Silkworms Revisited

When I last posted about my silkworms, they were about 6 days old and mostly in their second instar/stage.  About three weeks and three molts later and they were 2-3 inch long, plump and voracious fifth instar wormies.  They finished up their chow soon after that molt.  I made up a second batch.  Thistime they finished it within a few short days!  Since they were due to start spinning at ant time and the commercial chow was getting expensive, I starting asking around to see if anyone I knew has a mulberry or osage orange tree.  Luckily, I found someone with a mulberry.  I figured one good sized trash bag would get me through.



Wrong!  They loved the fresh food and showed no sign of slowing down.  I drove to my friend’s 3 or 4 times to steal branche prune her tree.  Just a few silkies were showing signs that maybe, just maybe they would start spinning soon, but this was getting old fast.  So I starting looking around the neighborhood.  Just a couple blocks away, in a vacant lot next to a church yard I spied a pair of mulberry trees.  YES!  The silkies seem to like the new leaves well enough, but still most weren’t cocooning up.



A few did start to change.  Toilette paper tubes make nice places for the worms to settle down for a spin.  They start by anchoring a few threads and then make a comfy hammock.









Then they keep spinning untill they have a nice safe cocoon.

Unfortunately, most of my silworms did not ever pupate.  Out of my 500+ worms that made it to the fifth instar, maybe 10% spun cocoons and some of those were on the thin side–the worm clearly died before finishing.  The rest just kept eating until they wore out and died.  I suspect my neighborhood trees may have been sprayed.  I’ve seen tent caterpillars in the area and I know some of the sprays they use for that are grow inhibitors that might prevent molting or pupating.  I would like to try this again, but not until I have my own mulberry tree that I know is safe and I might want to hatch out fewer caterpillars!

Next: Mothra emerges


It’s Sale Time!

My Etsy shop is having a coupon sale now through Cyber Monday (November 28th). Just enter the not very original code “THANKSGIVING” to receive 10% off everything in my shop. I’ve been adding stained glass (suncatchers, boxes, candleholders, etc.) to my usual assortment of spindles, buttons and shawl pins/hair sticks.

I thought I had posted this last week, but appartently the blog gremlins have eaten my words.  Well, there is still over a day and a half left on the sale!

Come visit: Kate’s Cauldron

So What is this scary thing?  Why it’s the working end of a wool comb!  I’ve been wanting to try combing wool for spinning as a change from carding, but I can’t really afford a set of combs right now.  But I do have a drill press, and I’m not afaid to use it!  It’s pretty down and dirty, but definitely funtional.  Well at least enough to let me tell if I like combing enough to buy a proper set when I have the cash.

I think it is most common to use a pair of combs, but I wanted to try a comb and mini-hackle set.  Here’s mine partially loaded with some belly wool from a friend’s shearing.  I dyed some purple a while back, but I think I overhandled the wool in the dye pot.  It’s fairly matted.

BUT….it came out nice didn’t it?  Almost half of the total ended up as waste wool, but it won’t really be wasted.  I’m saving it up for carding.  I guess there would be less waste if: 1. I hadn’t abused the wool while dying, 2. It had been off the TOP of the sheep, lol, and 3. I actually had more than 30 seconds of wool combing experience before this.

Useless trivia fact:  St Blaise, patron of throats, was martyred by being attacked by wool combs (and then beheaded for good measure).

Grow Worms Grow!

So my husband ordered 500 silkworm eggs and some worm chow for my anniversary present.  I’m not really sure what this says about me or our relationship, but it was the perfect present.  I’ve been joking about starting a silkworm ranch for a while.  Hey, I live in a city rowhouse.  I don’t think the neighbors (or the zoning department) are keen on my keeping sheep or alpaca, lol.

First hatchlings

You can just barely see the first hatchlings.  The eggs are just little dots.  They lighten up a bit before hatching.  The new worms look like tiny black maggots and are maybe 1/4 inch long. These first ones hatched a week ago, on Friday afternoon.

Only 5 had hatched by the time I should have gone to bed.  I was nervous, having heard that they need to eat within 4 hours, so I got up in the middle of the night to check on them and sure enough, the mass hatching had started.  I put the hatchlings on some food and brushed the rest of the eggs close to the food.  By morning most were hatched

At this stage they are pretty gruesome little things.

