Let’s talk about mawata!
This is the story of a silkworm: it is born, it eats a huge amount of mulberries, and it spins a cocoon around itself. Then, assuming for our purposes that it lives in a silk-making factory, its cocoon is baked or boiled, and it dies. Aw.
Silk fiber is incredibly thin, strong, and smooth. A silkworm’s cocoon is made up of one single strand of silk over a mile long! For the type of silk that expensive clothes and drapes and things are made of, someone finds the end of the piece of silk (there is no automated process for this: a human has found the end of every piece of silk ever used in anything) and then it is reeled and spun/plied into thread and woven into fabric.
Mawata, also known as silk hankies, are a different way of processing silkworm cocoons. This is a stack of mawata weighing about ten grams. These have been dyed; they are white naturally.
To make mawata, someone opens the end of a soaked cocoon, dumps the silkworm out, and stretches the cocoon into a single sheet over a frame, stacking them up until they have something that looks like the picture above.
Each layer, or individual silk hankie, is made up of one cocoon, and looks like this (except a bit neater; I peeled mine off messily).
Fiber like this can be spun into yarn, but it doesn’t have to be. As you can see below, the long and durable fibers are amenable to being tugged into something knittable. Though this strand of fiber looks thick, it’s mostly air, and you can knit with it on surprisingly small needles. It can also be tugged longer and thinner until it’s almost threadlike and will still remain strong. Silk is amazing!
For an example of the truly lovely things one can knit from unspun mawata, please look at this baby bonnet created by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (aka the Yarn Harlot), who taught the class I took. She was a fantastic, funny, brilliant teacher, by the way, and all the information here is from the class; I hope I’m remembering everything correctly!
Being that this was my first time with mawata, and I wasn’t in the mood to make baby things, I decided to play around with different needle sizes. I ended up being really happy with how this looks on large needles — totally different from the delicate nature of the bonnet. I am deliberately pulling the hankies thick-and-thin to make this little scarf.
I love the colors, I love the shine of the silk, and I love that it’s just about the softest thing I’ve ever touched.
Stephanie recommended Treenway Silks as a source for more mawata.