Silk shawl

Last summer I spun a lot of singles silk yarn on a supported spindle. I used the small skeins as dye samples in my experimental dyeing with fresh Japanese indigo and woad. I started a striped weave in January and this week I finished my silk shawl.

If you are a patron (or want to become one) you can see more from my writing retreat in my January 2024 video postcard.

I must have been in the weaving room every weekend since I warped this weave, and it has just taken forever. I am used to weaving with wool, which is flexible, forgiving and reasonably predictable. Silk however, is not.

It pains me to say it, but this was just not a fun weave. I loved spinning the yarn and dyeing the skeins and I love the resulting shawl. But the weaving, not so much.

Slow and fiddly

In a previous post about weaving this silk shawl I embraced the slowness of the process, but now I take it all back. Compared to wool, weaving with silk is inelastic, slippery and unforgiving. So many threads broke, and joining them once I had passed the break was fiddly and the slippery and fine ends slithered their way out or broke over and over.

The golden muga silk threads I used to separate the blue stripes had shorter fibers and broke more often than the mulberry silk threads, and got quite fuzzy. I do have a history of making insufficient joins as I spin, and it was very obvious here too. How hard can it be to spin proper joins? I don’t mind the joins in the weave, they do add to the character of the fabric, but I could live without the sweat of watching them get gradually thinner and breaking.

Tight sheds

This weave has a sett of 80 picks per 10 centimeters, but the smallest heddle on my loom is 60/10. So to obtain the smaller sett, I used two 40/10 heddles. I have used a double heddle several times before, for double layered weaving and for twill. I know from these experiences that the sheds are tighter compared to a single heddle, and it was true here too. Due to the inelasticity of the silk warp, the opening of the shed was fiddly and took a lot of time. To make it a little easier, I opened up the shed with a weaving sword before I inserted the shuttle.

Deadline

Usually I don’t have a problem with projects that take time. Only, I have an appointment with a fulling mill in late May and two wool weaves waiting to be woven and fulled at the mill, so I needed to get the silk shawl off the loom and warp one of the wool weaves. I managed to weave around 5 centimeters every visit to the weaving room and after thinking ”this will be the last session” for five sessions, I was close to giving up. And I did, actually – when the umpteenth warp thread broke and I had only 30 centimeters left I abandoned my stubbornness and went for the scissors.

Loose sett

When I planned the weave I had a vision of quite a loose sett – I wanted the shawl to be light and sheer and the irregularities of the yarn to add to the character if the weave.

Due to the inflexibility of the yarn, the threads didn’t fill out the empty spaces when I cut it off the loom. I actually managed to create the shawl according to my vision, and I really like the result.

The fringe twister

When I had finally finished the weave I asked myself what kind of fringe I wanted. I was learning towards just tyeing the loose warp, but then I realized the warp was single, and that loose threads would probably warp and tangle. So I decided on a twisted fringe. I do own a fringe twister that I don’t use very often, but when I need it I thank the fringe twisting goddesses for its convenience. Twisting 90 long fringes is not my idea of a good time, only strained fingers.

Close-up of a person fringing the end of a silk weave. Four twisted sections of warp threads are stretched attached to metal clips on a wooden base.
The fringe twister is my friend.

Plant, spin, dye, weave

And so I made it. I spent last summer spinning fine singles of mulberry silk and dyeing it in small batches with my home-grown fresh indigo and woad leaves, and I spent the winter weaving a silk shawl for this summer. In December I harvested my own Japanese Indigo seeds and my sweet indigo plants for this season are thriving in the kitchen window.

A neatly folded silk shawl on a table, fringes hanging down over the edge.
A finished silk shawl, 40 x 210 centimeter (including 20 + 20 centimeter fringe).

The circle is full, and so is the year and I can’t wait to wear my breezy silk shawl.

Happy spinning!


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8 Replies to “Silk shawl”

  1. What a beautiful shawl Josefin! The struggles you experienced during weaving is memorable and thanks for sharing. What is the finished size, including the fringe? It will be a wonderful shawl to wear on cool Swedish summer outings. Perhaps we will see a photo of you wearing it?? I have dyed with Japanese indigo we grow here on small plots or even pots! I did not collect seeds this year. Good luck with your Indigo.

  2. It is indeed beautiful! I love silk and have not as yet tried spinning pure silk on my support spindles. Now, I just have to give it a try even knowing all the pitfalls! Thank you for sharing your experience, the problems, the warnings about inflexibility compared to wool, and all the other details.

  3. Firstly, it is beautiful and I hope you’re very pleased! Secondly, most of us who are primarily weavers would choose to use the singles as weft instead of warp for the very reasons you mentioned. Silk is one of those fibers like bamboo or tencel we would probably sett closer to accommodate the lack of elasticity. You conquered the task and created a beauty!

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