Smelly Silk & Soda Ash (Not Smelly)

Going through my stash, I discovered two cones (each weighing over 1 lb.) of tussah silk spun at 1800 yards per pound/1646 meters per .45 kilograms.  Tussah silk, sometimes silkworm2called “wild silk,” is produced by the uncultivated silk worm and is coarser (and stronger) than cultivated silk.  The silkworms that produce tussah silk are not fed mulberry leaves; they are found wild on forest trees.

I immediately envisioned dyeing experiments and started skeining.  I made several skeins but decided to dye only enough for a wall hanging of finger-manipulated weave stitches to be made on the SilkSkeinCricket – a little over 7oz/212g.  (My floor loom is warped with another project.)

I needed to wash the skeins before dyeing, of course.  I put the skeins into my large dye pot filled with tap water, added some liquid dish soap, put on the lid and turned on the heat.  About a half an hour later I removed the lid to check in a now gently simmering pot.

The smell made me stagger and gag!  It wasn’t an overly chemical smell (though I could detect that); it was, to put it mildly, putrid.  Why?

crysalis_silkworkAs explained by Clara Parkes in The Knitter’s Book of Yarn (2011), the smell is from the “remnants of the chrysalis that weren’t properly removed during degumming – normally a sign of sloppy processing and low-quality fiber” (p.33).

Oh dear.  Oh yuck.

Time for the skeins to take a long dip in a soda ash infused bath.  Soda ash (aka washing soda) is sodium carbonate, Na2CO3 – the sodium salt of carbonic acid (water soluble).   While not expensive, soda ash is not always easy to find.  I got my soda ash from a local textile supply store, Eugene Textile Center.

If you don’t have a either a stash of soda ash at the ready or a well-stocked textile store nearby, most people have the makings of soda ash in their kitchen: baking soda!  Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, CHNaO3.

To make soda ash, I bakingsodawould start by buying a large sack of baking soda (available at Costco!).  Next, spread some baking soda onto the bottom of a shallow pan and put in a 350-400° F (176-204° C) oven for about 45-60 minutes.  As it heats up, the sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) will release carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O), leaving dry sodium carbonate – soda ash.  When the baking soda looks powdery and a little bit like salt, you’ve got soda ash!  (If you make more than you plan on using, store it in an airtight container.)

By the way, normal levels of CO2 are considered harmless (per U.S. BLM).  While my kitchen certainly doesn’t qualify as a “confined area” where I’d worry about CO2 build up, I would leave the kitchen window wide open as I baked it.

More on those smelly skeins in my next post!

sodaashpools (2)P.S.  It is worth mentioning that swimming pool supply companies generally carry soda ash compounds to use for pH balancing purposes.   Soda ash is one of the ingredients so you’re better off making your own.   You can also find washing soda detergents (e.g., Borax and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda), at grocery stores, but those generally contain other chemicals (e.g., fragrances and brighteners).

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14 Responses to Smelly Silk & Soda Ash (Not Smelly)

  1. Be sure and share your experiences should you try making your own soda ash!


  2. I did not know you could make your own soda ash! I think I bought one of those pool concoctions thinking it was just pure soda ash. I haven’t used it yet, but I will be sure to check what else is in it before I decide whether I can use it! thanks!


  3. Oh, what a sad way to discover that – and on hand spun no less! >


  4. Rebecca says:

    In my first batch of dyeing for my waysides project, I mistakingly simmered washing soda solution and a skein of handspun wool. The wool turned to jelly! Lesson learned!


  5. Anita says:

    That’s quite an experience 🙂


  6. Oh no … First bath with soap, second with soda ash, third through seventh with soap, 8th water only. The water looked like animals had peed in it until bath 6. Absolutely disgusting. >

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Anita says:

    So glad it worked on the first try!


  8. It was the first time I used soda ash to get rid of a foul (oh so foul!) smell.



  9. Anita says:

    Yuk indeed, and it was good to know about the soda ash.


  10. Oh it smelled absolutely vile! >


  11. rthepotter says:

    Interesting! And yuk … however natural.


  12. salpal1 says:

    thanks – I will keep on doing what I am doing then. It will ease up eventually. I don’t mind a bit of wool smell, but when it smells like wet sheep even when dry, it is off-putting, and people sniff if they sit near me. 🙂


  13. I wouldn’t use soda ash on wool yarn. Not it smelled too “lanoliny” for me, I’d probably try soaking it in a water & vinegar solution or a quick wash with Dawn dish soap. That said here is the link to a post about washing raw wool fleece (not prepared yarn) and using soda ash.


    Liked by 1 person

  14. salpal1 says:

    I never would have guessed that could happen! I am glad you have a solution. Do you think it would also work on some wool I have that smells extra “woolly” no matter how much I gently wash it in mild detergent?


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