Silk Hankies - What they are and how to spin them

Are you new to the world of silk hankies? In this post I'll share some information about what they are, how you can use them, and I've even filmed a couple of videos to get you off to a great start. 

Silk can be prepared for spinning in a number of ways. If you've spun with any silk before, you're probably most familiar with it as combed top, either on its own, or in mill-processed blends or hand-blended batts. In this form, it is long, even, perfectly smooth, slinky - the very definition of "silky". To achieve this kind of fiber preparation, individual strands of silk are reeled off intact cocoons, bundled together, cut to a reasonable length for spinning, and processed into top.

Silk hankies, which are also called mawata, are prepared a different way. Individual cocoons are degummed, soaked, and then carefully stretched onto a square frame, creating a "hanky" of pure silk. Multiple hankies are stacked one atop the other and dried, forming thin layers of silk that can be peeled off one by one and used however you'd like. I acquire my silk hankies from Ashland Bay, and you can see photos of the family farm where their silk hankies are made at this blog post. It's a fascinating process. 

In this first video below, I show you a few different stacks of dyed silk hankies (soon to be available in the shop!) and show how to separate an individual hanky from a stack and draft it out so that it is ready for use. 

And p.s. before I get teased for the vertical was the only way I could figure out how to make the scene fit - I hope you'll forgive me ;-) 




Once you have your fiber drafted out, there are so many ways to use it.  

You can:

  • Spin the fiber on its own. Keep in mind that silk hankies, by their nature, are somewhat nubbly and won't create a perfectly smooth yarn. Rather, they'll create a delightfully textured one! The fiber is very strong and long, so it can be hard to draft again while at the wheel - make sure to draft it down to the diameter you want before approaching your wheel or spindle.
  • Use the fiber in an art yarn project. Carry it along side your single like I've shown below, use it to create cocoons or puffs or stacks, insert it while plying other strands...this form of silk is amazing for newcomers to textured spinning, because it's sticky and won't come apart in your yarn. 
  • Knit, crochet, or weave straight from the fiber. I haven't done this myself yet, but a quick search for projects on Ravelry reveals many wovencrocheted, and knitted projects. Simply treat the silk as if it were spun yarn and craft away. 
  • Use it to make a mohawk for your cat (seriously, click the link!)
  • Felt them into a scarf
  • and do so much more!

I've been working on a concept yarn for the #NudibranchSAL on Instagram which incorporates silk hankies as a racing stripe in the singles, which is then plied in the opposite direction to create some (hopefully!) stunning effects. The silk should open and bubble up around the wool once the original singles twist is dissipated through plying, creating an ethereal look to the yarn - perfect for a stunningly colorful sea creature. Once the yarn is finished I'll be sure to share some final photos, but for now, check out the video below to see how to use silk hankies as a racing stripe in your own yarn.




So, what do you think? I hope this post and the videos have left you feeling confident and ready to tackle this interesting fiber. Even if you're not into textured spinning, I find that I always gain so much knowledge and general comfort with my hands and my wheel when I try new techniques, that when I go back to spinning more traditional, fine, even yarns it feels easier and more consistent. I do hope you'll give silk hankies a try, and I'd love to see if you do! I'm @ClassySquidFiberCo on Instagram, Classy Squid Fiber Co on Facebook, and ClassySquid on Twitter and Ravelry. Please do ping me and let me know if this has helped you; I'd love to see what you create!

Happy Spinning,


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