Unravelling the Silk

23 Sep

Today we made our first attempt to unravel some silk from our silkworm cocoons.

It looked a bit complicated on all of the websites I browsed for information so I decided that we’d just give it a go as best as we could and see how it went.

We selected 3 cocoons – rather than the ten that I read that it requires to make one usable strand of silk.


Before dumping them into boiling water I decided to have an ounce of compassion for them and ‘put them to sleep’ in the freezer first…at least I hope it worked that way.  If not..well it was the thought that counted.


While we waited for their humane death we gathered our ‘tools’ – the kettle, a bowl that we would be easily able to see the silk against, a reel to wind the silk onto that would spin easily and a toothbrush to help gently find the end of the silk (thanks for the donation Hubby…hehehe).


Once the pupas were hopefully ‘out to it’, we dropped them into the boiling water to dissolve the ‘glue’ that holds the silk cocoon together.


We let the cocoons sit for a while to do their thing…yes there is a faint aroma of dead wet bugs but we lived through it.


We popped a lid over our cocoons to more effectively hold them under the water.


The trickiest part of the operation was finding the proper end of the silk thread.  I pulled away some of the fuzz around the cocoons and then used the toothbrush to delicately brush the cocoons looking for strands to gently tug on.

We had many false starts.  We’d get them to unravel a short way and then they would snag or we’d find several pieces and not know which to try.  We were looking for the strand that, when you held it with the cocoon dangling, the cocoon would start to unravel.


Eventually we found strands that worked and started winding them onto our reel.


We found we also had to replace our cooled water with more boiling water to help the cocoons unravel nicely for us.


Ordinarily you’d wind all the threads together in one strand but for our purposes we were just happy to get the cocoons unravelling and silk on our reel.


Now I should warn you.  Silk thread has been measured at 1.7 km long.  Doesn’t sound like all that much UNTIL you are the person left unwinding the cocoons.  I had a captive audience for the beginning but was then deserted once the real work began.  I stood and unravelled, I relocated and sat and unravelled, and I got a passerby to turn on a homeschool audio for me and I listened to it ALL while unravelling.


Finally an end was in sight and none too soon let me tell you!


Then a cocoon broke apart and a molted skin appeared and a pupa slipped out of the end of its cocoon.


Just a little more winding and all three cocoons were unravelled.  Phew!


This was all that remained once the silk was removed – molted skins, dead bugs and a little cap of messy silk that didn’t unravel.


After ALL of that work here is the fruits of our…I mean MY labour…beautiful silky silk made right here at home.

Look how much there is.  Pretty isn’t it.


What will we do with it?

Oh nothing. We’re happy just admiring it.

Now to await the arrival of our moths.










Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Science


8 responses to “Unravelling the Silk

  1. bernadette

    September 23, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    I think that’s awesome! i would put them in a container or memory box. because you can just imagine in 10 years time, when they are perhaps going through their stuff they will stop, sit down and remember. and that image warms my heart. I hope i can produce memories like that for my crew.

    Excellent patience by the way 😉


  2. Tracey

    September 23, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    The whole silkworm experience has been awesome. Amazing little creatures. Just gives you such an appreciation for the littlest creatures which are usually overlooked or squished.

  3. HUBBY

    September 24, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Hey – I wondered where my toothbrush had gone!!!

  4. Tracey

    September 24, 2011 at 12:01 am

    Hey, we needed a toothbrush, you had one….what more can I say? Hehehehe.

    I can wash it and return it if you are attached to it.

  5. April

    September 24, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Absolutely amazing! Thanks for sharing the process…

  6. Belinda

    October 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    HI, We are studying China and we were reading about silk and read through your posts about silkworms. It was good as we cant get silkworms over here. We are looking forward to seeing pictures of the moths.

  7. Tracey

    October 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    So far no moths. We were worried as one book said 10 to 12 days in the pupa stage but then we read another book and they said three weeks so there’s still hope. There’ll definitely be pictures. 🙂 We’re like expectant parents here waiting and watching. Hehe.

  8. Sophia Noelle

    July 23, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Great post and very informative!! ❤

    A Lantern In Her Hand
    The Inkpot Girl


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