Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Art Yarn: A flock of flowers

I had been asked “just how did you do that?” in regards to not only turning silk cocoons into flowers but adding them to yarn. Spring is upon us so why not add flowers to your fiber? So, as promised, especially for Mara in Germany, this is exactly how I made the flowers and added them to yarn.

Please, before you start out be sure to check that you will be able to put your silk cocoon flower through your orifice. They are quite forgiving as to being pushed through the orifice and helped over your flyer hooks. As for bobbins? Size does matter. The bigger the better! My pictured sample was produced on an Ashford Joy with Freedom Flyer.

Of course there is no reason why you can’t do this technique with a spindle.

All is not lost if your wheel’s flyer cannot take in the cocoon flowers and you are not a spindler as you can attach your flowers to your finished yarn by securing them with sewing thread. 

 What you need:

  • Whole, undyed silk cocoons Oh, and that rattle you hear? That’s the silkworm.
  • Sharp exacto knife or scissors
  • Toothpicks or bamboo skewers
  • Craft painting brushes. Japanese calligraphy brushes are ideal
  • Silk paints
  • Paper towels
  • Styrofoam block
  • Steamer or double boiler (non-food use only)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Old towel
  • Craft flower stamens
The yarn:
  • Handspun yarn plies. One thick and thin ply is great. The other ply needs to be thin or a commercial thread/fine yarn also is awesome.
  • Tiny crochet hook (0.75mm)

Making the flowers:
1. With a sharp exacto knife or sharp pointy scissors like embroidery scissors, you are going to cut a zigzag opening around the middle of the cocoon. I cocoon makes 2 flowers. [1]For your first one or feeling a little tentative, try drawing your zigzag cut line first with a pencil.  Just a word of warning: this process doesn’t smell so great…just so you know. Once the 2 halves are separated, discard the worm.

2. Setting up to paint, cover your surface well and set out your paints/dyes. I use steam set silk dyes. Poke a skewer or toothpick through the bottom of each cocoon half and stick the other end into the block of styrofoam.

3. Glove up to protect your skin and now you are ready to paint your cocoons.

4. Have fun with your paints then set aside to dry

5. Once dry, set according to silk dye manufacturer’s instructions. What I do is wrap the cocoons separately in [2]paper towel. Line your steamer with an old towel and then place your cocoons on top of the towel. Fold the towel over and close your steamer. Do not use anything you use for food. I picked up a great steamer at a thrift shop I only use for crafts. Once the dye setting process is complete (approx. 20 minutes), you can remove the cocoons and whilst still a little warm and pliable, you can shape the petals.

Now I guess you want to know just how to get them on the yarn, eh?

1.      Your plies are of course your own choice but I will say in order to aesthetically balance the yarn, I recommend one thick or thick/thin ply and the other a thin one. The thin ply is what you will be adding the flowers to as you go. For the pictured example I used a commercial metallic filament.

2.      I add approximately 12 cocoon flowers per 2oz handspun but this  is entirely up to you. I also add it randomly so…..start plying and stop in a [3]thin section of the thick/thin ply when you want to start with your [4]first cocoon.

3.      Insert your crochet hook from the inside of the flower to outside through the hole put in earlier during the painting process.

4.      Catch your thin coordinating ply and pull it through the hole into the inside of the flower.
5.    Insert 2, 3 or how many stamens you want through the loop of the ply you just pulled through.

6.      Fold the stamens in half and pull the ply at the back of the flower firmly. This secures the stamens inside the flower.

7.      Carefully continue to ply, ensuring the back of the cocoon flower is plied in snug. Also observe how it passes through the orifice and flyer hooks and help along as needed. You can continue to ply without fussing over the flowers that are on the bobbin. You will have to pay a little more attention to filling your bobbin as you won’t want your flowers to lie on top of each other in order to get as much yarn onto your bobbin as possible. I haven’t had any problems with any tangling if I let them lie on the bobbin how they go naturally. I don’t wind off onto my niddy noddy perhaps as fast as I would a yarn without add-ons, but these flowers should be securely in place.

So Mara and others, this is how you do it but if you have any questions or get into any trouble with my directions, please do ask. It really is quite easy and opens up oodles of possibilities for adding you your yarn with the same technique. You could always add a bead instead of the stamens or lock all kinds of goodies with a loop in your plying. Please enjoy and I would love for you to share your yarn pictures.



[1] Thanks to Dotty for proof reading and handy hints.
[2] Or you can use tissue paper. There will be some dye transfer to the paper so that the paper makes awesome wrapping paper afterwards.
[3] The flowers ply in more securely on a thin ply than the fluffier thick part of the ply
[4] Keep in mind if you want to use your yarn beyond it being a finished skein for anything that may require a longer leader.

Thursday, 4 April 2013


Down breed

Staple: 6-10 cm

24.5-32.5 microns

[1]Conservation Breed

 Rare breed timeline
·         1973 Shropshire Sheep numbers 'critical' on the RBST's watch list
·         1984 Increasing numbers mean Shropshires move to the watch list 'endangered' category
·         1991 Shropshires move further to 'at risk' on the watch list
·         2005 More increases see Shropshires move to 'minority breed'
·         2013 Shropshires removed from the conservation watch list

Shropshire Sheep are the oldest breed of British farm livestock to have officially recorded pedigrees. Descendants can be traced back to 1792, where Morfe Common sheep were found grazing the rolling pasturelands of Shrewsbury in Shropshire County, England. The native Longmynd also contributed to its ancestry, as well as the Cannock Chase, Whittington Heath and Clun Forest.

Originating from the hills of Shropshire  and North Staffordshire, England, during the 1840s, the breeders in the area used the local horned black-faced sheep and crossed them with a few breeds of white-faced sheep. Southdown (to breed out coarseness and horns), Cotswold, and Leicester (to improve size and wool length). This produced a medium-sized polled (hornless) sheep that produced good wool and meat. In 1855 the first Shropshires were imported into the US and was primarily raised for meat.

The breed's adaptability to most environments and their dual-purpose nature led to them quickly becoming a popular breed.

1940s US breeders began producing Shropshires with more wool cover and decreased size which led to problems resulting with loss of popularity to becoming increasingly rare around the world, even in its homeland. By the 1950’s they were again being bred back to their original popular traits. Today the traditional Shropshire sheep is considered a rare breed in most countries. Canada's Heritage Shropshire sheep are close to extinction with less than 125 registered breeding animals remaining.
The Fiber: Shropshires are covered with fine, dense wool, elastic to touch, medium fine, well crimped, with evenness of texture throughout. Shropshire are primarily white and free from black fiber. Coloured strains exsist

My Spinning Experience: [2] My sample was from a coloured strain. A pleasant medium soft, shorter staple spin with resulting next-to-Princess-skin softness of yarn



[1] Whilst this breed was on the conservation list, at time of spinning and initial research, Shropshires had just been removed from the conservation watch list . The Shropshire Sheep Breeders' Association welcomed the news and confirmed the breeding population had increased from fewer than 500 in the early 1970s to over 3,000 in 2012. This is an increase of 500%
[2] A lot of my British Breed samples were obtained through Caroline’s Etsy store, Woolforbrains, where they are consistently high quality.