19 January 2014

Cocoons into Thread - Silk Reeling by Hand

Detail, silk reeling machine.

As part of our focus on silk during our textile study tour, we visited the retail outlet of one of the last silk reeling mills in Japan.  The store offers an educational  activity too, silk reeling as it was done before mechanization, similar to the practice shown in the image below.

ca. 1915 - 1923. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/4245211785/

Those interested took a turn at two reeling set-ups, selected cocoons dyed in primary colors, and turned a handle to reel our silk.  We got to keep our reels, with the wound silk, of course, as a souvenir.

Silk reel.

Red, blue and yellow-dyed cocoons in water, to keep filament pliable.

Two silk reeling stations, Pat and Allison at work.

In the video below, produced by my talented DH and starring Pat, you will see our reeling instructor loop the filaments from the cocoons through the reeling mechanism, and get an idea of how the machine works. We didn't replace the street noise with a sound track, such as Ellmenreich's Spinning Song, so that you can hear the "whirr" of the reel and occasional comments from the peanut gallery.

The previous day, we visited, briefly, a Japanese silk yarn factory.  DH was only able to record a glimpse of industrial production. The short movie  does not attempt to elucidate the whole factory process, but just gives an idea of the scale and speed of production.  We hope the two videos provide a graphic illustration of the vast difference between the pre-industrial hand process and modern mass production. 

My reel of silk, back home in Newton.

Back to hand-reeling. The spun thread would have been woven into some kind of silk fabric; below a weaver works her loom with a wall of reels behind her.  I know next to nothing about weaving, but it must have taken a quite a few full reels of silk to warp  the loom and to weave any considerable length of cloth.  I enjoyed my recreational hand-reeling, and have renewed respect for the labor that goes into traditional textile production.

Weaver at work.

Silk reels.