May 2010 Archives



OK, not exactly toddlers, but the silkworms are growing quickly. It's lots of fun to sit and watch them walk around and eat.

Older silkworms

See those little dots of black stuff? That's caterpillar poop. You can also see that they're doing a nice job of eating the leaves. They seem to prefer some leaves and will all cluster on those ones, for reasons that are not obvious to me (since I've been putting leaves of same size and age down for them).

I'm using a piece of netting to give them fresh leaves, so they climb up through the net onto the new leaves and I can just lift it out and remove the old leaves.

Only maybe I'm replacing leaves too often, because usually I also have to move several worms off the old leaves at the bottom of the box. On the other hand, I don't want to encourage rot or mold, so changing the leaves more often seems like a good idea. At this point I'm changing them once a day, which doesn't seem like overkill.

Tinier worms

Some eggs have just hatched recently, so I have a mix of larger and smaller worms. I can't decide if I'm going to hate myself for keeping them all jumbled together in one box, but that's what I'm doing.



This morning, the silkworms hatched out.

Silkworms on a leaf, day one

They're teeeny tiny and sometimes they just lie there, and I spent much of the day worrying about them.

Tiny silkworms on a leaf

They haven't make huge inroads on the leaves I gave them, but I'm not sure I would notice, given how tiny they are.

Tomorrow I will move them to a covered plastic container, but for now the little box I had the eggs in works just fine.

Silk Reeling

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A couple weekends ago I took a two-day class on silk reeling with the Southern California Handweavers' Guild. The teacher was the inimitable Michael Cook. It's hard to write about a class like this because 1) Michael has already written quite a bit about reeling, much more than I could, and 2) a lot of what I learned was physical rather than intellectual. I can't show you how to flick your wrist just right to catch the ends of a silk cocoon in this post.

So this is going to be more about my impressions of the class than a post that could get you started on reeling yourself.

First, the equipment. Michael brought some hand reels -- the squat ones are from Japan, and the tall narrow one is made by Alden Amos. A silk reel should let a lot of air in, so the wet silk doesn't stick to the reel and make a mess.

Silk reels from Japan and Alden Amos

He also brought a couple of Zakuris -- Japanese silk reel winders.

Winding onto a zakuri

The mechanical zakuri was by far the easiest way to reel silk, but of course (of course!) zakuris are pretty much impossible to get; there is no US maker or supplier. (One side panel of this zakuri was taken off for some reason, but usually the reel is supported on both sides.)

Zakuri reel filled up

That's the zakuri reel, once filled up.

Some of the other tools are very simple household tools, like a little scrub bob to pick up the ends of the cocoons from the bath:

Using the brush to gather the ends of the silk

And this very simple thread guide that we used several times while winding off of reels or bobbins:

A very simple tool for guiding the silk thread

Tongs to push down the cocoons

A pair of tongs keeps your fingers from burning as you push the cocoons back into the pot.

The most obscure and unusual piece of equipment was one Michael made himself, the croissure, made of copper pipe, pulleys, and some specialized fiber handling parts. This is one configuration for the setup, for Laotian-style reeling (results in a slubbier thread).

Threading gathered ends through the croissure

The Chinese or Japanese style reeling, which produces a more even thread, uses a taller croissure.

Threading the croissure

The X in the thread there serves to squeeze water out of the silk and press it together; as you ran the silk through the croissure a fine spray of water flies off, looking a bit like steam.

OK, that said, some photos of the process.

We started on Saturday with Laotian reeling, which is simpler and produces a slubbier thread. I found it more sympatico, I admit.

Silk wound on a silk reel

There's my Laotian-style thread wound onto a reel and tied up to secure it for the degumming bath.

Reeled silk tied up for degumming

And the same skein, slid off the reel.

The gum makes the silk thread very stiff

Another reel of thread, just to show you how stiff the silk can be before the gum is removed. The seracin is actually used to stiffen fabrics like organdy or to make stiff lamp covers.

Strands of silk going into the croissure

Can you see those tiny strands of silk going into the eye? Those are each a single thread from a single cocoon.

Laotian reeling has one stage where you just lay the thread out on a towel

Laying out the thread is a characteristic of Laotian reeling.

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At the center of each cocoon is a dead silkworm.

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The finished product, not yet degummed.

