Tag Archives: silkworms

little dreams

dreaming big inside
my small silk cocoon today
i wonder what if

big dreams small spaces
when will i emerge again
to fly free once more

I like haiku because it distils a thought…

Update:
The silkworms are mostly finishing cocooning with a few stragglers that hatched late. I lost surprisingly few. The two batches at neighboring homes fared less well. One lost all of them (20) and the other lost 16 of their 20 but have 4 that cocooned. I have around 200. At least 50 of the eggs did not hatch at the beginning but when I ordered 200 I was sent 300 (ish). I prepared a cocooning tray for the girls next door who lost all theirs which looked like this:


It’s kind of hard to tell here, but silkworms have a yellowish almost transparent cast to them when they are ready to cocoon. They are filled with sericin to spin their cocoons. Left to free range, they would find a couple of branches or a dried curled up mulberry leaf in which to spin a hammock , and finally a cocoon. I made this with both plus a few TP rolls cut in half so they can see what the cats prefer. Of course letting them cocoon in dried leaf makes for messier collecting of cocoons and renders the kibisu (outer silk) fibers inexorably mixed with leaf detritus. The Japanese have a cool machine for removing the cocoons from the frames and also for rolling the cocoons to remove the outer kibisu-all clear of any leaf material and usable for other purposes without too much effort. It will be 2-3 weeks before moths emerge. Many of mine will be dried, killing the pupae inside and the cocoons stored in the freezer for later reeling.

And if silkworms didn’t have enough to do, you can read about their contribution in developing a vaccine for COVID-19! From The Mainichi and Kyushu University.

I made a little discovery this past week in regards to the native narrow leaf milkweed. I have wondered since last year why the monarch caterpillars don’t seem to utilize it as opposed to the tropical milkweed which keeps popping up in the yard here and there. They also like the balloon plant (milkweed) very much. They LOVE the small broad leaf native milkweed that they eat down to nubs every chance they get- so much so that it never seems to get a good start here. Fortunately, it spreads from underground and keeps popping back up.
Back to the narrow leaf milkweed… I kept seeing the monarchs laying eggs recently on the flowers (it’s flowering now). The flowers are small clusters of tiny florets at the tip of the stems. I realized they probably don’t use the leaves as the leaves are so narrow and unstable they can’t really land on them to deposit their eggs on the underside of the leaf, but the flowers are broad and stable. I started noticing tiny spiders and even some of the tiny praying mantis on the flowers and I thought they would devour and eat the eggs or any larva that hatched-bummer. Then I started noticing that the flower heads are all wilting and dyeing! I thought- oh well….
then this!

I actually started to cut off some of the dead flowers thinking the spider infestation might spread. So now I have a little box of monarch caterpillars to watch over until they get big enough to transfer back to the plant!

We took a trip out on Monday to get away from our cocoon and to visit MIL in hers at the nursing/board and care facility. Since she is in hospice they allow restricted visits- PPE in place. We visit outside mostly. She fell Sunday and thankfully did not break anything but has some pretty colorful facial bruises from bonking her nose. She is doing ok all things considered and always welcomes the visit. It is very difficult communicating since she also has advanced aphasia. We do our best.
Afterward, we went to the new Mitsua market and got Japanese bento for a picnic at the South Coast Botanic Gardens. They really have done a good job reopening there. Online time spaced ticketing, contactless entry, masks required, distance marked cueing (when needed), wide open outdoor spaces. They allow picnics in the meadows and there were actually very few people. Cost is $15 per person and you can stay as long as you like. A family annual membership is $65 for unlimited access for 2 for the year. We did that. They also have special dog walking tickets twice a month in the evenings (they are open 8 am- 8 pm). Eighty seven acres of gardens and trails. Sculpture too!
A great place all around! Highly recommended for corona daytripping.

the bees were going crazy on this flowering thyme border… the sound doesn’t really translate here.
I had heard of this but never seen it in person- I asked Phil to stop so we could watch for a bit. Goats clearing the hillsides…
Goats Rock!

and in the garden… tomatoes are rising! Milo ventures outdoors and approves!

