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Because I have really cool fiber friends

One of my silk friends in England sent me some spidrex artificial spider silk. She's been working with it, seeing how it behaves in various textile applications.

Of course, my first instinct was to see how it would degum...

The strands are perfectly even. The individual strands are 30 denier, which is apparently 14 "ply" of the original filament - which means that the filaments should be close to the same size as bombyx silk.

But, I didn't know if spider silk even *has* silk gum. It's not made from fibroin and sericin - it's made from "spidroin."

So the experiment - to throw and degum a skein of the synthetic spider silk, to see if it behaves at all like silkworm silk.

First, I threw a four-strand tram. This is moderately twisted with an electric spinning wheel, so that the fibers will all play nicely together.

This is the thrown spidrex on the reel, where I've wound it into a skein. The filaments are wiry and slightly golden. They feel exactly like raw bombyx silk. The curly piece is some of the single filaments, for size comparison to the thrown tram.

When I took the skein off the winder, it twisted up very tightly. No surprise there - this is a twisted singles, so it's got a lot of energy.

Fortunately, once I lowered it into the hot degumming solution, it loosened up. Just like with bombyx silk, the thread spread out, making a cloud-like puddle of silk. The spoon is in there to keep the center of the skein open.

This is a comparison of the finished degummed strand (left) and the raw filament (right.)

Here, you can see how the tied end of the skein has fuzzed out. I can't count them, but I imagine that each strand has split into its 14 component fibers; the fuzz is about the right weight for that.

You can see that it catches the light very well; the finished strand has a sheen very similar to reeled bombyx silk, although the color is closer to that of tussah. It's also very soft - the photos can't show that, but it is so much softer than before. It's also got the slightly snaggy hand that reeled silk does; it catches on rough spots in the skin, because the fine fibers are so long.

Overall, a very successful and thoroughly enjoyable experiment. Next (probably on Saturday) will be to see how it takes dye!


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 10th, 2005 08:26 pm (UTC)
Very cool, so is this just an experiment or something you'd actually incorporate into your weaving?
I look forward to seeing how the dye works with it!!
Mar. 10th, 2005 08:36 pm (UTC)
I have a very small amount, so I'm not going to be making anything large out of it. I might be able to make a very, very narrow ribbon - or something like kumihimo. If it takes dye well, I may try combining it in a project with bombyx silk; it's got a very compatible hand.
Mar. 10th, 2005 08:27 pm (UTC)
i want some!!!!
Mar. 10th, 2005 10:26 pm (UTC)
What is "tussah"?
I have started spinning and have a small bag of silk tussah.
Should I be spinning it with wool?

I know how lightweight really good silk is in a garment: with this spider silk, would a garment be even lighter? (That is, supposing one could acquire enough to weave enough fabric to make a dress.)
Mar. 11th, 2005 05:25 am (UTC)
Tussah is a species (actually, a family of species) of silk moth. They eat trees high in natural tannin, and produce a beige to tan silk. You can spin it by itself (I prefer that) or blend with wool if you like. It spins well from the fold - gently tug at the end of the roving until it gives up a small bunch of fibers the same length, then fold that over your fingertip and spin from the folded area.

I've raised the temperate tussah moth, Antherea pernyi - check it out here.
Mar. 11th, 2005 05:26 am (UTC)
As far as garment weight - I honestly have no idea. It feels a lot like regular silk, but once you got enough of it to weave a wide fabric, it might show other characteristics. I've just got the tiny skein.
Mar. 11th, 2005 07:33 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!

I hope you have glorious fun with it!
Mar. 11th, 2005 09:07 am (UTC)
Once again, you rock! Ohh my weaving teacher (Leslie) brought Phyllis's silk worm project notes to class yesterday! I have to say that the stiffled cocoons weren't nearly as bad as I thought they'ld be. Kind of musical in fact! ^.^
Mar. 11th, 2005 09:10 am (UTC)
The cocoons are slightly stinky, but if they've been dry for a long time, that's probably mostly gone.

Let Leslie know, if she ever needs a silk-reeling demo, I'm your man... I'm always keen to talk to folks about silk, and I would love to meet more fiber arts people.
Mar. 12th, 2005 09:25 am (UTC)
you should try and get your hands on some of that spider goat milk...

where "they" bio-genetically engineered a goat and a spider so the goats produces spider silk from it's udder.

it's going to be used in bullet proof vests.

Mar. 12th, 2005 09:31 am (UTC)
That's what this is. Did you click on the link?

She's working with it in the experimental phase - a medical company is investigating how to use it as a matrix to make artificial skin grafts.
Mar. 16th, 2005 09:10 am (UTC)
oh i didn't even see that link... sorry.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )