Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tutorial: Knitting With Silk Hankies

Pin It

Silk Hankies seem to be the craze lately. I discovered them recently at North Country Fiber Fair in Watertown, SD. But many got their first glimpse on the Yarn Harlot's blog.

But what do you do with this stack of squares? You can't knit with a square, can you?

Well, there's probably a way, but the trick with silk hankies is to first turn them into something resembling yarn.

How do you do that?

Step 1: Peel away the smallest layer you can by grabbing a piece of the corner, and peeling it back. The layers like to stick to each other, so you'll feel a bit like you're ripping it apart. But that's okay!

Notice how thin this layer is. You can see my hand right through the meshy layer of silk.

Step 2: Poke a hole in the center of your square. Yep, just shove your thumbs right into the center. Then using your fingers, pull from the center, outward.

Step 3: And STRETCH!

Keep stretching, moving slowly around the loop of silk, working one section at a time.

If the section you're working on won't stretch, your hands are probably too close together. Move your hands further apart and try again. Silk fibers are long. Our aim isn't to break them all...it's to spread them out.

How do you know when you're done? Your loop should be a relatively consistent thickness. You'll probably want to make it somewhere between a DK and worsted weight.

Notice that there will be some bits of nubbiness. Your yarn may even have some thick-and-thin qualities. That's what makes it interesting!

So now what? You have a large loop of silk, all stretched out to the thickness you desire. But you want to knit with it, not wear it as a humongous necklace, right?

That's simple!

Step 4: Break it!

Now you have a length of unspun yarn.

(If you wanted, you could then spin this, but for our purposes, we're just going to knit with it as-is.)
Step 5: Start knitting!
How do you join strands? When you're done knitting up one strand, make another from another square.  Overlap the end of your old strand with the beginning of your new strand. Roll them together a bit between your hands (almost as if you're spit splicing). They won't felt together, but the tackiness of the silk will help hold the pieces together. Knitting with them overlapped will help hold them together even more.

Tip: Break each square in the same place (within the same color section) each time for a smoother, less noticeable join.

The sample here is a shawl knit on size US9s. (CO 3 sts. Then for every row following, k1, yo, knit to the end. Keep going until you have a large triangular shawl in the size you want.) I'm using two different colorways and alternating between them. One square from one colorway followed by one strand from the other colorway. Both of the colorways I'm using have green, so I broke each loop within the green portion for a seamless transition.

Tip: Bring lotion to the party. Silk in this form tends to stick to any rough patch of skin it can find. It seems to be less tacky once it's knit up.

Note: This is a great way to impress and amaze your knitting friends at your local knit night. Take a stack of hankies for show-and-tell!

Silk hankies will be available in the JL Yarnworks store later this week!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

North Country Fiber Fair 2011

NCFF this year was fantastic. Despite having the disco light over my booth that kept flickering in and out, we did better than ever! This was my fourth year (wow, time flies!) and not only did we meet more people and sell more goodies, but I actually learned something completely new! And now I have to share.

Have you gotten on the silk hankie bandwagon? Like so many knitting crazes, I'm pretty sure the Yarn Harlot had something to do with the near viral spread of their popularity. (See her really fun mittens here.)

Well, I have a confession. Two actually, but we'll start with the first.

Confession #1:

I'd never heard of silk hankies. Not this kind anyway. Only the kind grandma used to have. But these are totally different. This kind of silk hankie is made from layers of silkworm cocoons spread over a frame. They're also called mawatas. That's Japanese for spread around, or spread out, or an expanded cocoon...or something to that effect depending on who you ask.

First, I saw these hankies being knit up by the lady at the Corny Goodness booth. She showed me how to poke a hole in the center of each hankie and stretch it out until it's the thickness you desire, and then knit with it! (I'll post a tutorial tomorrow.) So, of course, I had to buy a bunch and start knitting with it right away. As in, in my booth. And I had to show every customer that came in my booth how cool it is.

Now, an aside.... silk like this can snag on anything....like callouses on your hands. I learned this the hard way. Thankfully, there was a vendor selling lotion right across the aisle from me! Penny from 444 Farm was a sweetheart. She has some great stuff too, so show her some love, k? (I kinda might have bought more than just lotion. I kinda might have bought a bunch. And it's all awesome. Just sayin'.)

Okay, back to it. So I'm grinning like a dork happily knitting up my hankies, when I find out that another vendor is not only selling silkworm kits (so you can raise your own!), but they're demonstrating how these hankies are made. Yay!

Which brings me to....

Confession #2:

I didn't take a single picture at NCFF 2011. *facepalm*

But thankfully, Susan Stark (aka WIHH on Ravelry) took some great pictures and was gracious enough to give me permission to use them here. Thanks, Susan!

So I ran over to Dragon Craft's booth for a little demonstration. Loretta was kind enough to give me the Cliff Notes. First, you soak the cocoon in a warm soapy water to get rid of some of the worm spit.

Then you can snag a bit on one corner of the frame (there's a nail there) and carefully streeeeeetch it out towards the other three corners, like so.

And like so.

After you've stacked 10 or so cocoons on this frame, it's time to take it off. There may be some more processing after this part, but this is as far as we got.

Really nifty though, huh?

Now, Loretta assured me that raising silkworms is both fulfilling and easy. And I believe her!

But I think I'll be buying my hankies. Anyone who knows me, knows that I like doing things from scratch. But knowing it takes hundreds of cocoons to make one small garment? Silk hankies seem cheap compared to the time and effort involved in raising that many silkworms.

And really, we all know that my main interest is in dyeing them all kinds of pretty colors. Who wants to bet that I'll have some available for sale in my shop soon? ;)