Cats, feline and bombyx mori…

Many thing going on here…I guess I’ll start with sericulture and the silkworms. My friend Nobue Higashi and her husband have just finished their spring crop of silk cocoons. It’s pretty impressive. You can see her blog here (just click your translate button to read in English as I do- it’s too complicated for my poor Japanese even if the google translate sucks-you’ll get the jist of it). My current dream is to take more workshops at Ton-Cara. Somehow…

My small batch of silkworms (quantity unknown) are doing very well. Eating every mulberry leaf in sight. I’m expecting them to slow down any day and vomit up their guts (nice visual huh?). Then they will rest a bit and start to swing their cute little heads around while in the “praying” position. I have prepared the cocooning frames and straw bedding. I have my mini sericulturists making their own cocoon forms from TP tubes cut in half an glued together. On a sad note, one set of the silkworms suffered from grasserie and a garden burial was prepared. We are not sure of the cause but two things are possible contenders- tainted mulberry leaves from a street tree in the city or just from not enough aeration due to laying leaves without branches. I think tainted leaves might be it. In any case, so goes sericulture. The other neighborhood family’s silkworms are fine and have been eating the same leaves as mine. I will send a new batch over to them later today so they can watch the cocooning.

i love seeing the way they methodically eat the leaves.
a pile of silkworms during tray cleaning

I have been dyeing a bit also, indigo and otherwise. I collected the seed pods from the feathery senna that last year I discovered gives a nice rich gold. I also collected and tested the knife edge wattle and discovered that those pods gave a nice rich brown. All this was done on silk with alum. A lovely green was was the result of over dyeing the senna dyed silk with indigo from the fermentation vat.

I had a chance to speak on the phone with Karren Brito in Oaxaca today where we are still hopeful of her receiving the zakuri I sent her way. It’s not easy dealing with bureaucracy there. But I was really interested in her conversation about sericulture in Mexico and the history of it there. I actually did do some online searching and couldn’t find much but she had a lot to share about it. Maybe one day…

This was my Solstice project, more or less. Still not done but who’s rushing these days? It has a great feel in my hand while stitching on it. The back is an old linen tablecloth with great weight and drape. The front is a variety of cotton, silk, and linen scraps that were used to test dye the new indigo fermentation vat. The silk embroidery thread was gifted from Katrina quite some time ago. It’s from a stash her mother’s friend discovered when clearing out a house. It’s about 100 years old. I thought I had blogged about it but can’t find the post to link here. It’s great to stitch with. Amazing really. I’m not used to such luxurious embroidery thread!

And in moon news…just a few to add today.

And the old cat Milo has decided to join life downstairs after secluding himself upstairs for the past 8 years. We don’t know why, but we are enjoying his company in the garden, the studio and the rest of the downstairs. The dogs give him space for the most part.

