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!

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Meagan

A free spirit who is never satisfied with mediocrity, Meagan Hanes is a girl full of adventure and newness who goes places many people never dream of and learns things many people have long since forgotten. At the same time she has a foot firmly in the future of web technologies, always staying attuned to what's coming up in the tech world and how it can benefit humanity as a whole.

14 thoughts on “Spinning Milkweed Fluff”

  1. you NEVER cease to amaze me! wow – what great results! Looks so wild with all the different textures! Can’t wait to see it in person…

    1. Indeed, it’s very silky too except for a small little picky bit on its root end. There might be a way to get rid of that, resulting in a 100% silky smooth fiber!

  2. Excellent tips! I have two meadows full of it – the monarchs do love it. Next summer, I am harvesting the pods and drying out the stems for the bast in there. I will save the seeds, and anyone who wants seeds can email me. Just pay for the shipping (probably just a stamp) and I’ll send them out.

  3. I am looking for a little tiny snippet of milkweed fiber for a textile class that I am taking. Do you have any idea where could I get some?

  4. You left the best fiber behind! The stem of the milkweed plant should be peeled (peel the epidermis and then peel the fibers off the epidermis) and you will find some of the best bast fiber on the planet. It is comparable to fine flax and was thigh-spun by prehistoric native Americans such as the Hopewell and the Adena peoples and twined into very fine fabrics. You should harvest when the plant stems are crisp, just as they are starting to make the pods.

      1. Harvest the stalks in the fall through late winter, after the leaves have dried and fallen, so yes, you can also harvest seeds/pods earlier in the year from the same plants.

  5. I find that if you harvest while the fluf is still in the pod and bunched together you can snip the ends and remove the seeds easily, but it is not quite as soft as when you collect when the pods open.

  6. FYI milkweed pods were collected during WWII to stuff the fluff in life preservers for airmen. Milkweed doesn’t absorb water and is buoyant. Very important to return or spread the seed too. The Monarch butterflies are depending on it.

  7. You mixed yours with another fiber! Brilliant! I did mine just with the fluff, and boy did I swear. I spun it with a drop spindle, but because the fiber is so fragile, I could only twist and park. I found that pinching the fiber together as I spun it helped strengthen it though. I’m always on the lookout for better ways to spin it. I’m not giving up, it’s such a beautiful, soft fiber and it shines like a pearl.

    1. Wow! I remember it being so slippery and tricky to work with alone. I commend you for your skill in twisting up a pure milkweed yarn! Indeed, that pearl quality and softness make the trouble worth the pain. I’ll have to remember to harvest some pods this fall and give it another try. Thanks for sharing your comment 🙂

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