Silver Threads

a knitting blog with occasional side trips

Knitting mawata, part 2: the first class

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The class was great. The teacher was cool. The mawata was . . . well, not my favorite stuff in the world to work with.

Things started out well. We students sat around, waiting for a few latecomers to show up. We compared our various bags of mawata and tried to decide which of the three colorways was the best (in addition to mine, which I have dubbed “Easter Explosion,” there was a hot pink and purple one and a light green and blue one). We learned that we’d all decided to make cowls when we figured out what we were doing. Conversation and laughter flowed.

The teacher, who clearly loved working with mawata, explained it well. The process is pretty easy to describe, although it doesn’t really click until you see it done and try it yourself. You separate out a single layer from one of the silk caps. Poking a hole in the center, you then begin to stretch the silk out into a loop, and continue stretching it until it’s as thin as you want to knit with. I gather this is like drafting for spinning. Indeed, the teacher assured us that if we got the hang of this, we’d be ready to learn to spin, since silk is one of the more difficult fibers to draft and by comparison, we’d find it easy to draft wool. (Not listening, not listening: really don’t want to pick up another all-consuming craft right now!). Then take your newly-crafted yarn and knit with it. The trick seems to be in drafting the silk evenly enough to make a strand that’s relatively consistent in its thickness.

I did not find drafting the mawata to be much fun. I was mostly prepared for the silk to catch on my hands. But pulling the cap open seemed to require a lot more muscle than it should. By the end of the class, not only did my hands ache, but they were itching—was I suddenly allergic to silk? (Or perhaps to the super-bright dyes or the chemicals that had dissolved the original silkworm cocoon.) Meanwhile, the other students were zooming along. Their gauge swatches grew and looked relatively even; mine, made from a yarn that went from bulky to fingering within inches, looked dreadful. It was interesting to see how the near-fluorescent colorways became softer pastels as the silk was drafted, however. This will be something to keep in mind if I find myself shopping for mawata or roving, that I’ll need to buy brighter stuff than common sense says I’ll ever use.

And so we headed home, to see what we could draft and knit by next week’s class. Me, I headed home to coat my hands in lotion. It’s amazing that something so soft can be so harsh.

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