Remembering Carola…

First of all, I want to say a little something here about my friend who passed away last week from breast cancer. Some of you who attend the Houston Quilt Festival or Roundtop/Marbuger know her. I’ve mentioned her here on various occasions as hers was always my favorite booth at the Houston Quilt Festival. Not only was she brilliant, she was a lover of good cloth, cloth with a history. Carola Pfau and I became friends over ten years ago after meeting at the show. Her booth, Textile Treasures, was always just that- a treasure trove of interesting and instructive textiles she had collected from around the world, most predominately from Japan and Germany. Over the years we bonded over that cloth, shared vendor frustrations and joys (we shared many of the same wonderful customers at the show), helped each other out, and had more than a few delicious after show dinners.
I have lots of stories I could tell about my times with Carola but the best thing I can share about her is her will to live, to live life her way, and to leave this earthly realm a better place for her having been here. She spent the last number of years enjoying traveling in her RV with her beloved cats making new friends, visiting old ones, and sharing her adventures and tribulations with all of us online. Her recent favorite saying was FUCK CANCER! I will miss her…
A couple of stories… One year I eyed a particularly nice piece of hand spun and handwoven european linen in her booth and just knew it was worthy of some indigo dyeing. I bought the piece, $100 for a 2 yard cut (special vendor discount applied) and returned from the show with it. It was about 20″ wide, had lots of character, texture, and potential. I was actually a bit intimidated by it. I didn’t want to ruin it! I hung it on the back of a door near my flower making table and just looked at it for a year. Finally, I made the attempt. I sketched out a plan and set up to dye the piece. I opted for simplicity, applying some itajime techniques I learned from Satoh san. Satisfied with the result, it must have been two shows after making the purchase, I took it back to the Houston show, hung it on the edge of the booth, and put a price on it. Carola wandered by the booth and admired it and asked the price. I asked if she remembered this cloth. She laughed when she realized I had bought it from her. She ended up taking it back to her booth. We had a good laugh about that. I was so pleased she liked it enough to buy it back (vendor discount applied).
Carola had spent a lot of time and had lived in Japan with her husband Makoto. One year, when I was going to Japan, she insisted I stay in her room at their apartment in Tokyo. She was in Austin but Makoto was fine with it she said. It was a great visit. Makoto loved to haunt the temple sales and flea markets which was exactly what I wanted to do. We spent a couple of days having the best time shopping for textiles, some for me and others for Carola that I knew would sell at the shows Carola was doing at the time. It was that trip that I found the used zakuri (silk reeling device) that I brought back with me (more on the zakuri later in the post). Makoto had a nice collection of porcelain sake cups he was adding to. He also took me to see the Mingei Museum for the first time. (old blog post on this here)
Treasured memories AND textiles!
Right around the time I met her, I remember her telling about her attempt to get her license renewed at the DMV. She sent me this link. It is classic Carola! I went back and watched it. It also reminded me of how she took no prisoners with the medical and insurance companies during her fight to get the healthcare she needed and wanted after her breast cancer diagnosis. She visited me in her travel van early on in order to get access to cannabis edibles that were available here in CA but not in TX. They helped her sleep when difficult treatments and medications did not.
Her sister wrote a blog post in memoriam to Carola.
Ahhh Carola…you will be missed, remembered dearly and hilariously!
Sayonara Carola- mata ne!

Continuing along about the zakuri I purchased in Japan, I recently received a note from my favorite shibori expert Karren Brito. She was interested in procuring a zakuri that she could pass along to friends in Oaxacca that are raising silkworms there. Since workshops here are not happening for a while, I thought that that the zakuri I purchased in Japan with Makoto would be doing more service there than here. I have the other one I am using and I loved the idea of sending it to Karren and the silk workers down there. She tells me that they have been raising silkworms in Mexico for 500 years! I did not know this. She also tells me that in order to get silkworm eggs from the government for commercial rearing, you must have 200 mulberry trees. Interesting! Boxed up and sent via DHL, the zakuri is now stuck in customs in Mexico City…we await clearance. Apparently, being made of wood, there is a concern. Wish us luck!

In silkworm news here, the “tiny masters” have entered the 3rd instar (stage). It’s much easier to clean the trays now they are larger. I have a couple of neighborhood kids raising 20 each. It’s a good project for kids. Two are elementary schoolers and the other is a HS student. I sent them all several interesting links to study. They asked me if they could let them emerge, mate, and lay eggs. Yes!

As for the numbers…we reached 100 deaths this past weekend and are now up to 108 as of today. I need to rip more strips of indigo fabric… 😦

It’s been hot here lately-mid to upper 90’s even here at the beach. Thankfully, today started a cooling trend. The garden is coming along nicely-lots of vegetables!

Milo the cat has resumed coming downstairs! He hasn’t been downstairs in years! Maybe it’s the silkworms…
This is actual speed video. The others I have posted were time lapsed. Here they look like they are living in slo-mo.

And, finally, I was putting together various test scraps from the fermentation vat for a base when I heard about Carola. It prompted me to dig into some of the linen I still had from her, cut a strip and dye a moon. This is now morphing into something else entirely.

73, 75, 81…

I was thinking that this post would be about looking back to various Silk Study Tours to Japan and when I started to go through photos of trips going back to 2009, I became overwhelmed. So many photos, so many memories…I think this weekend I will add some new photos to this page. There is also the small blog I did in 2011 on the tour. Perhaps this will do for now.

So, I went and fed the silkworms instead. Then I pulled some cocoons out of the freezer and reeled about 60 or so. Not too many, just 60. I want to get better at this so…practice!

