By taking an item that would normally be thrown away, disadvantaged women who are organized through several women’s development groups and cooperatives in Nepal have created a cottage industry that allows them to support their families, making a living wage which allows for them to live beyond just subsistence survival.
These women, Tibetan refugees, Nepalese and Indian women, ranging in age from 20 to 60 years old, work in their homes or in a safe working environment that offers child care and meals.
Silk thread scraps left over from the making of silk Indian saris are purchased from small mills in India. These remnants are called thrums and are pure silk threads that are the fringe of warp threads left on a loom after the saris have been woven and cut off. These threads are collected, separated by color and bound into the skeins of pure dyed silk. Red and maroon colors predominate because these are considered auspicious colors in India.
The skeins of silk threads are separated by color, unwrapped and laid out. Separating the various colors and qualities of silk can be quite tedious.
The skeins of silk are cut into even strips then arranged by color so that the finished yarn will have a complex set of colors. The fibers are then carded (brushed smooth and straight).
The various shanks of silk are mixed by hand, a long process that ensures that the colored silk fibers are evenly mixed. The length and quality of the fiber determines its texture, strength and overall quality. Superior quality recycled silk yarn is made from longer fibers – producing yarn that is smoother, stronger and more elastic. Cheaper recycled silk yarns containing shorter or a mixture of fiber lengths are softer, fuzzier and less strong.
Once the silk strands have been mixed, the raw material is hand teased by repeatedly picking and pulling at the strands. This part of the process is key to making the yarn be fun and original and yet well mixed and having the fibers aligned so the yarn will be strong. The longer the teasing process, the better quality and tighter the gauge of the yarn.
The actual process of making the fibers into yarn is done the same way it has been done for centuries: by hand using a drop spindle or charka.
This stage of the recycled silk yarn is where skill really comes into play. The more skilled the spinner, the tighter, more consistent and the higher the quality of the yarn produced.
After spinning the yarn, it must be made into skeins. Some women use tools called niddy-noddies, the backs of chairs or their toes, knees and arms. The yarn is tied to keep it from tangling then it is twisted and then bagged.
The recycled silk sari yarn is made into scarves, hats, mittens, gloves, purses, bags and other items by a group of women knitting, weaving and crocheting working in Kathmandu, Nepal.
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