Going through my stash, I discovered two cones (each weighing over 1 lb.) of tussah silk spun at 1800 yards per pound/1646 meters per .45 kilograms. Tussah silk, sometimes called “wild silk,” is produced by the uncultivated silk worm and is coarser (and stronger) than cultivated silk. The silkworms that produce tussah silk are not fed mulberry leaves; they are found wild on forest trees.
I immediately envisioned dyeing experiments and started skeining. I made several skeins but decided to dye only enough for a wall hanging of finger-manipulated weave stitches to be made on the Cricket – a little over 7oz/212g. (My floor loom is warped with another project.)
I needed to wash the skeins before dyeing, of course. I put the skeins into my large dye pot filled with tap water, added some liquid dish soap, put on the lid and turned on the heat. About a half an hour later I removed the lid to check in a now gently simmering pot.
The smell made me stagger and gag! It wasn’t an overly chemical smell (though I could detect that); it was, to put it mildly, putrid. Why?
As explained by Clara Parkes in The Knitter’s Book of Yarn (2011), the smell is from the “remnants of the chrysalis that weren’t properly removed during degumming – normally a sign of sloppy processing and low-quality fiber” (p.33).
Oh dear. Oh yuck.
Time for the skeins to take a long dip in a soda ash infused bath. Soda ash (aka washing soda) is sodium carbonate, Na2CO3 – the sodium salt of carbonic acid (water soluble). While not expensive, soda ash is not always easy to find. I got my soda ash from a local textile supply store, Eugene Textile Center.
If you don’t have a either a stash of soda ash at the ready or a well-stocked textile store nearby, most people have the makings of soda ash in their kitchen: baking soda! Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, CHNaO3.
To make soda ash, I would start by buying a large sack of baking soda (available at Costco!). Next, spread some baking soda onto the bottom of a shallow pan and put in a 350-400° F (176-204° C) oven for about 45-60 minutes. As it heats up, the sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) will release carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O), leaving dry sodium carbonate – soda ash. When the baking soda looks powdery and a little bit like salt, you’ve got soda ash! (If you make more than you plan on using, store it in an airtight container.)
By the way, normal levels of CO2 are considered harmless (per U.S. BLM). While my kitchen certainly doesn’t qualify as a “confined area” where I’d worry about CO2 build up, I would leave the kitchen window wide open as I baked it.
More on those smelly skeins in my next post!
P.S. It is worth mentioning that swimming pool supply companies generally carry soda ash compounds to use for pH balancing purposes. Soda ash is one of the ingredients so you’re better off making your own. You can also find washing soda detergents (e.g., Borax and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda), at grocery stores, but those generally contain other chemicals (e.g., fragrances and brighteners).