I also want to get to the point where I am adept at twisting them to create something akin to 8ply. That would be about 240 individual strands of silk as I reel about 22-25 cocoons at a time.Perhaps I will dye them in the ferm vat and embroider or sew with them. perhaps I will save up for my desire to actually weave a bit of cloth from cocoons I raised, reeled, and dyed. The reeling went well after initially working out a couple of bugs. Then I realized I need to get a few more itomaki (bobbins) in order to really do this. I found that one of my antique ones actually works with my newer zakuri, so that’s a start. I will go forward with these two just to get a sense of going and a direction. Doing this while raising a small batch of silkworms seems appropriate and even more interesting to me.
I had my friend Nobue Higashi on my mind the entire time as she is such an expert at both sericulture and silk reeling. She is now feeding their first set of silkworms of the season. They have reached their 4th instar now. See her latest blog post here.
I don’t post much to IG these days but a recent post of a time lapse of the silkworms eating brought the attention of someone I was not familiar with and found very interesting. Lisa Onaga has some very interesting writings and research on her blog. It’s more for the “silk nerd” but I know there are some of you out there because some of you have gone on the silk tour-and some more than once!
I’ve been reaching out to some of the past participants to check in with them and touch base- very nice to connect! It’s a long list so won’t get to everyone but feel free to reach out in this direction as well.


The other day I was working on the new indigo vat (update- it’s doing great!) and realized I was really upset about something I had read on twitter earlier. I read the words “human capital stock“. It stuck in my head as I worked and I started to wonder …
This can be viewed as political if you wish, but referring to people as “human capital stock” leaves me nauseated. Regardless of who is doing it. I was in the middle of dyeing some indigo cloth for something I am working on (a background piece for something Spirit Cloth -ish). I was ripping some edges which I was piling up and using in the garden to tie up the tomato vines. I then heard the current reported COVID death stats for my city (Long Beach,CA) which was 73. I kept on ripping. It was strangely satisfying. I even did a short video of it. The sound, mesmerizing…

Then I started counting the strips, as I approached 73 I started wondering…then I started tying them to the bushes in the front yard. I added 2 more the next day-75. Now, I must go out and add 6 more-81. It’s become a somber and thoughtful visual representation for me. People walk by and wonder. There is no explanation out there. But if you know me and follow this blog, I always say, we need more wonder in the world…

As the “opening” continues, so does the dying and tying on. Take care everyone…

waking up…

The new fermentation vat is already waking up and so are the new little silkworms. It’s a good day.

indigo journal

And this morning…

good hana means fermentation is taking place
if you look closely…
test strips

To beginnings and endings

I added a new Moonmate video a few days ago yet never got this blog post finished to announce it. This is the shortest one so far! Originally I thought they would all be about 5 minute videos but up to now I have not been able to achieve that. Today’s video focuses on making some kakishibu base fabric as a starting point- check it out…

Generally, it takes me a bit to write a post and these days you would think that would be simple, given that we are all staying at home. But herein lies the problem! We are all staying at home! And staying at home with two musicians leads to some interesting days. No one is going anywhere so finding a nice block of uninterrupted time in which to write/record/teach is somewhat problematic. In the before times, each of them would regularly be gone for hours at a time but not now! We are all seeking some separate space for our various activities. Even my noise cancelling headphones can only do so much and more often just serve as a visual reminder that I am doing my own thing. My blog posts are being written in fits and spurts and not in one nice stream of thought. On the other hand, there are positives as well- Trevor and I are enjoying more gardening time together and and Phil is working on more recordings. Plus, a marimba has arrived!

There have been many points over the past couple of weeks where I said to myself: “hey me, that is something I want to include in my next blog post”, but alas-much of it fades away as time passes by as I flit like a butterfly from one thing to the next…. I really should write them down. (ps…the monarchs are laying lots of eggs and caterpillars are hatching all over the yard!)

Here are a few links to thankfulness…that I managed to remember!

Mo from her blog “It’s Crow Time” wrote a beautiful post that included some moons and a wonderful bag she made for a friend. She’s been a long time and patient moonmate…thanks Mo! Hers is a blog I recommend subscribing to by email.

And then again, my daily read and maybe yours too, is Jude’s Spirit Cloth-taking a new turn from a new place. She is doing a “work beside me” type project that many are enjoying. This post, from a few days ago, features moons and the thought of overlapping as an idea.

