Recently, I had the opportunity to dye silk hankies with my daughter and start spinning them up. Whether you decide to dye your own or start with some of the beautifully dyed silk hankies available on Etsy and elsewhere, I thought it might be helpful to see how to spin these beauties, so grab a cup of java and come join me!
Here are the silk hankies we dyed:
Before dyeing them, I divided them into stacks of 9-10 grams each and let each stack soak in water with a few tablespoons of white vinegar overnight. The reason I used such a small amount is so the dye would go all the way from the top to the bottom without a lot of hassle. Next, I weighted the hankies down with tin cans. It takes a lot to get them really wet. The next morning, we dyed them using a 1% dye solution of acid dyes. I get mine from Dharma Trading Company in primary colors and mix my colors from there. The 1% solution means we used 1 gram of dye in 100 grams of water. This is one area where the metric system is soooo much easier!
We removed most of the water from the trays the hankies were soaking in and dyed them using plastic spoons to apply the dye to the hankies. Another option would be foam brushes, which I use when I’m hand painting wool fiber or yarn, but I was a little worried that the silk would pull up out of the hankies if I used foam brushes. The spoons worked fine anyway.
To fix the dye, we put the trays of dyed silk hankies in the oven for about 40 minutes at 175 degrees. I checked them after 20 minutes to see if the dye had exhausted, but there was still dye in the water, so we continued for another 20 minutes. At that point, the water surrounding the hankies was clear.
The nice thing about silk is it doesn’t felt, so we were able to wash them right away using warm water and a little Dawn detergent. Then we hung them out to dry.
Now you could peel them all apart at once, but I decided to just peel one off as I was ready for it. Here I am peeling it off the rest of the way:
The goal is to predraft it like you do with wool. The difference is that the length of each fiber is really long. Here I am pulling it gently until it’s almost as far as my arms will go.
Now, if you look back up at the top of this post, you can see three different stacks of hankies. I used the same basic colors for the two light ones, and my daughter dyed the other stack the deep rich greens and blues. I’m only using the first two. In order to make sure the yarn comes out looking fairly even, I decided to alternate between the two stacks as I was spinning. I came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter much, but I kept doing it anyway.
Here I am starting to spin.
Look at the rainbow of colors here:
As you can see, I’m using a long draw to spin these, and I’m able to draw back much farther than I usually can with wool. In fact, I usually prefer some variation of a short draw with wool, but I found the long draw worked the best with the silk.
I’m using my right hand to draw along the fiber as I spin to make the yarn very smooth. I’m spinning it with lots of twist because silk doesn’t have the scales that wool has to hold it together with less twist.
And as you can see, I’m spinning the yarn very fine. There is quite a bit of variation in the diameter of the yarn, but it’s all in the laceweight range.
As I write this, I still have about half the hankies to spin, but here’s what’s on the bobbin so far. Here it is inside the house…
…and here it is in the sunshine where you can see how shimmery it looks.
I can’t wait to finish it. Then I have to decide whether to ply it back to itself to make it a little thicker (and thus faster to knit, crochet, or weave with) or whether to ply it with something else or just let it be a single-ply silk laceweight yarn. Oh, the possibilities!
UPDATE: In case you’re interested, the yardage from two stacks came out to over 400 yards of very fine laceweight that had about 36 wraps per inch. The final yarn weighed 0.6 ounces for all that yardage! We’re in the midst of remodeling our kitchen, and I’m trying to figure out if I could use this to decorate pendant lights. If anyone has done this or can point me in the right direction, I would be very grateful.
Happy fiber artistry!