Wednesday, 31 May, 2023

By The Fibreside

Knitting and spinning on the Sunshine Coast of BC

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Mawata makin’ – twice delayed

I would have posted this last night, except I had a massage, which made me late home, and then I had to hem Mike’s work pants with my practically non-existent sewing skills, and by then all I could do was sit on the couch and not even think about taking mawata off the frame and downloading photos from the camera… Better late than never?

There would have been a blog post last night after knitting, but I had to drive all over Hell’s half-acre trying to find yams/orange sweet potatoes so we could have dinner tonight. (Seriously, does this happen to anyone else who makes a meal plan? I bought the last two tiny yams at our regular grocery store, thinking that it’d be no problem to stop by one of the others on my way home from Tuesday knitting to get the rest we’d need. After two more grocery stores that didn’t have any, I finally found a whole bunch at Safeway. So at least now we can make quinoa salad tonight without Mike having to run around to find yams, but yeah. Where are all the yams, besides at Safeway?)

Mawata makin' supplies all ready to go!
Mawata makin’ supplies all ready to go!

Sunday before I left to teach at the library, I made more mawata for Level 3. This was also a big process, reminiscent of yesterday’s yam debacle, as I had a heck of a time finding washing soda. It wasn’t at our regular grocery store, nor at London Drugs. Found it at Superstore last week, thank goodness. Now, I remembered a bit of the process from class, but reminded myself from the textbook, and then had to do some math and testing.

At least it’s simple math, really, because there’s a lot of it in this level…

The math involved figuring out how much soap and soda I needed, because I wasn’t doing 100 grams of cocoons. The testing involved our old slow cooker.

Will it or won't it? Or will it be too much?
Will it or won’t it? Or will it be too much?

And there’s another story. We’ve had this crock pot probably since we moved up here, and never really had a lot of luck with slow-cooker meals. If there was tomato or sugar in it, it always burned and was really rather unappetizing. I thought I was doing something wrong, like missing a step, or the recipes just didn’t like our slow cooker. But it turned out (as Mike discovered when he did the research) that this particular model always ran hot. VERY hot (for a slow cooker). So we bought a new one, and I took the old one for fibre work. So I needed to know how hot it would get and keep the water, because silk cocoons need to simmer at 65° C and really no higher to degum.

I can safely say that with the lid on, the low setting will be fine for about 65°, and with the lid off, you have to flip back and forth between low and high to keep the temperature.

Floating floating floating, keep the cocoons floating...
Floating floating floating, keep the cocoons floating…

So with the temperature set and 6 ml of Orvus and washing soda added to the mix, I added my eight cocoons. Now, I remembered from class that the cocoons should be held beneath the water for the half-hour, because they float, and the parts that aren’t under the water don’t get degummed, and are difficult to a) cut, and b) make into a mawata. So I found a saucer in the cupboard, and used that to submerge them.

Submerged crockery and cocoons.
Submerged crockery and cocoons.

Can anyone see where this is going? I bet you can.

If I'd been thinking about it more, I would have gotten there too.
If I’d been thinking about it more, I would have gotten there too.

Half an hour later, I raised up the saucer to find… cocoons with parts that hadn’t softened. Yes, there was a bit of air under the saucer, and the buoyancy of the cocoons meant that they rode up into that air pocket. Why didn’t I realize that?

Now I faced a crossroads. Did I attempt to soak that unsoaked part, risking the worm and its last meal inside getting all mushy and gross? I did try to turn them over, but because the wet parts were so much heavier, they kept rolling back (except where the filaments stuck together; that actually worked a bit). Did I try to get the air out from underneath the saucer and set them back under for a bit more time? That proved practically impossible with the amount of water and space I had to work with. I eventually decided to make the mawata, taking out the bit that resisted being stretched. Yes, it wasted some silk, but I hoped to have enough mawata this time to make the skein I need for my workbook.

Worm houses stretched and framed.
Worm houses stretched and framed.

Eight mawata later, I definitely know that the next time I make them on my own, I need to figure out a way to keep the cocoons submerged without the air pocket. Although a small plate with holes in it would be ideal, I’m not sure where one would find that (and to fit in my slow cooker). I’m contemplating if a washcloth would work, or if the silk filaments would just stick to the pile of the fabric. I suppose the only way to know would be to try.

Vinegar rinse to negate the washing soda.
Vinegar rinse to negate the washing soda.

There’s really no comparison between commercial mawata and home-made. The vinegar rinse makes them crispy, and they’re far more stringy. I did spin some in class (I had to make more because my skein wasn’t long enough), and they behave a little differently, too. But neither type of mawata spins like silk top; both are texturey and slubby and do a little bit of fighting.

Home-made on the top, commercial on the bottom.
Home-made on the top, commercial on the bottom.

Saturday is World Wide Spin In Public Day, and the Edmonton Weaver’s Guild is hosting an event at City Hall for the afternoon. I think I will take my mawata there (if I can keep my hands from being super dry) and see if I can make a ten-yard skein out of them. June is coming up fast, and there’s a lot of spinning yet to do.

2 comments on Mawata makin’ – twice delayed

  • Karen

    Would screening/strainer work for keeping them submerged? If it’s too big for your pot you could see about making your own, and a small weight on top if it doesn’t stay submerged

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