Pile of bobbins

A pile of bobbins. We each got one to take home our reeled silk. Mine is hopelessly tangled.

If you don't want stiff silk, you need to put the skeins through a degumming bath. This is basically boiling it in soap, though there is obviously a bit more to it than that.

Getting ready for the degumming bath

The handful of class skeins about to be degummed. It makes sense to degum a bunch of silk at once, as it's as much work to degum one skein as it is fifteen.

My skein, degummed

My skein, after degumming. It felt more like what we think of as silk. With handling and showing it off, the skein has gotten pretty badly tangled up.

Silkworm eggs

And one of my take-homes. A little packet of silkworm eggs, lying on a mulberry leaf. I have no idea if they're doing OK, because I think it might be a little cold in our pantry for them. But it seemed worth a try.

LA Fashion District

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I went to LA for a class on silk reeling this weekend (it was awesome; I will write about it later), and stayed an extra day to visit the Fashion District and buy some fabric.

The first thing you should know about the Fashion District is that if you want photos of the shops and your time there, bring a friend who is a photographer but not a crafty person, because otherwise you will forget the camera and spend all your time on the fabric and so forth. That is why I don't have many photos from the district; it didn't occur to me to take out the camera until I was on the rooftop parking lot, getting ready to leave. That person can also be your package runner if they are amenable.

The second thing you should know is that the district looks large on a map, but you can visit every shop in a few hours, allowing you to scout and take notes and then come back and buy what you want. Unless you're looking at the very last half yard of a fabric you MUST have, there's no need to buy right away. Places start to open around 8:30, and stay open until 4pm.

I ordered a map from the Fashion District web site, but it didn't come until the day after I left. I suggest that if you know you'll be going, order the map at least six weeks ahead of time; I ordered four weeks before I left, thinking (foolishly) that mail only takes two days to get to my house from LA. The map they sent was a letter-sized back and white map showing block numbers and general categories of stuff -- it could easily be put on their web site as a PDF. And obviously, since I didn't have it, it was not necessary.

LA Fashion District

Here are the hints I followed:

1. Dress comfortably, because you will be doing a lot of walking, and the more you impress shopkeepers, the more they will charge you.

2. Park in a pay lot with a flat rate (I parked at 305 E. 9th St, where the entrance to the garage is paradoxically on Maple, for $5 for the day) in a central location.

3. After buying something, bring the packages back to your car; both because having lots of packages makes you look more likely to spend more money, and because it's a pain to manage packages in the tight spaces.

4. Purses are hard to manage, so use a backpack (I used my Timbuk2 messenger bag; it worked very well except while bin diving at Michael Levine Loft).

5. Bring a notebook to keep notes on where you bought things, places you didn't like, and places you want to get back to, because there is no way you are going to remember. I prepared some pages in my notebook with names of stores I wanted to visit, and took notes on them as I visited them. I also drew a small map of the district with my planned route.

6. Bring cash, because prices are often cheaper for cash.

Here's what I didn't do:

1. I didn't drink water or coffee. Bathrooms are few and far between in the district. There is apparently a coin-pay one at the Michael Levine store, but because I was not loading up on liquids I didn't need to unload. YMMV and your ability to function on less water may be different from mine. Also, it was not a hot day when I was there.

2. I didn't haggle with shopkeepers. I'm just not that into haggling. I did ask about how prices changed for larger quantities (my standard yardage to buy when I don't know what I'm buying for is five yards), and ended up buying more fabric in some cases because of that.

3. I didn't always pay with cash. Not everybody would discount prices for cash, so when they didn't, I paid with credit.

If I were doing the day over again, I would do it like this:

Go on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Some stores are closed on Monday, some on Sunday, some on Saturday. Saturday and Sunday are total zoos, and on Monday much of the merchandise has been picked over and not yet replenished. But Monday worked OK for me. I only missed out on one store I wanted to see.

Start at Michael Levine Loft, where there are bins of fabric to dive into. They open at 9am, and that's when you should get there. It's $2 per pound, and you will find some odd gems as well as a lot of awful, weird stuff. I went there after I'd been to a few shops and found near duplicates of stuff I'd bought for much more. Also, you'd be surprised how much fabric is in a pound. Grab everything that interests you, and then sort out what you want from that. If you have a helper with you, have them hold your stuff so you can get to the bottom of the bins.

