We are writing these fibre posts in relation to our summer KAL, so silk is an obvious choice. Cool in the heat, warm in the cold, silk is a perfect summer fabric. Silk has amazing drape, which makes it perfect for loose tops and shawls. The structure of the fibre has very little elasticity, which means that it doesn’t bounce back to it’s original shape very well. This gives it fantastic drape for loose tops, but it is less appropriate for a figure hugging ribbed sweater as it will become less figure hugging over time. For this reason silk is often blended with other fibres to get the best of both worlds. A wool silk blend will have much of the natural elasticity of wool, with all the sheen and intense colour of silk.
For the summer KAL Natalie is working on the Fieldwork Cardigan, she chose to make it in Fyberspates Scrumptious 4Ply, a gorgeous merino silk blend perfect for this project.
Fieldwork Cardigan – Pom Pom Quarterly Issue 5
So we know that we like knitting with silk, but how is it made? We won’t lie to you, silk is a contentious issue. There is no perfect silk solution, but we want to give you some facts about different kinds of silk so that you can make your own decision.
All silk comes from silk worms, or the caterpillar from a silk moth. Most silk comes from the Bombyx Mori variety. In simple terms the silk worm is hatched, then it eats a lot and grows for about a month. When it has reached it’s full size, which can be about a thousand times it’s hatched size, it spins a cocoon. The cocoon is harvested and turned into silk. The contentious issue is what happens to the silk worm in this harvesting process.
The first thing to know is that the Bombyx Mori silk worm has been domesticated for silk production since 2600 BC. That’s almost 5000 years. While there are a few breeds of silk worms that can be found in the wild, the Bombyx Mori is not. It is completely dependant on people for survival, and pretty much exist solely to produce silk. They are blind, can’t fly very well and some varieties don’t really have mouths as adult moths. The life span of an adult moth is about 5 days, in which span they lay an average of 500 eggs and then die.
Mulberry silk, such as the Indochine Yarn by Lantern Moon, is harvested after the developing chrysalis is ‘stifled’ before it can mature and hatch out of the cocoon. This process of killing the moth is done with heat by either boiling the cocoons or placing them in an oven. The thread of the cocoon can then be reeled off in one continuous thread, which is usually around 6m long! This incredibly long staple length is one of the reasons that mulberry silk has such a high shine and strength. Some of the moths are allowed to live so that they can hatch eggs for the next harvest.
Lantern Moon Indochine – 100% Mulberry Silk
Tussah and noil silk, such as Hokkaido, is harvested after the moths hatch. The moth secretes a solution that dissolves a small hole in the cocoon so that it can climb out. The impact on the cocoon means that that 6m long thread has been cut up into much smaller pieces. This means that the resulting fibre has less shine and lustre than mulberry silk. These smaller pieces are spun together to create the fibre in a similar way to how wool is spun. This process is often referred to as Ahima or peace silk, as the process does not directly involve killing silk moths. However, we want to identify all the sides of the silk production, and the truth is that the silk moths die in this method as well. Since more moths reach adulthood, there are more eggs laid and more worms hatched. Since this method creates significantly more worms that than can be fed or cared for, the surplus worms are left to starve, or are sold at market for humans to eat. Also, due to the general dependance on humans and their short life span, the adult moths are not released into the wild to live happy little moth lives.
Now, this is all starting to sound really depressing! So why use silk at all? Well, at the end of the day, silk moths are bugs, and bugs have a life span and they do die, one way or the other. If you are looking into the ethics of silk, the question between the two methods is not which method kills moths, but which method are you more comfortable with? There is the controlled population method of mulberry silk where exactly the number needed are hatched and then quickly killed, or the over population of tussah silk, where the unneeded adult and moths are discarded after the process.
DesignEtte Shikoku – 100% Raw Silk
What’s a knitter to do? We’ve added a few other factors into the equation to help us with the silks we carry. Lantern Moon creates their Indochine silk yarn and silk bags in partnership with local communities in Vietnam, Cambodia and Bali using traditional techniques that are passed down through the generations.
DesignEtte makes their natural fibre yarns in countries that support regulation and ethical labour laws.
Noro Kibou – Cotton, wool and silk blend
Noro works very hard to maintain a production process that is as eco-friendly as possible. All their animal fibres come from organic farms, and they are directly involved in the dyeing and spinning to ensure as little waste as possible while still creating a luxury process that lasts.
Du Store Alpakka’s Fin is a luxurious silk and alpaca blend. Du Store Alpakka is a major supporter of the Mirasol project, which supports the education of the families of the shepherds that raise the alpacas in Peru.
Du Store Alpakka Fin – Alpaca silk blend
Similarly, Fyberspates works directly with all of their production process to ensure high employment and environmental standards with all of their yarns. We love the colours in their wool/silk blend range, Scrumptious.
Here at Knit with attitude, our biggest goal is to provide ethical and environmentally friendly knitting options that are also beautiful to knit with and wear. The key word in there is options. We do our best to do our research into the companies that we work with, but we want to provide our customers and readers with the information that they need to make their own informed choices, because a lot of the time it isn’t as easy as this yarn good, that yarn bad. We also have a range of customers who have made up their own minds in terms of what they need from their yarn and from their knitting.
The truth is that unless you are growing your own fibre, right from the start, there is no perfect yarn. An organic, fair trade cotton is pretty perfect in some ways; environmentally friendly to grow, ethically produced and animal cruelty free is great! But none of these yarns are produced in the UK, as cotton doesn’t like our cool, damp climate, so they all have to be shipped, which has it’s own carbon emissions. Some companies have all the right practices but aren’t certified organic or fair trade because they are small producers that can’t afford the expensive process to become certified. For some people local is more important than organic, for others the ethics are most important, and for some the environment and ethics are a bonus for a beautiful skein of yarn. We aren’t here to make that choice for you.
Fyberspates Scrumptious – Merino silk blends
There are a lot of things to take into consideration for environmentally friendly shopping, from food to fibre. We just hope that we can provide you with some more information to help you make your own informed choice, and we are always looking out for more information and discussion ourselves and for our customers. If you have any concerns about the way a certain yarn is made, just ask!