And John Marshall is now doing online workshops! Maybe I mentioned that in the previous post. I finally was able to secure a copy of his book “Singing the Blues” just in time for the new indigo vat.

I’m making a new natural indigo vat- finally. An organic fermentation vat. I didn’t have enough indigo for a full 40 gallon vat so started with a smaller 10 gallon one. Pasted up the indigo, measured out the other ingredients, pulled 10 gallons of rainwater I had collected for a large vat, and dug the rest of my madder so I could use it in this vat. Moved the madder to a new location.

I have wanted to try rainwater for quite some time and now finally getting the chance. I notice that it is one full point higher (9) in pH than our regular tap water (7.8). I re-calibrated my ph meter and realized that I needed a new container of calibrating solution but had enough for about 2 more times. Used up the last of my soda ash so ordered a bit of that too from a local pool supply shop. Also found that my titanium aquarium heater was no longer working so went ahead and ordered one. Seems they have gotten cheaper since the last time I ordered one-hope it’s a good one for my purposes. It’s still cool at night here (upper 50’s/low 60’s) so it needs a little help. I have it sitting in a sunny location for the time being and will dig out some insulating wrap for it today.
After retrieving the wheat bran, indigo and some additional madder from the garagio freezer, I note that a good sorting out of the freezer is in order. There are dyestuffs, cocoons and other materials in there along with walnuts (squirrels continue to visit), last seasons roasted hatch chili peppers (very spicy!), various flours and other things. Need to remove all and defrost this week.
Updates on how the vat is doing in the next post I imagine…

On a sad note, I saw a notice that Michelle Whipplinger of Earthues has passed away. I didn’t purchase often from her site but did gain invaluable information from her writings. I know many were fortunate to take workshops from her and benefit directly from her global expertise gained over a long and sustained practice.
She left a beautiful, kind and compassionate knowledge base in her wake for us to enjoy. Blessings to her memory and to her family and friends.

And in celebration of beginnings… my old silk moth eggs did not hatch but I ordered a small batch of eggs (mainly since I had gotten the neighbor kids interested and a little home schooled science might be good) and they should be hatching any day now.

To beginnings and endings…and to continuing. I think I’ll leave it here.

Hopeful…楽観的 -らっかんてき

Always during this time of year I begin to get the urge to raise silkworms. Recent walks in the neighborhood encourage me when I see mulberry trees leafing out with fresh tender greens. What silkie could resist?

Reading an account of rice farming and poverty in early 1900’s Japan from one of my favorite books “Memories of Silk and Straw” I saw this, adding further to my yearning…

Watching and caring for small creatures such as silkworms is very calming-at least to me. Seeing them eat, grow, and transform is a reminder of so many things. It makes me a little sad that the local schools no longer do this even though they often have mulberry trees on their campuses, originally planted there for this very purpose.

The neighbor kids are home a lot more now so perhaps they might be interested.

I have eggs in cold storage in my fridge which I saved from my last rearing dated July 2018. A bit old and who knows if they are still viable? I took out one set and will test to see if they will hatch. If not, I may order a small amount of eggs just for fun.

Growing up in Japan in the mid ‘60’s we lived in a house owned by a very wealthy Japanese family. It was located high on a bluff which overlooked the port area of Yokohama. As a child we went on field trips to the Yokohama Silk Center and came home with a small box containing one silk cocoon, one small square of silk, one bit of reeled silk. We regularly visited a nearby famous garden (Sankeien).

Later, much later, say 40 years later, I came to realize that the wealth of the owners of that house we lived in was most likely afforded to the family by the main industry of the time-silk. All wealth in Yokohama and in many other areas of japan was driven by silk trade.

That garden we regularly visited was built and owned by a wealthy silk merchant who many decades later donated the property to the city of Yokohama. It had been their family residence. Only in the past ten years did I learn that one of my early schoolmates was a granddaughter of this family and grew up playing and roaming the private sections of this grand place and it was through her connection that special field trips there were arranged.

The Yokohama Silk Center still exists and I make an effort to go again each time I visit.

So yes, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today and hoping some of the silkworms will hatch. I’ve put them in a warm spot, with some humidity and hoping for the best in this current corona cocoon.

Be well everyone…

cocoons!

