the fabric enough (and be stable enough) to create the shaping effect Ms. Hana intended when she designed this lovely sweater? We shall see. (I am knitting as fast as I can, now with a new, skinnier cast-on number.)

Free! The Frock Camisole

Wait! What about our Friday Free Pattern?

Here it is, KD fans. The Frock Camisole, by Katie Himmelberg. This is the "beginner's version" where the directions are given in Plain English—no abbreviations, everything is fully spelled out and explained. If you want the regular "Knitter's English" version of this pattern (regular knitting abbreviations and shorthand conventions are used), you can find it in Knits Spring 2008. Enjoy!!

Want to leave a comment? Of course you do! Happy Weekend Knitting, everyone!

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? I'm almost done with the hem I added to the Gathered Pullover.

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Moonechild wrote
on May 8, 2008 8:38 PM
Silk tops are the silk around the cocoon that is unwound-shiny, luscious; while the Tussah is the silk after the moth has escaped. It looks and feels like cotton/silk mix. Unless it says tussah or peace silk it probably is the silk tops yarn
CelesteM wrote
on Apr 16, 2008 3:02 PM
Hope you feel better.

cute free pattern, but can I wear a bra with that?? So many sweet summer tanks, so few are wearable.
SharonM wrote
on Apr 15, 2008 2:11 AM
As a newbie, today's post answered some questions for me - ie. is it okay to comment on past posts? I really enjoyed the spinning posts. They got me motivated to ask an e-friend about it and I'm going to try a drop spindle, but look for a wheel on sale. There are 2 S&W groups nearby, so she thinks somebody will be trading up and I can get a good beginner wheel. I'm also finding the silk topic fascinating; I've only made 1 silk sweater- a nubbly sort of yarn- and I love it. The info about the various ways silk is produced and the opinions is interesting. BTW, the first archival post I read was the one about hockey. Is there anyone else out there who is has NHL playoffs projects?
HelenF wrote
on Apr 14, 2008 10:36 AM
Do you ever have patterns for knitting machines? I have both a fine and a bulky machine. With bad arthritis, I find it difficult to hand knit....but I absolutely love your patterns and do my best to make adjustments.
MaxD wrote
on Apr 14, 2008 10:14 AM
It's hard to tell what day "today's post" has been posted. Would you consider putting the date near the top of the post?

I was very excited to have the Katie Himmelberg frock camisole pattern. Thank you so much for that!
PerM wrote
on Apr 14, 2008 9:35 AM
I've been meaning to say that you are a treasure. Your caring, witty interesting posts brighten my day and encourage me to new efforts by your example.

Inspiring, stimulating and fun.

Thank you for sharing so much,
SharonV wrote
on Apr 14, 2008 9:12 AM
Sandi, almost nothing is worse than a Spring cold, so I hope you heal well and soon.

I'm finding all of this spinning information fascinating. I've been wanting to spin for awhile, but the nearest 'school' is 2 hours away from my home and is an evening class.

Knowing absolutely nothing about spinning other than my less than successful experience with the drop spindle (if I were in a drop spindle class my grade would be ZERO!), I actually dished out money for a spinning wheel!

Hopefully it will be here in the next couple of weeks with some free roving (I'm going to need all the help I can get!) so I can start teaching myself. I hope to attend some fiber festivals, which I've never attended before. I'm going to take my spinning wheel with me and hopefully meet someone who knows and is willing to teach me.

Wish me luck!
Deerarts wrote
on Apr 13, 2008 3:48 PM
A) How can you say the gathered pullover gives "waist" shaping; seems a bit too high. B) Recent question re: silk cocoons: when reeling silk (=dead worm), how is the outer end of that delicate strand located?
Denise, Illinois
MarrthaD wrote
on Apr 12, 2008 4:28 PM
Tussah silk roving, which is a lovely honey color, is gathered from cocoons from wild moths who have continued their life cycle. I spin it from Roving I carry in my shop, I don't know if there is a commercial yarn. There is also silk from a native Ohio moth whose cultivation is being developed. Or you can try to gather enough cocoons from the wild. Email me for more info, since I don't know if I should give urls, this being my first comment.
MidoriW wrote
on Apr 12, 2008 10:06 AM
In reading all the posts re: silkworms, and silk production, it seems pretty clear to me that many many people grapple with the idea of harm being caused to a creature (even one with which we can't "converse" or(possibly) share a deep emotional attachment) in order for us to "make something beautiful". Is there harm? Or is there not harm? What is harm in today's world anyway? It makes me think of a book I'm currently reading which explores our relationships to ourselves, our cultures, other creatures... It is part memoir, part science, part cultural and world history. One of the most interesting and thought provoking reads I've ever had. It sort of defies a particular genre slot. It is called A Language Older Than Words, by Derrick Jensen. I'd bet that lots of the bloggers in these recent threads would love it. Underneath it all, we seem to reach towards connection. Look at us all here... sharing and touching in a long distance sort of way... believing in community, creating it. Anyway, the book is a wonderful read. I highly recommend it.
Skaterfan wrote
on Apr 12, 2008 9:29 AM

I'm brand new and while browsing I noticed a mention that someone had a pattern for knitted ice skate guards. Can someone please tell me how to contact her to find out how I might be able to get it.

