Knitting mawata, part 2: the first class

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.

Knitting mawata, part 1: anticipation

One of the (many) wonderful things about finally being out of school is that I can fill up my time with other kinds of classes if I want to. Well, tomorrow I’ll be taking a class on knitting mawata (unspun silk “hankies” made by dissolving cocoons and spreading the silk thread out—oh, just go Google it).

In all honesty, it’s not like I’ve been yearning for months to learn how to knit the stuff. Sure, I caught the Yarn Harlot’s posts on the topic (first her mittens and then her brief mawata explanation). It was certainly different, but I didn’t want silk mittens, even if they were the warmest things ever. I figured even if I learned how to knit from mawata, I didn’t want to make mittens, and even if I did, I’d probably snag them on something and ruin all my hard work. So it was an interesting curiosity, but nothing more than that.

And then last month, my LYS announced some classes in knitting mawata. Glancing through the description, I saw that the proposed projects were either a hat or a cowl, projects far more to my liking than mittens. So I signed up, bought my mawata and pattern—I’m going to knit a cowl—and am psyching myself up for tomorrow evening. Note to self: bring the hand lotion. Just in spreading the mawata out to take the picture, it snagged on the supposedly smooth skin of my hands. But it’s really soft, and I had to pack it back up again to keep from just running my fingers through it, playing in its puffiness.

Dyed mawata, fresh from the plastic bag