Honing your Craft
Monday March 25th 2013

Class with the Yarn Harlot: Mawata for everyone!

Mawata Cocoon
Bombyx Mori silkworm cocoon prior to boiling.

My first class at SAW was with the Yarn Harlot herself, teaching us Mawata. What is Mawata?


It’s knitting silk from the cocoon. Of course, it’s not just that easy as opening the bag of cocoons and knitting away.

A little about silkworms… Silkworms are grown domestically. Sericulture a finely tuned business of growing and processing the silk using methods that have been around for thousands of years. The silk worm that spins the silk in these cocoons is called Bombyx Mori.

Some interesting facts Stephanie shared with us about the sericulture of the domesticated Bombyx Mori:

  • You must bring the mulberry leaves, the only thing they eat, to the worms as they cannot move to the food.
  • When it’s time for the worms begin to spin, the men must remain celibate and the women can not wear any scented products (perfume, deodorant etc.) or the worms will not spin.
  • If the worms finish their life cycle, rather than being stifled to preserve the silk cocoon, and it hatches from the cocoon, they can only procreate, lay eggs, then die as they haven’t even got mouths to eat with.
The yarn Harlot adding cocoons to her crock pot.
The yarn Harlot adding cocoons to her crock pot.

Let’s knit with some silk, shall we?

Where to begin?

Get out your crock pot, yes, your crock pot. Boil a pot of water and pour it into that crockpot with about a quarter of a cup of low sudsing detergent and a quarter cup of a washing soap like boraxo.

Add your silkworm cocoons and let them soak for about 20 minutes. You need to soften the cerasin, the natural gum/glue that the silkworms produce to hold the silk together as a cocoon. Each cocoon is approximately 1 mile of silk and is a single continuous strand.

Frame used to stretch the silk across.
Simple frame used to stretch the silk cocoon across.

Each of us had a chance to stretch a cocoon across a frame (4 nails placed in a square on an inexpensive canvas covered frame.) As we stretched open the cocoon you’d have to take out the bits of worm that were remaining inside. Always one good sized “passenger” and sometimes a second piece that is a layer of skin shed by the worm.

Trying my hand at stretching the cocoon over the frame.
Trying my hand at stretching the cocoon over the frame.

One by one you stretch out and layer up the cocoons on the frame, one over the next until the nails were full. Sometimes you need to dip the cocoon into the hot water a few times to rinse enough of the cerasin out to be able to stretch it out large enough to fit across the nails. The stretched silk will resemble cobwebs, it won’t be a clean sheet of silk. These square layers you are making will be referred to as silk hankies. Take the frame filled with the hankies and rinse it again in water until as much of the cerasin has been washed out as much as possible. Allow to dry. Then you can hand pain each stack of hankies in the colors of your choice. Allow to dry, set the color, allow to dry again and voila! You have some silk hankies ready to knit up!

Bombyx Silk Hankies
Bombyx Silk Hankies ready to knit with.

There wasn’t time to do the the entire preparation of the hankies process past the stretching over the frame AND learn how to draft and knit with the silk. So, at this point we shifted gears and choose a pack of already prepared and died Bombyx silk hankies from the box Stephanie had brought so that we could begin to to learn how to work with the silk.

Mawata project
Learning to knit Mawata

Stephanie passed out samples of items she had made with this sort of silk, including the hat and booties project (shown above in white) we would be working on ourselves.

Silk fibers stick to every little bump and catch in your skin and you spend a bit of time flicking and shaking your hands to release it. Stephanie brought a tub of her homemade sugar scrub for us to rub into our hands, gently rinsing off the excess, prior to working with the silk. It did help to smooth out the rough bits on my hands that the silk would catch on.


Sugar Scrub for use with silk

White Sugar

Inexpensive Oli oil

Mix until you have a thick paste. Feel free to add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.


The first step towards the knitting was the drafting. What is drafting? It’s the controlled pulling/stretching of the fiber to the width you desire to knit with. Silk is so strong and I found myself having to really tug hard and concentrate for a controlled width. I instantly LOVED it!

After class, I spent my time drafting the hankies, one at a time, and knitting away!  Don’t pull off and draft more than one hankie at a time like you would if you were drafting wool or they will get a bit messed up. I really enjoyed knitting up the silk hankies I had.


Baby Cap knit from the Mawata Class
The baby cap I knit from the Mawata class with the yarn Harlot.

The last morning I was at SAW I finished the knitting for my baby cap. I adore the colors and had just enough of the silk left to sew up the back seam. The only trouble I’m having now is finding a place to purchase more silk hankies! Seems every place I have found is sold out! If you know of a place that has some, dyed, do let me know!!

The Yarn Harlot & I (Thanks to classmate for snapping the photo.)
TThe Yarn Harlot & I (Thanks to classmate for snapping the photo.)

This was a fun and interesting class to be sure! I’d recommend it if you attend SAW and it’s on offer!!

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