AidaH wrote
on Apr 12, 2008 8:14 AM
Hope you feel better! The strange weather patterns up here in the Northeast have provided my family an opportunity to coin me with the endearing term of ?Fog-Horn?. I really look forward to the sunny days were I can just bake away on the beach. I really like the look of this 'Frock-Cami' and would like to make it for my teenaged niece. As an
Advanced-beginner, how would I add capped/short sleeves?-She is a size small.
Peanut.chew wrote
on Apr 12, 2008 3:26 AM
For a sick day, this was a pretty good post. Feel better soon, Sandi!
Wormspit wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 9:51 PM
The VAST majority of Tussah silk is stifled and reeled just like Bombyx. There's one source on the web that has proliferated the misinformation about it, despite many requests not to. Here's a good page on the process:
EmilyH wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 9:40 PM
I have not begun spinning yet, but I have been doing a lot of research about silk, and when they don't stifle the pupae (let the moth out), the product is called "Peace Silk" and I think they go out of their way to tell you. Most silk comes from China and they go for quick and easy.
MinnieO wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 8:16 PM
i'm sure it's been said before, but bombyx silk is the kind where they kill the worm, and tussah (or wild silk) is the kind where the worm goes free. neither is truly wild, because the silk worm has been domesticated to the point that it can't survive in the wild on its own, but those are the differences
CGJ wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 8:16 PM
The secret to silk production is the tiny creature known as the silkworm, which is the caterpillar of the silk moth Bombyx mori. It feeds solely on the leaves of mulberry trees. Only one other species of moth, the Antheraea mylitta, also produces silk fiber. This is a wild creature, and its silk filament is about three times heavier than that of the cultivated silkworm. Its coarser fiber is called tussah.

The life cycle of the Bombyx mori begins with eggs laid by the adult moth. The larvae emerge from the eggs and feed on mulberry leaves. In the larval stage, the Bombyx is the caterpillar known as the silkworm. The silkworm spins a protective cocoon around itself so it can safely transform into a chrysalis. In nature, the chrysalis breaks through the cocoon and emerges as a moth. The moths mate and the female lays 300 to 400 eggs. A few days after emerging from the cocoon, the moths die and the life cycle continues.

The cultivation of silkworms for the purpose of producing silk is called sericulture. Over the centuries, sericulture has been developed and refined to a precise science. Sericulture involves raising healthy eggs through the chrysalis stage when the worm is encased in its silky cocoon. The chrysalis inside is destroyed before it can break out of the cocoon so that the precious silk filament remains intact. The healthiest moths are selected for breeding, and they are allowed to reach maturity, mate, and produce more eggs.

Generally, one cocoon produces between 1,000 and 2,000 feet of silk filament, made essentially of two elements. The fiber, called fibroin, makes up between 75 and 90%, and sericin, the gum secreted by the caterpillar to glue the fiber into a cocoon, comprises about 10-25% of silk. Other elements include fats, salts, and wax. To make one yard of silk material, about 3,000 cocoons are used.
BethanyR wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 8:13 PM
hey I am interested in spinning and was wondering if you have any info on spinning flax into linen yarn.
KatalinW wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 7:39 PM
I prefer a less bare look too. I have put little cap sleeves on sleeveless garments using short rows along the armhole edge. I think I learned the trick from some pattern on Interweave Knits. Sometimes I use lace or eyelets if it's in keeping with the rest of the garment.
AudreyD@2 wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 7:22 PM
As to whether the worms were allowed to hatch, (and mate, and lay eggs) and then die or just to die in cocoon; if the label states "reeled silk" then it is from a stifled cocoon. Incidentally, it is also going to cost mega-bucks. Don't feel badly about stifling the little beasties though, because in some silk producing areas, the boiled caterpillars form a protein base in the diet. (All together, now, 1, 2, 3, ewwwww!).
Unfortunately, my son erased my bookmarks, so I don't have the complete address, but there is this wormspit site that has all you ever wanted to know about raising silkworms and things that come under the heading of too much information, such as the caterpillar stew tidbit. Although that might be from the "peace silk" site--they're the "let the caterpillars hatch" folks--not sure.
Sometimes when I get nostalgic for my Peace Corps days, I don't know...maybe silkworms in stirfry with lots of veggies and garlic...more garlic, some onions, and some teryaki sauce...maybe some more might be okay. Nostalgia, you don't have to eat!
YavannaR wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 7:06 PM
I love silk, any type to be honest, but if tussah silk is really made from silk worms that don't have to die, I think that's pretty cool. I went to the Treeenway silks website and read about how the tussah silk worm has resisted domestication over they years despite efforts to domesticate them--which I think is pretty cool.

