These scarves, shawls, and textiles are made from wild Borocera silk, which is a rare species of silkworm only found in Madagascar. It is called “wild silk” because Borocera silkworms must live in the wild. They cannot be cultivated like the commonly known Mulberry silkworm. The wild silkworms survive by eating leaves off native Tapia trees which live in the central highlands of Madagascar.
The wild silk cocoons (from which our yarn is made from) have a slightly different look than traditional silk. The wild silk has a beautiful sheen and soft hand, and a slight “linen-y” look which gives it a unique appeal, uncommon to traditional silk. For any white yarn in our textiles, we use cultivated Mulberry silk which is naturally white, as we do not bleach the linen colored wild silk. All the silk yarn is hand-spun on a drop spindle which also adds to the special look.
Below, you can see the weavers preparing the Borocera wild silk cocoons. They flip the cocoons inside out, stack 5 to 10 cocoons on top of each other to make a silk cocoon "ball". These cocoon balls are boiled in soapy water to remove the silkworm's natural adhesive that binds the fibers together. [Photo: Maria and Patricia flipping cocoons, right to left.]
After the silk "balls" are boiled in soapy water, a soft fibrous mass is left. See the fluffy mass in the basket below.
Then the wild silk yarn gets spun on a drop spindle. This is an age old technique for spinning yarn that was used prior to the spinning wheel. Weavers use this method because it's easy to carry their work around with them during the day, spinning a little here and a little there, as time allows. [Photo: Patricia and Maria, daughter and mother.]
Next winding and skeining are done to get the yarn off the spindle and to get the yarns neatly prepared for the dyeing process. Winding shown below.
And skeining... [Photo of Eugenie]
Now the silk is ready to be dyed. Our yarn is naturally dyed by boiling it with different natural materials (leaves, bark, clay, roots). All the natural dyes are fixed and washed, and will not run or fade. Note: For a few of our brighter colors like purples, pinks, teals we must use acid dyes.
Saffron root is used to dye golden yellow-
Nato bark is used to dye a rich lovely red-
The nato bark is pounded before dyeing-
A photo of the dyeing process-
Red silk yarn hanging to dry-
Eucalyptus leaves are used for dyeing and as a dye fixative.
Bernadette washing naturally dyed green yarn.
The resulting green yarn-
Once the yarn is dyed, the warp is set up on the loom. [Photo: Zety Be setting up warp.]
Once the warp is set up, weaving can begin on the floor loom. [Photo: Norbertine weaving]
Once weaving is complete, the scarves or shawls are washed thoroughly, hung to dry, tassles are tied, and then they are ironed with an old fashioned flat iron.
Apart from our wild silk, we also use cultivated Mulberry silk for our white colored yarn. We use Mulberry silk for the white yarn, since the wild silk is naturally a linen color, and we don't want to bleach the wild silk to make it white. So when you see white yarn in a scarf, it's likely that there are 2 species of silk in that piece- wild silk and Mulberry silk! [Below Marthe holds some cultivated Mulberry silk cocoons.]
A weaver cultivates the Mulberry silk cocoons on a shelf in her house. The silkworms feed on Mulberry leaves. A month after hatching, the worms will form their cocoons.