After you stow your Loft purchases in your car, work your way around the district, making notes, until about 1pm.

Have some lunch -- there is a cart that sells bacon wrapped hot dogs. Don't think too much about what is in there; just eat it and get ready for the shopping.

While eating your hot dog, use your notes to make a plan of attack. It may be worth it to get a fabric at a store where the price for that fabric is a bit higher, if you're going to buy a bunch of other stuff, because shopkeepers will cut you a deal if you buy a lot.

If you care a lot about fiber content, bring things for burn testing. A lot of vendors have fabrics labeled as silk that clearly are not (I'd just spent the previous day reeling silk, so it was pretty obvious to me in most cases). If a vendor won't let you burn-test a snippet (outside, obviously), they probably have something to hide. Me, I'm willing to buy imitation silk instead of real silk if the price is right, and none of the iffier fabrics I bought were priced too high for synthetics.

So, with all that, what did I get?

From the Loft

This pile of fabric is a little over five pounds, from the Michael Levine Loft. Some of the pieces are simply huge -- one is six yards of lining material. Some are tiny (there's a fat quarter of a funny red embroidered fabric in there).

I got lots of lining material, because it can get expensive and I like to line things. If I were hugely rich, I would always use cotton or silk linings, but I'm not, so I often use synthetics. I avoid rayon linings because they make things unwashable.

From Michael Levine

Across the street at the Michael Levine store, I got these two fabrics. I got a nice deal on the green stuff by buying the extra yard on the bolt, and it was already on sale for 30% off the (already low) price. The satin was $3 a yard (synthetic, obviously).

I'm half-kicking myself for not getting a couple yards of a really nice orange wool I saw there; it was $25/yard which was way too much, but I didn't see anything like it at any other store. Michael Levine also has a really, really nice section with high-end yarns, which I passed up because I have enough yarn right now.

Three fabrics

I got these three in a store I went into by mistake. The district is a bunch of narrow storefronts crammed together, with the only signs being above the awnings overhead (and thus often only readable from the street). I was aiming for the store next door to the place where I bought these. That's an embroidered green (I'm going to make it into a summer dress), an orange lining fabric, and a sheer synthetic. Obviously, it wasn't a total mistake to go in there.

Two silk dupioni

It's too bad a photograph can't capture the sheen of these silks; they're woven so that as they move the colour shifts and shines. This was my big splurge. $10 and $8 per yard. And yes, I tested them.

Some beads

The district also has craft (mostly cheesy party supplies), bead, and trim stores. I love the trim, but can't quite figure out how I would use it. Someday I will have a truly great idea that just needs some theatrical drag queen trim, and I know where to go. I did get some beads, though. Those big round ones that look like eggs are going to become spindle whorls.

A Few Months of Random Photos


I was clearing images off my phone this evening -- something I do very rarely because I don't tend to use my phone as a camera -- and thought I would share some of the more interesting ones.

It's like a little diary of the last six months.

Truffle Week at Olivetto

In November we went to a Truffle Week dinner at Olivetto. It was very good, but the best dish was the buttered pasta we cajoled the chef into serving us (that's us, always ordering off-menu).

This is our truffle.

Not very functional toilets

In December we went out to a nice dinner in Seattle, and I admit, I put something other than toilet paper in the toilet.

Big maple bacon donut

In Portland, Noel got a Maple Bacon donut at Voodoo Donuts (it was OK; dough a bit heavy).

Dessert at Bangkok Bay

Also in December, a nice dinner at Bangkok Bay (Redwood City) ended with this on my dessert plate.

Five egg day

In March we had our first five-egg day.

Beanie on the porch

One day our neighbor's dog ran away and came to our house (where runaway dogs apparently come in this neighborhood). When I tried to get her to come with me back to her own house, she insisted upon sitting on the knee wall like this.

I don't know how to use this machine

These were the instructions on a hand dryer somewhere in the Midwest. I don't know how to use this machine.

All sorts of cheeses

At the Cheese Chalet, in Wisconsin, a refrigerated case full of odd shapes of cheese. The photo came out really weird.

Henry and Schwa play with their cat tree

And finally, this afternoon, Henry and Schwa were having fun with their new cat tree (courtesy of a terrific coupon the SPCA gives you when you adopt an older cat). I was not aware that Henry was limber enough to get into the tube, but he seemed quite comfortable there.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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