I'm currently making a pair of the fingerless crochet mitts that were offered here in the free patterns, out of the suggested Tussah silk from treenway. Honestly, it is a very beautiful silk and the pattern is crochets up just beautifully. I highly recommend it.

Thank you Sandi and the others for discussing silk today. It really made my friday :)
WillaJ wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 6:31 PM
How about just mulling this over while you recuperate?
I LOVE that camisole. There was a time when I would have looked great in it. These days I don't bare quite as much skin as that. Not in public places anyway. I'll bet that's true for a number of your readers. I think it would be fairly easy to make the armholes (armskyes?) a little smaller so I could wear a strapless bra with it. Maybe. But is there a system for adding some sort of sleeve cap? Maybe a smallish butterfly version? To this pattern, or other camisoles, or even sleeveless patterns? I know it's not the designer's vision that way, but if it means being able to wear the design.......
What do you think?
LynnE wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 5:59 PM
Sandi..Hope you're feeling better soon! Here in NJ we were sick half of Nov.,part of Dec, and we're still a little "sluggish". Just know you're not alone. I'm sure many of your readers will agree! Feel Better Soon!!
BettinaF wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 5:40 PM
just one - get better soon, KD girl:) oh - and great work so far (well, that was two comments in one line:)) I hope you can at least knit a few stitches....all the best from ireland - Bettina
WendyB@2 wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 5:17 PM
I already made the pretty frock cami. I really like it. I made it out of bamboo. It is probably a little heavy, but I made it slightly small in case the weight stretches it a bit.
ladyfi1100 wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:50 PM
From experience I know that both Bombax and Tusslah silk are broken thread. Please remeber that not every cacoon is taken. Also remember there are many types of silkmoths just as there are many types of mulberry trees, the "worms" favorite food. Noile is not worm freidly as it is the whole cacoon, larve and all chopped up.
Another thing to remember is that you don't really spin from cacoons, you real them. For this you need anywhere from 12 to 50 cacoons at a time and a silk reeler, which inspired the earliest spinning wheels. There is lots of information on silk processing online.

Fi MacKenzie
LauraD@2 wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:45 PM
just read other comments - thanks for the info!
Katrina@2 wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:44 PM
The reality is that with the current world population we must make allowances for realistic agricultural production. Without domesticated animals, insects and plants (all of which have been carefully bred for thousands of years to produce their modern cultivated descendants) we would be unable to feed or clothe our world. I don't see how anyone can consider petroleum-derived synthetic materials "green" or "friendly" when one considers the environmental and social impact of oil production. While it may seem unfortunate that silkworms are stifled, they do provide a good source of protein in parts of the world where cheap protein is needed. And unfortunately, silkworm moths, as pointed out, only live a short time after emergence to breed. That being said, it never hurts to be conscious of what you're using and how it's produced. I think there is still room to be conscientous and realistic at the same time.
CaroleK wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:40 PM
Hello I am a newbie. Just recently joined. I enjoy knitting and crocheting and have found this wonderful site. I thank you for the pattern of this shell. Looks great for summer and my dd who is 17 has requested one lol. It is very interesting to read about the silk worms and hope you are feeling better Sandy. hugsss, Carole in PA
LauraD@2 wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:40 PM
In response to your questions about silk worms (I?m studying ?eco? fashion design)...
I?m sharing some websites that offer info on silk, silkworms, etc. Also these days, there are silk alternatives including silky type yarn made out of seaweed (seacell), bamboo, soy silk, banana, and all sorts of fibers I haven?t had a chance to work with yet. Still, one of my favorite things in the world is 50/50 silk/cashmere rovings! If others have worked with silk alternative fibers, I?d love to hear about their reflections.

