Silk is a special fiber with a long history of being prized for its strength, sheen, and drape. Yet silk can be intimidating due to its reputation for being slippery and difficult to spin. Don’t believe the hype! Sought-after spinning teacher Sara Lamb shares her tips for spinning silk with ease.
Double-drive, flyer-lead (scotch), or bobbin-lead (Irish) tension spinning wheels all make beautiful silk yarns. Sara suggests finding a wheel that fits you and is comfortable. More important than wheel type, Sara likes wheels that are fast enough to add a lot of twist to the fiber. Sara recommends lace flyers or high-speed flyers and bobbins to add more twist—otherwise you will have to treadle more.
You don’t need a wheel to spin silk. Sara often spins silk on spindles—some of her lovely spindle-spun yarns graced the Spin Off Fall 2016 cover. She says just about any spindle should work as long as it’s not too heavy. She prefers spindles that weigh about an ounce or 28 grams and spin long and fast.
Commercial silk preparations such as top and bricks organize the fibers so that they are somewhat aligned. However, Sara prefers to spin silk in smaller chunks with the fiber disorganized, such as spinning from the fold, over spinning it in the direction of the prepared fiber. She uses a long-draw technique, drafting back the fiber supply with her right hand and controlling the twist with her left hand forward. Sara explains that there are more similarities between spinning silk and cotton than spinning wool and has adapted cotton spinning techniques to spin silk.
Your hands are your most precious tools! Silk fibers are slippery and fine. Dry hands will catch on the fibers and make handling silk a chore. Keep your hands soft, smooth, and well moisturized for trouble free spinning. Sara also cautions against pinching off the twist while drafting. Keep both hands open and relaxed while drafting for hours and hours of pain-free spinning.
Sara favors silk spun fine and with high twist. She usually works with plied yarns over singles when weaving or knitting. If she requires a heavier yarn for a project, she adds more plies rather than spinning ticker singles.
Sara’s tips make spinning silk easy. Just keep your hands relaxed and add lots of twist. Check out Sara's Spinning Silk course for more tips and techniques.