Silk and Silkworms
I have long been fascinated by these extraordinary creatures that hatch from an egg the size of a pinhead, start their life as a caterpillar about the size of the lower case "i" on your keyboard, grow to huge fat chaps the size of my index finger, spin themselves a cocoon in which to metamorphasise, emerge as a moth, mate and lay eggs for the next generation and then die. After keeping silkworms for many years, the magic of the process is as awe inspiring to me as I watch it as it was the first occasion I was privileged to witness it.
I am interested in spinning silk, not reeling it, so my moths are able to live their natural lifespan. If I wanted to reel the silk thread from the cocoon, I would have to use the cocoon before the moth had emerged and chewed its way out of the cocoon: reeling requires the single thread the caterpillar has spun to be unwound intact.
A close look at the cocoon will show that that it has an opening at the top through which the moth has emerged. To spin the silk, I will remove the protective gum the caterpillar excretes with the silk to harden it, by boiling in a solution of soap flakes with a little washing soda added. Then I stretch the softened cocoon over a former (a plastic pudding basin) and build up the layers of cocoons until I have a silk cap. When the cap is dry I remove it from the former, usually dye it, then spin a thread.
This is a very basic account of the silkworm's life cycle.
I offer talks on small-scale sericulture to interested groups. For spinners, I offer talks, courses and workshops on the various types of silk fibre commercially available, how these fibres have come to be as they are (often by-products of the commercial silk industry), and how to use them.