1. wormspit
A site about silkworms, silk moths and silk:

2. Treehugger
Article: New silk Production Technique Does Not Require Killing Worms by Justin Thomas

3. Aurorasilk
Offers silk cacoons that has allowed the moth to emerge

4. treenwaysilks

5. treetopscolours
offers fibers facts page
Wormspit wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:34 PM
You can find more peace silk info at: (I
disagree strongly with her assertions about Tussah silk, though) (their FAQ is very thorough) (a really interesting take on the whole thing
- causing the caterpillars to produce sheets of silk, rather than
cocoons! They still have to limit reproduction, though.)
Wormspit wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:34 PM
You can't tell conclusively if a piece of yarn is made from hatched cocoons, but you CAN tell if it's made from reeled cocoons. If you unply the yarn, and get down to the singles, and you untwist it, but can't pull it apart, it's still yarn - then it's reeled silk. The length of the fiber is up to 1,500 meters. If you get down to the singles, and you untwist it, and it drifts apart - then it's spun silk, and might or might not be made from hatched cocoons, or more likely a blend of hatched cocoons, inferior cocoons, and waste.
MarinaS wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:21 PM
I believe tussah silk is the one gathered after the caterpillar has emerged.
ZenaH wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:21 PM
Hello, Poorly Girl! I think 'raw silk' is the term for silk spun from broken cocoons. The fabric has thick and thin threads at random.
Hope you're soon better.
Lana wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:17 PM
In many cultures the silkworm pupae is used for stir-fry dishes. Here is a link to some pictures. Just scroll down and you will see the silkworm pupae.
Jeanne wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:14 PM
When selecting the yarn to use for a particular sweater, I've always wondered if the yarn recommended in the pattern is actually the yarn used by the designer or if it's an appropriate yarn selected by the magazine because that company has paid advertising dollars.
Air.blueskys wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 4:05 PM
I'm sorry you're sick. A bowl of homemade chicken soup as been comsumed in your name.
Be Well
Colleen W wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:54 PM
Ohh wow, you know I don't want to seem ungreatful for the free pattern but what percent of your readership can safely go without a bra or are of an age that should be showing that much of anything. hmmmm?
MimsC wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:51 PM
I have a questions about the gathered pullover. You mention that the cable is supposed to provide waist shaping, and I saw that in the magazine pattern when it first came out. I don't understand how that's possible. The cable is located at the bustline, not the waistline, so how can it give waist shaping?
SondraB wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:49 PM
I recently subscribed to, and I am enjoying reading about the different yarns. I'm an intermediate knitter, and I like to learn about the variety of yarns that are available. I'm also looking forward to reading about a variety of knitting tips, suggestions and new patterns.
KateG wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:47 PM
Good post, Sandi. You can't please every reader, but you're a gold star blogger for taking comments seriously. Get better soon.
MargaretS@2 wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:45 PM
I work in the children's educational book publishing business so I get to learn a little bit about everything. At one point there was much information about the silk worm going around the office. It is one of the creatures that has become so domesticated there is no hope to return it to the wild (so said the research of the editor at the time). The caterpillars/worms are kept ON beds of leaves so that they don't have to go and actually crawl up bushes for them. Any moths that are allowed to survive are kept for breeding purposes but their wings will never fly. They've become disfigured with domesticity. Now I'm not standing on a soap box here - after all I'm still a carnivore and eat my share of birds, fish, piggies and moo-types. I have stopped buying leather, but I swore that if I was to buy silk yarn it would have to be for a VERY special person and a VERY special occasion. It's so tempting to go ahead and snatch it up. I mean, it's already made! Right? To honor the wormie, as was put, I am chosey with her labors. She made a sacrifice and I only bestow it on the worthy.
AnneG wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:36 PM
Personally, I have no problem with silk, domesticated or wild, whatever. The silkworm or moth is going to die anyway. The fiber one chooses to use is one's own personal choice.
BethAnne70 wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:34 PM
Have you been watching a certain LOTR Trilogy while you've been sick? :-) "waist shaping! we loves it, we do"

How I would love to be able to make the Elvin cloak that was in a past issue of Spin Off (if I remember correctly)! But, sadly, I don't weave...Yet. ;)

PhayeG wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:30 PM
Hope you a feeling better. Sooner or later we all have to bark.
LauraW wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:24 PM
Take care, Sandy, and get better fast. The post was great despite being made in the throes of illness. Tomorrow I get my first hive of bees who also give their little lives to provide their hive and us with beautiful honey. All love and respect to the bees and to the silk worms.
SusanR@5 wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:24 PM
The production of Bombyx mori silk is entirely dependent on human assistance. The moths and larvae cannot survive in the wild. Each Bombyx mori moth lays about 500 eggs. If all the moths were to break out of their cocoons and survive, the grower would be overwhelmed in just one or two generations. It would be impossible to collect enough mulberry leaves to feed them, and the market would be inundated with silk. Should the moths have been domesticated to this extent? Perhaps not, but that is today's reality. Silk from wild moths is available if that is important to the spinner. Generally speaking, the lifespan of moths is very brief as adults have no mouthparts.
Anonymous wrote
on Apr 11, 2008 3:00 PM
Feel better soon Sandi. I can hardly wait for Monday!