After six weeks of silkworm rearing, I have about 400 cocoons.  I started off with an order of 500 eggs, so here and there, lost a few.  There were no noticeable die-offs of any great number- a good thing that tells me I avoided any major disease issues by keeping the silkworms clean, well fed as well as in good temperature and humidity.  It can be a real disappointment when something starts to kill them off. I can only imagine what can happen to large scale sericulturists.

I stifled these today in the oven at about 180 degrees. This will allow these cocoons to be reeled or used in ways where I want a whole uncut cocoon.  With about 400 cocoons, if I let them all emerge I would end up with 10,000 or so eggs.  I can’t imagine having to feed that many here.  In fact, if I did allow the silkmoths to all emerge, mate, and lay eggs they would end up dying by starvation unless I put the eggs into cold storage.  I would never be raising that many here anyway.  I do have a few folks who wanted to get some eggs from me so I will save some for them.  I will store the cocoons in the freezer in a net bag until needed. These cocoons will be used in Houston for my mawata class there along with some I purchased from Nobue Higashi who raises silkworms in Japan.

silk,silkworms

I should not let you leave this post without paying homage to the life of the silkworm. Yes, I have killed them and have feelings about that.  In Japan, there are temples and shrines devoted to the silkworm or sericulture in general.  Giving thanks for a good harvest and for the protection of the silkworm until cocooning are common among sericulturists in Japan even today. Shouldn’t we remember to be grateful for everything? There are many shrines devoted to sericulture scattered throughout Japan.

It was perhaps not a coincidence that today I was catching up with Nobue on her blog that I read this post where she talks about just this thing…the google translate is very rough but you can get the jist of it. I am looking forward to seeing Nobue san again next year!

You can read about the silkworm deities at Kaiko no yashiro (蚕ノ社) – the Silkworm Shrine here. It’s an interesting story.
Next year on the Silk Study Tour to Japan we will add a short visit to this Shinto shrine. It is about 20 minutes by car from our Kyoto hotel I am told.  If there is not time to add it to the whole group itinerary, I will make time for those interested in a visit here in an early morning trip by taxi.

Following this down a bit further, I found an excellent couple of blog posts on this shrine.

-about the Kaiko no Yashiro (Silkworm Shrine)

-speculation about the triangular torii

-fascinating history of the Hata clan
part one

part two

I made another little video that covers the cocoon harvesting.

 

 

 

 

Solstice Silkworms

On this solstice, I think of Nature and the natural world. I think of the passing of time, our place on this planet and the global environment. The sun is not standing still, nor is time.  Recent days have seemed very, very long and dark- even at a time when light lingers. I let the change flow over me knowing it WILL change. All things change.

I am watching the silkworms change every day. They are my daily reminder.

I am sorry to report that this weekend’s workshop titled Moth to Cloth at the JANM has been cancelled due to low enrollment.  I’m a bit sad about this as I was really looking forward to it.  I guess the topic was a little esoteric for the venue. I feel like I’m taking it a little personally though.  Everyone wants indigo and shibori workshops.  The August offering there is already sold out with a waiting list now.  So for now, my 500 silkworms and I will just carry on…marking time.

the sacred stitch, revisited

I came back to this post, originally published in December of 2011 because of a new comment from Linda who had visited it two years after it published. Five years late, she reports she is well and still kicking!
It gave me an opportunity to reflect on a few things and wonder how I felt about not only what I had written, but also about all the lovely and thoughtful comments by you, the readers.  I find I’m good with all of it and pleased to see how many of the comments came from folks I still interact with today. I see how many of you have persisted, endured, grown, and created over the intervening (7!) years.  Sashiko is more popular than ever these days and I’m pleased to say that it is the hand stitching method that won out over the machine on this one.
Out of curiosity, I searched for the sashiko machine online and found a forum where people were talking about their experience with it and it seems that it was pretty finicky with a high price and without good customer support. It seems the machine is still being made for home sewers and can often be found “on sale” for $1499 (as opposed to the original $2000).

Originally, I thought I would just republish the post with today’s date but then realized that editing the date would take it out of it’s space-time continuum and I don’t want to mess with the gravity of such things.

You just have to go to the post link yourself. You might be interested in re-reading it or maybe you never read it the first time. Don’t skimp on reading the comments.

Today, Toby watches the silkworms while I clean out the frass.