When we began the ‘Mandarin Court Necklace Restoration Project’, the first step was to contact Michael Cook, an expert in silk, (whose website, WormSpit, was referred to in an earlier post: Chinese Reeled and Plied Silk Thread) and send him one of the samples of the red silk used in the necklace. We asked Michael’s permission to share some of his thoughts with you.
"It’s always amazing to hold an artefact of the past like this, imagining the hands it has been through and the things it’s seen. The silk is still lustrous and soft, although it has been shredded somewhat through wearing and darkened a little with age and use."
"It was clear from the start that the design of the beads and the design of the yarn holding them up was closely aligned; there’s nothing else quite like silk, and no other kind of cord would do the beads justice."
"Analysis of the cord on which the beads were strung revealed that it’s made of very low-twist filament silk; the closest that I could get to the look and feel is a variety of filament yarn called tram. To make up the tram, a number of strands (in this particular case, six) are twisted gently together – this yields a yarn of exceptional shine and softness, and leaves the yarn with quite a bit of fluff and loft."
"It’s the loft that makes the beads sit nicely on the cord – the low level of twist allows the strands fluff up a little with air, so that the beads rest on the cord without slipping. It also yields a certain handle to the overall necklace because the multiple strands move differently than a single cord would."
"The strands were measured out on a weaver’s warping board to make up the parallel lengths, wrapped onto tubes for transport, and then threaded together through the beads with a large-eye needle. The yarn was sourced from Devere Yarns in the UK; I used their six-strand (120 denier) silk embroidery tram."
If you have a bit of time, 3 minutes and six seconds actually, it is well worth spending it watching …this video of Michael and his silkworms, which the American Museum of Natural History produced for their exhibit, "Traveling the Silk Road." The exhibit opened in Manhattan in 2009, and is now on a tour of museums around the world … although I will warn you that you may be tempted to watch it more than once !!