These are about 4 days old.  They’ve lightened up and plumped out.  Most have white heads with black faces and tannish bodies.  The skins on a few have started looking kind of stiff and maybe a bit translucent. Almost time to shed their skins, I think!

Day 6 and I think almost all of these have molted.  I only saw one actually shed it’s skin and there don’t seem to be any old skins lying about.  Did they eat them?  All the wormies are plumper now and about a half inch long.  The white heads are more pronounced and the bodies are a soft dove grey color.  Much less gruesome, don’t you think.

So far I have had noticeable fatalities and I think at least 90% hatched.  They are still small enough that I don’t want to try and count them.  Maybe in another molting or two.  Wish me luck!  I want to spin some homegrown silk.

I’ve been hard at work this this month.  This weekend is the MD Sheep and Wool Festival.  I’ll be there with my spindles and shawl pins, buttons and some yarn at the Baltimore County Wool Producers Booth (Barn 4, space 05) where you can also find plenty of yarn and spinning fibers all produced locally.

Come on by and say, “Hi!”  I’d love to meet you.

A friend just sent me word about this raffle for the Japanese earthquake/tsunami relief.  A good cause all by itself, but the charms that are the prize are so much fun.  Heather is announcing the winniners on March 31st, so hurry up and go check it out: http://www.globalgiving.org/dy/fundraiser/prevfund/gg.html?regid=4839

And check out Heathers shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/Heathernwells

I especially like the breakfast charms.  Okay I really like her desert charms, but I’m I’m afraid I’d go crazy craving chocolate if I wear them!

Washing a Fleece

There’s been a bit of chatter on one of my lists about washing and prepping fibers for spinning.  It so happens that I am in the midst of washing up a lovely Romney fleece that I’ve recently acquired from my friend Sara of Blackberry Fields Farm and educational farm just barely outside Baltimore. 

I was asked to post some photos of my cleaning process.  I’m no expert, and my piecemeal batch cleaning is certainly not the most efficient, but it works for me. Here is the before picture:

Now this is from last year’s shearing and I had been warned that the lanolin has harden up, so I knew it would need a good bit of cleaning.

Not having anywhere to safely dry a whole flleece at once, I like to clean it in batches.  So I fill up a wash basin with my hottest tap water and add a couple squirts of dish soap (make sure it doesn’t have enzymes).  My hot water heater is set above the code limit (please don’t call the housing police on me!).  If you are at the typical 120 degrees, you might want to add a kettle of boiling water.  Then gently add as much fleece as seems to want to fit.  You really shouldn’t agitate it at all.  I’ll help it sink with an old chpstick (okay, I do swish it a little, but that is WRONG—don’t do that. lol). 

After about 15 minutes, it looks like this:

Doesn’t That look lovely?  No?  Well it smaells just as nice!  Lift the wool out into a strainer (I keep one just for fiber now).  Meanwhile, dump the dirty water, and refill with water just as hot.  Add more dish soap and put the wool back in.  It’s important to change the water while it’s still hot.  If it cools too much, the lanolin will redeposit and re solidify.

I look through the fleece as I return it to the soapy water and pick open any nasty, mucky tips.

Let it go for another 15 minutes or so.  The water is still dirty, but NOTHING like the first bath:

Sometimes I’ll give it a third wash–again sorting through for any icky tips to tease open), but this was looking pretty good, so I left out the detergent on the next bath (yup, lift out the wool, refill tub and resoak).  15 minutes later:

Repeat with one more rinse (more if you need it):

The wool have washed up very soft, with a bit, but not too much vegetative matter.  It’s mostly nice and white, but some yellowed tips.  I was expecting that, since the fleece had sat for so long unwashed.  I’ll save those bits for the dye pot.

This is the wool about half dry.

I have heard it is a good idea to add a splash of vinegar to the rinse water (wool likes a lower ph).  You can also add conditioneer to the final rinse.  I haven’t done either of those, being fundamentally lazy. 

I have heard of a cool step saver recently.  Apparently, you can use your dye bath for the final rinse.  That makes so much sense.  You need to presoak your wool before dying any way, so if you put vinegar in the previous rinse water, you’re all set to put the fibers into the dye pot.  I’ll have to give it a go soon!

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