textiles · exploration · misadventure

Madrona-ing, Part V b: Have you met my friend Mawata?

Close-up of a silk mawata, or handkerchief for handspinners to spin into yarn, dyed light blue-grey, bright pink, apple green.
mittens 1Mawata Jones?
No, not Mawata Jones, Mawata McPhail…

(Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.)

So, after Stephanie changed my worldview in one paragraph, she proceeded to not only teach us how knit with mawata, but how to make them. It’s tempting to try it, but I have a feeling I would go crazy after (during?) the first one.*

I had never handled silk cocoons before, although I did know they come with the moth. Squeamish? Vegan? Next few paras have interesting info, but are a little blech, so look out.

You can buy silk cocoons all over the place: Treenway, Carolina Homespun, festivals all over the US… You soak the cocoons for about an hour in water, washing soda, and Orvis paste**, take them out, gently probe your way inside, and remove the dead moth, which has been stifled inside the cocoon. Some folks have issues with silk because of this.
mawata (10)
Silk worms arranged in “order of maturity.” Left to right, you can see the legs disappear and the wings begin to emerge. At the far right, the wings are the stripey part.

Pertinent facts are: silk would not be silk if the moth was allowed to emerge. That would change a mile-long, cohesive filament into a hash of two-inch fibers. It’s done, there is vegan silk, but it’s not the same product. It’s more like cotton, lots of very short fibers. Also, once the moth emerges, it immediately mates, then dies. So stifling the moth before emergence is not, as Stephanie puts it, going to truncate a long and joyous life. It does miss getting laid, but that’s apparently not a great loss in the emotions of a moth. Fact the third, these moths are not endangered. Not even close.

There are arguments and counter-arguments for using silk this way. Personally, I eat meat. Red meat. I have no moral box to stand upon, should I attempt to argue against using silk.


You remove the moth, and stretch the silk over a frame meant to hold, oh I don’t know, twenty-five? Thirty? cocoons. Maybe more, maybe less; I didn’t ask.
mawata (9)
They are then left to dry, washed in water and a splash of vinegar to correct their Ph, and voila! Mawata! They can be dyed or used as is.

We worked with both dyed and undyed mawata. Here are the ones I chose. The dye job, by Indigo Dragonfly, is stunning:
dye job

Remove one silk handkerchief from the pile, split it in the middle with your thumbs, stretch it out… and KNIT WITH IT. (That last part is really exciting.) It’s so strong it doesn’t need twist to hold together.
Mawata 022
I thought it would be fragile, but once I began I quickly became accustomed to its durability. It’s a bit of a mess, and kind of hard to handle because it floats everywhere and sticks to everything. Windy days and waiting in the tube station are just not on. Otherwise, heave to.

McPhee gave us a pattern for a baby bonnet, and I’m finding it an oddly satisfying knit. I don’t have children, grandchildren, or any baby in the likely future that I’ll be making this for, but I do think I’ll finish the pattern, if only to have the experience of knitting a complete item with the mawata. From there, I plan to dye my own silk and midgod, I might make some mittens.

*Possibly this is a use for my third clone, although it doesn’t seem like a terribly good use of clone-time.
**Buy a small bottle at your local quilt shop, or a large tank at your local feed store. Small bottle=big price; giant tank=cost effective. Also very popular product for washing raw fleece.