Spinning Milkweed Fluff

Milkweed Pod Process

Milkweeds. Who would have thought that they would be any good to me as a fiber artist? I have this habit of finding plants and searching online to see what I can make of the plant. You’d be amazed how far you can get with a simple Google search. My search term of choice was “spinning milkweed” and I was met with some interesting results:

  1. Yes it can be spun.
  2. No it’s not strong enough to be spun on its own.
  3. More commonly it was used for stuffing pillows and blankets, as milkweed is more insulating than goose down.

What a pleasant surprise! Actually I learned much more about the plant and its uses, its edibility, etc. Milkweed is the #1 plant that Monarch butterflies eat. Sure enough I found a caterpillar underneath one of the leaves!

So I harvested a bunch, cracked open the green shell (there’s a seam on the back that peels right into the core), pulled out the fluffy bits, de-seeded them (saving the seeds to toss back out on my next walk), fluffed the fluff off of the inner core (it’s like a spongy wafer), and set it out to dry on an old window screen.

Milkweed Fluff

Here are the fluff bits all dried out. They are luxurious and silky both in look and touch. Sadly the root end of each fluff bit is a bit on the picky side, if you had the dedication you could snip them all out though. Considering the amount of work that goes into making actual silk though it’s probably easier to snip these ends! And boy is it ever light and warm. Lighter and warmer than angora I would say. But not as soft overall due to the picky bits.

Spinning Dog Hair and Milkweed

Here I am spinning up some milkweed and Lee fur. The milkweed is just too slippy and short to spin on its own. From what I’ve read online not even plying it gives it enough strength. So I mixed it with a pile of Lee fur and spun it up, and will add this to the pile of yarn which will become a hat for the pup.

Dog Milkweed Yarn

Here’s the final dog and milkweed yarn. Surprisingly I got a decent amount – something like 15 meters of a medium weight yarn. The milkweed stretched things out for sure.

Yarn Closeup

And a closeup to show you the variation of white milkweed and medium brown dog fiber. And little burr seeds of course. There’s no way I’m spending time picking stuff out of yarn that will become a dog hat, and combing Lee to get rid of the seeds was the reason I ended up with all the fluff in the first place. Such is the life of a natural fiber spinner I guess, with fiber comes cellulose.

I compared this to my other snippets of 100% dog fur. It’s a bit hard to describe their similarities and differences. Both were soft, the milkweed one was more luxurious like a rich sauce compared to mustard but then the picky bits were a bit tangy and sharp.

The next steps for experimentation include spinning it up with some white Shetland and dyeing it with my protein dyes. Since milkweed is a plant the fiber is a cellulose one, it will not be dyed with my protein dyes, unlike wool (and other animal fibers) which is a protein fiber. So the result will be a fantastically dyed yarn with white silky streaks peppered throughout it. I also want to try felting with the milkweed, whether it’s actively felting things together or sandwiching the milkweed between two layers of wool felt, or even using it as a component in a felted figurine.

Oh Milkweed. I have a feeling I will end up cultivating lots of you in my future. That will be cool though, it will treat the farm visitors to a Monarch show!

Where’d that post go Wednesday? AKA The Corn Paper That Was Never Meant To Be

Some folks have noticed there was a “Making Paper from Corn Husks” post in my queue a few days ago. Was, as in it is there no more. What happened to it? Well the adventure turned out to be for nothing. I followed the instructions and simmered my dried corn husks for the required 12 hours… then 24 hours… then 48 hours and more, long after when they should have been disintegrating into a pulpy mess. And nothing. They remained stinky yellow corn husks. I’m stumped and shall put this one project on hold for a year or two until I have my own corn husks. There is also this method for making papyrus-style husk paper which I should give a try once I can get my hands on washing soda. (Side question, anyone know a good store for this and other chemicals like borax and lye?)

So sorry to those people looking forward to that adventure! I still have a second batch of corn husks drying out beside my milkweed puffs so I’m open to suggestions on what to do with them. I’m thinking of making a corn husk doll or two. Then I could sew them up little outfits. How quaint! Haha, here I am thinking of sewing up corn doll outfits when I still have every curtain in the house to create. Just goes to show you how I can be making a lot of progress in some areas but completely lacking in others.