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Sue Hiley Harris


Photos by Pat Foster



On 2nd February a small group of spinners from Kennet Valley and Berkshire Guilds met at Speen to learn the basics of spinning silk. Ever since doing a silk-dyeing workshop with Katie Weston a couple of years ago and coming away with a large bag of vibrantly coloured silk I’ve been looking forward to this workshop.

Sue is a very relaxed and patient tutor.  She decided to stick to showing us how to deal with three types of silk preparation: caps/mawata squares, tops and noils.  She told us where each of these came in the chain from cocoons to spinnable fibre (after the best stuff has been reeled off and used for industrial silk manufacture).  Sue demonstrated each type on her lovely old double-band wheel and then helped as we all had a go on our own wheels.  

Silk caps and squares were stretched out by hand before being fed into the wheel with little or no further drafting. Tops were spun either worsted, or semi-worsted from the fold, or by a third more tricky method that I’d not tried before (and probably won’t try again!)  Noils involved more preparation as they had to be carded into punis (very thin rolags) then spun using English longdraw which was quite challenging but produced a beautifully textured yarn.

As is always the case with these workshops the day passed in a flash. When I looked at the contents of my bobbin at the end of the day there didn’t seem a lot to show for it, but my head was buzzing with new bits of knowledge and ideas for tackling that bag of dyed silk.  All in all a great day.   


Many thanks to Lesley for organising the event and for keeping us going with all manner of yummy treats and to Sue, of course, for being such a great teacher.




I attended the Kennet spinning workshop at Lesley's invitation, as a visitor from Berks Guild.  I found the group to be very warm and welcoming and the facilities were roomy and comfortable.

The workshop tutor used a lovely blend of knowledge and informality.  She kept the format for the day simple, introducing us to the silk fibres we would be using and some of the history and life cycle of the silk-worms, along with the processes used to extract the fibres.

Once we had been shown techniques for spinning three different forms of silk - Caps, Tops and Noils; from there we were free to develop our skills, while she walked amongst us and dealt with difficulties and answered questions. Towards the end of the afternoon she showed us all the answers to individual questions, which meant we all benefited from this extra information and she only had to say it once. A very informative, enjoyable day.



I have been spinning silk for many years and I know I got into some bad habits!

Holding the tops too tightly was one of them.  This causes the silk to bunch in your hand and causes lumps to occur in the yarn.  Sue taught us that just holding the silk in your hand loosely and allowing it to draw out gently makes smoother shinier yarn.


I have never had the confidence to spin long draw with silk noils but thanks to Sue, I have now.  It was a revelation to see how our super thin rolags around a knitting needle could be spun into fine yarn using the long draw method.


Sue was generous in passing on her knowledge and experience and patient with those of us less experienced. 





The Tutor was excellent in showing fourteen members how to spin various silk fibres, long and short lengths. We began with a silk cap. We shredded the top layer with a quick outward movement of opposing hands.  After finishing the cap, we were shown how to spin with a longer ‘staple’ held over our fingers to spin as for woollen, allowing the twist to pick up the fibre. We had to concentrate each time.  


Sue showed us, with a very short length tops, how to spin using the long draw. A quick spin connected the fibres together and holding the fibre loosely in the hand allowed us to spin evenly. If mixing silk with wool, the colour of each, silk and wool, should be as similar as possible. If necessary, cut the length of silk to a similar length to the wool. For shorter lengths, use a long draw spin.  


Basically, we all managed to get a fairly good thread and feel that silk is not something we should
avoid anymore.


Overall, it was a busy, happy, concentrated workshop. Here are some thoughts from some other members who took part in the workshop:


“Sue was patience and nothing too much trouble. She is envisaging retirement on the horizon, so less workshops in the future”.


“I enjoyed it very much. Very useful. Looking forward to carding and spinning other silks. The length of day - I shut off after 4pm”.


“Brilliant teacher and so patient. Learnt a lot”.


“Sue’s knowledge was extensive. Teaching was thorough. Endless patience. Took time to circulate and offer help where necessary. I left feeling confident to tackle silk”.

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