Well, that’s that.

My last female moth died today.  It seems fitting because we also took down the show this afternoon.  The project is complete.

I am by no means done with silk or silkworms but sericulture will have to go on the back burner for a while as I pursue other aspects of my studies at NSCAD.  This experience was so wonderful, aggravating at times and sad at others, but overall amazing, and I’m so grateful to be attending a school that allows me the freedom to pursue crazy, ambitious projects, and the resources to succeed.  NSCAD is an amazing community and I wouldn’t have been able to do everything I did this summer without the support of our wonderful faculty, technicians, security guards (you guys saved my project during the blackout, thank you), fellow students and everyone else who helps make this place tick.

I also wouldn’t have been able to get this project off of the ground were it not for the radio spot on Information Morning, and the subsequent flood of support (and mulberry leaves) from the community.  Halifax is such a wonderful city!

I can’t think of what else to say except that I feel very fortunate to be able to pursue work that I love and I’m excited to see what comes next.  Now that the project is done, I won’t be updating this blog unless something relevant comes up.  I will leave the blog up as a record though (I still need to update my studio work pages to reflect the rest of the work that I did).  If you want to see more of my artwork and keep up to date on my other projects check out my personal art blog gretapepper.tumblr.com that I try to update semi-regularly.

Well, I think thats it.  Thanks for reading!




Art show!


Come one come all to the Textile Studio: Summer projects art show!  The opening is Monday Aug. 12 (tomorrow), 5:30 pm-7pm, at the Anna Leonowens Gallery (1891 Granville st.)  It should be a great time.  And if you can’t make it to the opening, fear not, the show will be up for the rest of the week!

Silky Rainbow

freshly dyed silk skeins

freshly dyed silk skeins

Ready to weave!

Ready to weave!

Aw yeah.

Aw yeah.

Edit:  I’ve not been al that articulate lately as I rush screaming towards my deadline and I apologise for that.  The dyes I used are (from top to bottom of the middle picture: Indigo, madder, pomegranate over indigo, marigold, lac, marigold over indigo, and pomegranate

And now it’s my turn to be spitting silk

…well not exactly but my desk is pretty much covered in the stuff.  I’ve been reeling silk from the worms for the past couple of days and unfortunately it got pretty tangled:


Anyway twelve and a half hours of untangling,  snipping, throwing and cursing and I’ve got my first skein on the way to answering the much asked question:  so how much silk can you get from 500 silkworms? (320 actually due to the previously blogged-about complications)


I’ve got a strict schedule to adhere to if I want t make a finished piece before this class is over but if I degum and dye this skein tonight I should be on track.  Might post a photo of the dyed skein to my other blog once it’s done because why not?

The ins and outs of cocooning

I managed to shoot a close-up video of one of the silkworms starting its cocoon:

Apologies for the camera movement, I was trying to get a good angle.

Typically once the walls of the cocoon close in that’s it in terms of what we get to see, but there’s this really interesting trick that one can play on silkworms that will get them to spin a flat sheet of silk instead of a cocoon.  When I first read about this on Sue Kayton’s website, I found myself getting rather indignant at the idea of manipulating the silkworms i this way and then I remembered that I would be stifling most of the cocoons my worms produced and the moral high ground rapidly slid out from under me.  What’s really cool about making the flat silk is that the caterpillar will still pupate and turn into a moth sans cocoon, so long as they’re kept safe AND since there’s no cocoon in the way, you can actually see the process…If you pay close enough attention. So, here is a breakdown of how to get flat silk and the caterpillar’s transformation:

First you cut out a flat shape in stiff card and put it on a supporting surface so that there’s a significant overhang.  The theory is that the silkworms don’t like crawling upside down so when they discover that there are no walls or corners they will lay down silk across the flat surface.  That’s the theory at least:


Anyway, once you fiddle with the shapes to make sure it’s not too easy for the little guys to “escape” and try several times it does, eventually, work:


And you get a shape:


Getting to actually see this process was fascinating, as I watched the silkworm working away for about 5 days and slowing shrinking into a pre-pupa:


Once they started to get really small they sort of lost their grip and fell off of the platform so I carefully transferred them to this ice-cube tray.  They didn’t stop there though and by the end of it I had a 3D silk mould of the inside of part of the tray:


Anyway, I really wanted to shoot a video of the pre-pupae shedding their caterpillar skins but I missed it every time and woke up in the morning to this:


The pupa then darkened in colour:


You can see the others were a little slower.

