There seems to be a lot of interest in silk hankies lately. I have been asked many people at recent events how to knit or spin from them, so I thought a blog post might be helpful.
What is a silk hankie and how are they different from silk caps?
The only difference between a silk hankie and a silk cap is the shape. Both are formed by stretching the fiber from a single silk cocoon into a thin sheet. Multiple sheets are built up. A hankie (also known as a mawata) is shaped over a frame (think of a small picture frame) with nails at each corner. The cocoon is pulled into a square shape and held in place by putting the corners of the sheet over the nails. A silk cap is similar except it is formed over a bell shape. Wormspit has a great tutorial on how to make your own mawatas.
That is a cap on the left with the dome folded over (it was rather tall) and a hankie on the right.
To knit with either one, the first step is to separate one layer (one cocoon's worth) of the hankie or cap. You will see a thickness at the edge of each layer. Grab that bit and pull a layer off of the stack. It should look very thin and lacy; you will be able to see through it without any trouble.
If it looks thicker than this, you may have two or more layers. Try to find a single edge a separate it. If you can't, don't worry. It will still work, just be harder to draft apart.
To knit with this hankie we need to make it into yarn. The easiest way to do this is to put your fingers in the middle, make a hole, and pull it into a ring.
Start somewhere in the middle of the hankie. It doesn't have to be the exact middle.
Put your fingers in the hole and stretch it bigger.
Eventually you will need to stretch it in segments. If it won't draft (a spinning term meaning the fibers are sliding past each other), move your hands further apart. Remember, this starts as a single cocoon that was once one continuous strand of silk. Stretching the cocoon did cause this strand to break a bit, but the individual segments of silk strands are still quite long.
When it reaches the desired thickness, pull it apart so instead of a big loop you have a length of "yarn". You are now ready to start knitting. What is the desired thickness? Anything between chunky and dk weight will work. If it is too thin, it will continue to draft as you are knitting and may come apart. How thick or thin will you want it to be? Experiment.
To join a new hankie simply lay the tapered end of the hankie you are finishing with the tapered end of your new hankie. I like to overlap them by 4-6 inches.
You can see that I pinched together the tip of the new hankie with the old hankie. They will stick together, though sometimes want a bit of encouragement.
Here is a diagonal scarf taking shape. If you look closely, you can see the join between the red and yellow hankies. If you don't like the look of the overlapped colors, try making a join similar to a Russin join.
Overlap the ends and turn each color back towards itself.
No need to use a needle to weave the ends in. The fibers will happily stick to each other.
In my next post I will talk more about knitting with caps and hankies and how to spin from a hankie. Until then, check out the podcast I did with Natalie of Cloudy with a Chance of Fiber where we talk about playing with hankies.