The Embroiderer's Story

Hand Twisting Silk

December 26th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Tricia writes tonight about the process of hand twisting silk for embroidery, with pictures.

Just a few pictures to give those who haven’t seen anyone twist flat (floss) silk by hand an idea of how it is done. We didn’t take pictures of the entire process, but in brief:

- you unreel the silk around an awl or peg. (In this case there was one length of silk on each side of the peg and a length of wire on each side.)
- you make a special knot around the peg to secure the silk
- one set of thread is taken up in your right hand and placed in the lower palm. The left hand strokes it up the palm so it twists and this process is repeated until the silk has your intended amount of ‘undertwist’ in it
- the twisted thread is kept under tension in your teeth while you repeat the procedure with the second set of threads
- the two undertwisted threads are tied together with an overhand knot at the end
- the tied end is placed in the bottom of the left palm and the right hand strokes it up the palm to twist the two plies together. This is repeated until the desired ‘overtwist’ is put on the thread to balance out the undertwist.

Once this procedure is done, the silk can be cut off the peg and knotted. The silk end that was in your hands gets cut off and placed into the needle. This technique is still practiced by Japanese embroiders and can be quite useful. In a few weeks, I’ll try to show you photos of a different set of experiments we did which proved to us that the 17th century English professionals were using this technique in their workshops to twist their own silk (without metal).

The silk thread made by the above process is a Z-twist. To make an S-twist, you use your left palm for the undertwist and right palm for the overtwist. Here is a photo of the silk with wire that I made in these pictures. It isn’t what we were looking for – but stitches really nice!


One Response to “Hand Twisting Silk”

  1. [...] with the metal strip was the same two color silk (green and yellow) as the rest of the leaf. We have talked in depth before how they achieved this heathered effect with a two color twisted thre… Our hypothesis has been that, at the frame, they twisted the two colors they needed to blend. But [...]

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