So, fast forward a week and I return from Newfoundland to find:


My first little moth!  It’s a male so let’s call him Frank.  He must have emerged not long before I got home.  The fun didn’t stop there though, because I woke up this morning to find that two more had emerged, this time a male and a  female, who was already busy mating with Frank:


Yay!  So that’s about it for now, they’ll be like this all day and then the female, who I think I’ll call Matilda will lay her eggs.



Well, all but five of the silkworms have cocooned.  Those five will be soon to follow and thankfully one of my studio mates has agreed to look after them for the next few days because I’m going to Newfoundland early tomorrow!  I’ll be gone for a week and when I get back it’ll be my turn to spin silk…well, reel and throw it.  My cocoon count right now is just over 320.  Taking into account the 35 that I gave to Mihoko, that means I lost about 145 of my original 500 worms.Considering that we’re dealing with approximate numbers and it’s typical to some worms anyway, that’s not too bad and the issues with disease and the dastardly mice didn’t wipe out as many worms as I had feared.

So, what’s next?  Well, I’ve got some interesting photos and cocoon facts that I’ll hopefully post and then, of course we’ll have a few moths to look forward to (I’m allowing the cocoons outside of the set 320 that I’ll be reeling to hatch) but we’re not quite done after that because I still want to post about some of the silk processing techniques I use.

To kick things off, here’s a photo showing the variation in size and shape of the cocoons I’ve collected:



One of the books I’ve been reading outlined which shapes are typical for each silk processing country ( for example Japan favours cocoons with a “waist” rather like the centre cocoon although often more pronounced)  I think the variation between my cocoons has a lot to do with the fact that the supplier I ordered the eggs from most sells to people looking for herp food so there isn’t the same selective breeding that you get with worms that are used for cocoons.


But first, to catch you up on the last few days:

On tuesday morning I woke up with a slight cold.  Not great, but I had to get up and go feed the worms so off I went.  That afternoon I discovered a few worms looked rather sickly, they were kind of green goopey and were most definitely not getting ready to spin cocoons.  I acted fast and did exactly what one is supposed to do with sick worms and separated them from the rest.  What followed was several days of panic, hypochondria and lots of sterilizing of plastic containers to prevent an epidemic.  I’ve done quite a bit of reading on the diseases silkworms are prone to (particularly over the last few days) and so I’m all too familiar with how easily disease can wipe out a whole  (or most of a)batch of silkworms.  Since the initial discovery, I’ve lost a few more worms, some of which were clearly ill.  I do also think that there may be something else at work here; without going into the gorey details, let’s just say I’ve found evidence that indicates that the (usually) friendly studio mice may have finally discovered the silkworms.  I’m dealing with that situation right now and have them in mice proof containers.

Dedicated assistant worm wranglers!

Dedicated assistant worm wranglers!

I was lucky enough to have a lot of help cleaning out the containers and washing leaves yesterday and that really sped things along, so thank you to my mum (who’s visiting from Windsor) and to Robin Muller.  And, thanks as always to Anke for all of her support and concern for the silkworms’ well-being!

So the good news is that after a few setbacks and some worry, most of the silkworms are doing great, and many of them have started to spin cocoons!

Here are some pictures:

The silkworm starts by laying down some foundation threads

The silkworm starts by laying down some foundation threads

As it extrudes more and more silk, it lays it in a pattern that condenses into the cocoon shape.

As it extrudes more and more silk, it lays it in a pattern that condenses into the cocoon shape.

And keeps going...

And keeps going…

As I’ve been compiling this post, I’ve realized that I don’t have a picture of one of the finished cocoons so I will post that later.  In the meantime here are a couple of photos of the worms in the frame I made based on the one Mihoko showed me:




Edit: Here’s what the finished cocoon looks like: