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Eri Silk, Part III

As mentioned in Part II, my hands get quite warm and sometimes moist when I spin silk. Not a good combination at all. As the silk starts to stick to my hands, the fibre source becomes disheveled causing the fibre to draft poorly. Several years ago, I decided to see if spinning silk from a ring distaff would help. My thought was that my problems might be mitigated if the distaff instead of my hand supported the fibre. After a few experiments I settled into the following method for dressing a ring distaff with silk. I am right handed. If you are left handed you may need to make some adjustments to the technique.

Remember my mentioning in Part II that I keep track of which end of the rolag lay on the right and which end lay on the left side of the carder? To dress the ring distaff I draw a wisp of fibre from the right-hand side of the rolag and wrap the wisp underneath the ring. With the right side of the rolag secured to the distaff, I lay the distaff on a table and angle the rolag down and to the left. I then roll the rolag onto the distaff by turning the distaff counter-clockwise and spiralling the rolag down the shaft. And yes, I keep the rolag on the table while I turn the distaff.

The advantages to spinning from a ring distaff:

  • the larger circumference at the ring end of my distaff keeps the rolag somewhat intact during spinning. This keeps my fibre preparation tidy throughout my spin.
  • drafting the fibre is easier. 
  • I am able to spin a finer yarn more easily and quickly.
  • I can spin outdoors with no fear of gentle breezes interfering with my silk spinning.


The shawl accented with the yellow, orange, and rosy red colours (above) contains sections of spindle spun eri. The eri silk in the blue and gold accented shawl seen in Part I was spun on a Majacraft wheel.

When we are travelling or camping I spin silk using one of two spindles, a Bosworth Moosie spindle or a top whorl spindle made by Ed Pretty. Both spindles have a dense whorl, weigh 29 grams, and incredible long spin times. When spinning fine silk fibres on these spindles I like to start with a longer length of singles between the hook and my pinching hand than I do when spinning from a lower ratio spindle. The extra distance helps to compensate for the quick start up when thigh rolling and spinning fine singles on high ratio spindles.

When spinning eri silk from a distaff I keep the distance between the distaff and the hand furthest from the spindle about a staple length (between 4-5.5 inches in the case of the eri silk sliver I used). The drafting triangle is maintained between my two hands. The hand holding the distaff maintains the base of the drafting triangle while the forward hand drafts the fibre from the drafting triangle. The forefinger and thumb of the hand closest to the spindle maintain a firm pinch to prevent the twist from working its way into the drafting zone. To spin a finer yarn more easily, I moisten my pinching fingers with the occasional tap against a damp cotton pad or sponge. Note: You are well advised to ensure you are able to spin a stable yarn before trying the moistening “trick”. 


Eri silk is generally not as familiar to spinners as Bombyx. Just like wool, not all silks are created equal. They are each different. It is up to me, the spinner, to play to a fibre’s strengths, matching its characteristics to what I wish to weave or knit with the yarn. I know spinning silk from a rolag is not a traditional approach. At first blush, you might think the fibre arrangement would cause the fibres to tangle and that all lustre would be lost. A forward worsted draft helps eri’s slick medium-long fibres to pull from the rolag’s vortex freely and easily. A glimpse at the drafting triangle reveals fibres lying in an almost parallel arrangement before the twist enters which helps preserve eri’s lovely pearlescent sheen.

Spinning from handpainted eri rolags also gives me an opportunity to play with colour effects in my handspun. I can create complex rich colour blends, fractals, gradients, etc. Further, spinning eri silk from rolags facilitates a smooth rhythmical spinning experience and helps me to spin fine smooth silk yarns using my spindle or my wheel. I hope you find spinning from handpainted eri silk rolags as delectable as I do.

Playing with colour in my handspun. See top yellow, orange and rose 2-ply eri silk at top of photo.

PS I purchase my handpainted eri silk slivers from Sanjo Silk in Vancouver. 

If not listed on their website

email Diana at

Ring distaves are available from Ed Pretty, Woodturner


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