Silk Thrums – what DO you do with them??

Silk Thrums – what DO you do with them??

Silk thrums are gorgeous, jewel-like bits of temptation, rich in colour, shiny and sparkly, promising all sorts of lovely uses that will amaze everyone. Or not. Silk thrums are one part of the left overs from the sari silk industry. This is what can’t be woven on the loom and has to be cut off. I would like to see how saris are woven to understand the way the wastage is generated, it still puzzles me, but silk thrums are available in vast quantities to crafters all over the world. The problem with sari silk, and its a huge problem, is how the silk is dyed. There do not appear to be industry standards for colour fastness. Silk is a tricky fiber on a good day, so if dyers can’t determine dye acidity, water temperature, water hardness, or can’t properly degum the silk, the dye will run. I decided to try to use this characteristic of sari thrums to an advantage to see if there could be any benefit to be had.

I took a brilliant red thrum, trimmed the ribbon end and trimmed some silk fibers. The ribbon was soaked in hot water to leech out the dye. The colour saturation was evident as soon as the ribbon was in the jar. The water was totally red, but there is no way to do any metrics on this because the original silk was dyed with an unknown quantity of dye. All this is just a “see if this works” experiment. I snipped a tiny quantity of silk fiber, set it aside to mix with the wool roving I had chosen for dying.

I spun the rest of the silk threads into a single ply yarn. I’m taking a liberty in calling this a single ply, it is in fact a multiple thread yarn. The sari silk is made up of extremely fine thread. I respun those into a single thread with added twist. I can’t show them to you because my camera just can’t pickup the delicacy of those threads.

It was difficult to spin at first, because the fibers are nearly 36 inches long and tended to get tangled. I’ll try a different method next time, but it is possible to spin this into a reasonably nice yarn. The single yarn is plied against some of the merino top that is the basis of the dye bath test. I’ll use this later as part of the dye test.

When I plied the single merino wool with the single red silk they worked well together This is the most durable, hard to break fiber I have ever handled. Silk really is amazing.

I presoaked the remaining merino, drained, opened it along a mid-seam, sprinkled the snipped silk threads all along the centre. I then rolled the merino into a tube and wrapped it with the ribbon from the soak jar. This was set in an acid bath and topped up with the dye water from the soak jar. I use an oven to dye my wool. I cooked this for about two hours at 100C/220F. I expected a more vibrant red, not the pale orange, but this is an experiment, so expectations have to go on the back burner.


13 thoughts on “Silk Thrums – what DO you do with them??

  1. Your spun thread is lovely!
    Silk is very strong – the tensile strength of some spider silk is stronger (by weight) than steel.

    Great experiments – looking forward to seeing if you take them any further.

    What do we do with silk thrums? We throw little bits in with wool fibres when making pictures.

    1. Thank you for your response, I was wondering if felters could use thrums in the process and it appears so. I want to add them to white or grey wool batts before spinning and then process as for dyeing to see if that adds any colour to the finished product, but that’s for another day.

  2. This all looks very interesting and I’m looking forward to more “thoughts”.
    I have loads of Throwsters Waste, most of which is degummed and just a tangled mess of fibres. I have thoughts of making silk paper to use in nuno felt with merino tops and hope (one day) to get round to it. I do have some silk which I think is reeled, although I’m not sure. I think that that could be spun as you have done, but I no longer spin and can’t do it myself.
    I have never seen the sari silk still attached to ribbons before. Can you tell us what your source is please?

    1. Thank you Ann for your comments, sorry to hear you no longer spin, silk can be really hard to manage and I’ve had a couple of cuts when I wasn’t careful. I pick up the thrums when ever I have an opportunity. One of my suppliers was selling a two pound bag which I snatched up and then was adding coloured thrums to certain purchases. But they are available on line quite easily, just by doing a search for ‘silk thrums’. The quality varies like crazy.

  3. Really enjoyed seeing your experiment. It had never occurred to me to question the dye fastness of silk thrum! Now I shall have to soak some of mine to see what comes out 🙂

    1. PS – As for what to do with these bits of silk, I personally add them to art batts that can then be spun into textured art yarns or felted! Love me a good textured batt.

  4. Great post, Bernadette. Your yarn looks lovely. This gives me an idea to try silk thrums with a mixed media painting technique that I use. Could have really interesting results.

  5. Lovely post. It is great to experiment. I use sari silk fibers in my felting, but I tend to use similar colors to the wool as the silk will bleed in warm water. I haven’t heard of thrums before except in weaving. As it is silk, I expect it would stick like glue to the wool.

  6. Reading your post was a thorough education – I had never heard of silk thrums before – now I will have to search them out. Your spinning experiment was magical – lovely outcome. I really like your dyeing experiment. Looking forward to hearing more.

  7. Thank you for your response, I just had another brainwave as I worked out side for a few minutes today. There is a solar dye technique that might also work instead of using the oven to heat small dye baths, the yarn and dye are put in water/acid filled jars and set in the sun. With the heat we’ve been getting, I’m thinking we should use the resources most freely available!

    1. Let us know please, I really would like to learn more about the dye process in India. No disrespect intended because I know everyone is trying to scrape a living out of this world, but I don’t think there are any “standards” because there really isn’t a solid infrastructure to support them. So dyers use whatever they can get their hands on and hope for the best.

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