Tussah Silk; a little bit of geekery

Everybody loves Tussah silk, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you really should. I believe that it is possibly the most beautiful fiber I have seen used in baby wraps (and other textiles!). I just love the natural irregular nubs and slubs and the scruffiness of the shorter fibers, but the wrap qualities were fantastic too. I am sure there are lots of excellent reviews out there on how this fiber works for carrying children if you haven’t yet had a go and would like to know more, so rather than talking about Tussah in babywearing, I am going to delve a little deeper and take a look at where it comes from and why at Rowan Bay we love this kind of silk over other finer silks.


Tussah silk
Hand spun Tussah – Credit – http://www.simplynotable.com/2012/spinning-up-tussah-silk/

All silks are made by silk ‘worms’, which are not worms at all but actually the larval stage (caterpillar) of moths. When the larvae are ready to pupate to metamorphose into a moth, they will spin a cocoon around themselves to protect the chrysalis.  The cocoons are made up of a very fine fibre – silk. This one below is one I have from a Lunar moth Actias lunar. You can see the fibres in the close up.



Silk has been harvested from moths in Asia for thousands of years, and most silk is now harvested from the cocoons of the mulberry silk moth Bombyx mori which has been domesticated and is produced commercially in large quantities. Each cocoon can produce one continuous fiber of up to 1.5km long! An incredible feat and one of the reasons silk is very fine as the fibers are long and continuous – in fact, all luxury fibers all tend to be longer. To harvest the silk, the cocoons are first steamed or boiled to kill the larvae inside to prevent it making an exit hole and damaging the silk. The cocoon is then unwound, ready to be spun into a fine yarn.

Tussah silk is produced by moths from the Saturniidae family which contains the largest moths on the planet (the Atlas moths). Many saturnid moths produce silks, although not all are suitable to use in textiles such as the beautiful Lunar moth below.


Actias luna
One of the American silk moths. Credit – By ggallice (Geoff Gallice) – Wikimedia Commons


It is the larvae of moths in the genus Antheraea  which create what we know as Tussah. Tussah silk is described as being wild silk as it is often harvested from wild populations, sometimes with a little cultivation, and the great thing about the process is that the moths are allowed to emerge and are not killed. However, allowing the moth to emerge means there is an exit hole as in the cocoon above, damaging the fibers and making them shorter and therefore are not as fine, but this is also where Tussah gets it’s wonderful nubs and slubs from.


Antherea yamamai
Antherea yamamai, one of the Tussah silk moths – Credit – CC BY-SA – wikimedia commons.


So you can see, because Tussah production avoids killing any moths, (as well as the sheer beauty of it) this is the silk for Rowan Bay – and not to mention there is a Tussah moth called Antheraea larissa 😉 


Antheraea larissa
Antheraea larissa – Credit – By Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada. Wikimedia commons.


We will be opening up the option to have custom wraps made in Tussah silk weft with an organic combed cotton warp. More details will be release later in the week, but if you are interested then get thinking of colour inspirations. Each colour will need a minimum of 8 wraps ordered so get your friends on board too!

x L x

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