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Tussah Silk

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Wild Fibres natural fibres > silk > tussah silk

Tussah Silk

Handspun tussah silk | Wild Fibres natural fibres1) What does tussah silk look like?

2) Mulberry silk vs. tussah silk?

3) Where does tussah silk come from?

4) How can I use tussah silk?

5) Can I use tussah silk in blends?

6) Can I dye tussah silk?

7) Tussah silkmoths (opens new page)

1) What does tussah silk look like?

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tussah silk
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This luxury fibre has a beautiful natural shine and it is very durable. Tussah silk is produced by tussah silkworms and is usually a beautiful natural golden colour but can vary from pale cream to a dark rich brown. Tussah silkmoth caterpillars eat oak leaves or other leaves rich in tannin and it is the tannin that gives the colour to this silk.

Tussah silk is also spelled Tussar silk, Tushar silk, Tassar silk or Tusser silk. Tussah silk fabric is often textured and can be used to make clothes (jackets, waistcoats and skirts) and soft furnishings such as cushions.

2) Mulberry silk vs. tussah silk - what is the difference between mulberry silk & tussah silk?
Tussah silk is not as fine as mulberry silk (the fibres vary from 26 to 36 micron in diameter whilst mulberry silk is 10 to 14 microns), but it is stronger and more durable. Tussah silk is usually a honey colour, while mulberry silk is white. At a microscopic level the cross-section of the mulberry silk filaments are circular, while the cross-section of tussah is an elongated oval, which results in flatter silk fibres.

3) Where does tussah silk come from?
There are several species of tussah silk moths (family Saturniidae) in China, India, Japan, Africa and North America. The moths are large and have a prominent eye marking on their wings. The caterpillars are bright green, as wide as a man’s finger and they feed on a wide range of plants.

Despite claims that tussah silk is a wild silk, most tussah silk that is for sale comes from commercially bred caterpillars. They are not as domesticated as mulberry silkworms and can survive in the wild if they escape. Some cocoons are still collected from the wild, usually after the moths have hatched, but this is becoming rarer as it is not commercially viable. Read more about Tussah silkmoths here (opens new page).

4) How can I use tussah silk?
Tussah silk tops are easier than mulberry silk to handle and they are easier to spin. You may find it easier to spin silk from the fold. Just fold a length of silk top over your hand, pull out a little wisp and spin from this folded end. The resulting yarns are very soft and are great for next-to-skin knitting and weaving projects.

Tussah silk is also good for silk papermaking or silk fusion as well as for layering into felt and needle felting. A small amount of silk added to handmade soap adds a silky feel to the soap.

5) Can I use tussah silk in blends?
Of course; in addition to adding lustre to blends, tussah silk also adds softness and strength. In a blend, you have all the advantages of both silk and wool. However, you need at least 30% of silk to feel the silk and at least 50% of silk to both feel and see the silk! Wool blends with less than 50% of silk don’t look silky. See our store for tussah silk blends with wool.

If you prefer to make your own blends, it is worth knowing that tussah silk is easier to blend by carding than mulberry silk. There are at least two techniques for blending silk in a drum carder, for both of them it helps to turn the handle of the drum carder very slowly. Before you start, find the weight of the largest batt that your drum carder can make. Mine makes 24 gram batts, and this is the weight I am using in the examples below.

a) Blends of 30% silk: weigh 17 grams of wool and 7 grams of silk. First card the wool on its own and open the batt wide. Spread the silk in the centre third of the batt and then fold the left third over the centre and then the right third over the centre, a bit like folding a letter in three to put inside an envelope. Now put this folded batt very slowly through the drum carder. This way the silk fibres are ‘hidden’ from the drum carder and do not get caught in its teeth.

b) Blends of 50 % silk: I find that a 50% blend is too difficult to do in a folded batt as this large amount of silk ‘escapes’ from the folded batt and gets caught in the drum carder teeth, so I developed the method below. Weigh 12 grams of silk and 12 grams of wool (the wool can be 6 grams of a light colour and 6 grams of a dark colour). Mix the wool and silk by hand in the bowl, as if you were making pastry, then put it through the drum carder.

I found that 50% blends of silk look far more lustrous as a singles rather than as plyed yarn. To add stability to your singles, spin them just a bit thicker than normal for a DK weight and then felt them slightly by plunging the singles into a bowl full of hot water and agitating it with a sink plunger. The yarn looks very kinky, but it should knit beautifully without any bias.

6) Can I dye tussah silk?
I find it easier to dye the tussah silk after I have spun it into a yarn as silk tops can get compacted when they are dyed, and are therefore more difficult to spin. Many sources claim that tussah silk is difficult to dye, however I found the opposite to be true. The tannin in the silk helps to get stronger colours with natural dyes and the underlying honey colour gives greater depth to the colour. The only advantage of using mulberry silk to dye is to achieve purer colours as mulberry silk is white.

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Last updated on 31 January 2017
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