Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to use silk hankies

I see this question a lot on Facebook and from our customers. What do you do with silk hankies? They look pretty, but what are they for?

Well, the answer is... a lot. There are so many uses for these interesting little squares of silk, and I'm going to talk about a couple of them for you.

First of all, let's quickly talk about what silk hankies are. These are commonly referred to as mawatas, which is a Japanese name for "to spread around". They come in little piles that consist of hundreds of individual squares that have been stacked on top of each other, and each square is one cocoon from a silk worm that has been soaked, degummed, and spread around a square frame to shape it.

When you receive undyed silk hankies in the mail, you will be able to peel them off one layer (or one cocoon) at a time. You can also dye them or buy them pre-dyed from us. This next photo shows a dyed silk hankie in our Sleeping Beauty colorway that has been knitted up without spinning it.

By its very nature, silk is extremely strong and difficult to break. For this reason, it does not need to be spun in order to be knitted or crocheted. It can be drafted out and used straight from the cocoon.

I made a video which illustrates this, and also shows how exactly to go about drafting a silk hankie and knitting with it. Link to Youtube Video . 

There are a lot of other uses for silk hankies and your imagination is really the limit. Many people use them in nuno felting in place of a woven silk base, and other people use them for paper making and other similar projects. You can also spin them as you would regular wool or silk in sliver form, though it is not necessary. 

I really love dyeing these neat little squares of fiber, but it is a tricky process. If you are interested in a specific colorway that you don't see in our store, just shoot me a message and I can custom dye something just for you.

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  1. Holly, this is a great post! I want to share my love for silk hankies as well. They're so versatile and come in many beautiful colors! I'll have to buy some from youn eventually though I'd like to try my hand at dyeing my own as well. I'm curious why the dyeing process for these is tricky? Is it because it can accidentally felt them or clump them? Do you use acid dyes? Presoak in water or vinegar? I heard the key to dyeing silk and keeping the color consistent is to presoak the living heck out of the silk. More saturation is key... but is that true for silk hankies as well as silk top/sliver/brick?

  2. Thanks for your comment Kate! They aren't terribly hard to dye. The main thing is to make sure they get completely saturated before you start. Some people choose to pre-soak them for a day, but I actually take mine and just run them under tap water and ring them out like washcloths until they are completely wet. It works perfectly and doesn't' cause any distortion or felting (silk won't felt by itself so you never have to worry about that).

    The other important step is to break them up into layers. For example, I once dyed a whole stack of hankies dark purple at the same time. Because of the many layers of hankies, some extra dye got trapped between them and they bled constantly, no matter how much I rinsed. I have since learned to take small stacks of hankies at a time, and it really helps prevent them from bleeding. Some colors (blue and pink) will tend to want to bleed more than others and you might get a little, but it's rare.

    My last tip is this: use very little water. This is especially true if you want to dye a specific colorway such as the rainbow nebula hankies that I have a photo of in the blog post. You want just enough water to cover the hankies, but not so much that the color will run all over the place. I dye mine in the oven and lay them flat, and it works like a charm.

    I hope that was helpful!