Silk carrier rods for felters

What are silk carrier rods?

Despite looking like something from an archaeological dig (according to a friend at least!), carrier rods are pretty fascinating things. They are a by-product of the silk reeling process. Filaments of silk and silk dust catch and wind around the carrier or guide rods of the machinery for reeling the silk filaments from the cocoon. Due to the sericin in the silk, the residue builds up as a hard mass up to 15cm (6″) long. This is slit off the rod periodically to give the silk carrier rod it’s distinctive cylindrical shape.


Being silk, carrier rods dye well and have a slight sheen. Textile enthusiasts use them in many ways either whole, manipulated or split into thinner layers. One can spin, weave, cut and stitch them as well as making structural silk paper to embellish with paint, foil, print or embossing. They are a wonderful addition to a fibre artists ‘stash’ and can simply be layered to give texture and dimension as in Pik-a-poppy

Recently I was demonstrating to our local felting group about carrier rods partly because I use them in a felt exhibition piece Life Cycle.  So the challenge was on to explore creative ways to use them when making felt.

Preparing Carrier Rods for felting

Being a hard gummy fibre (ie full of sericin), the rods vary considerably in appearance and can even contain cocoon remnants. They need some warmth to be able to manipulate them. The easiest way to flatten them is to iron them dry – no steam. They can be felted whole using ‘trapping’ techniques or separated and stretched out into thin wispy layers to incorporate with wool fibres. Rolling the rods length-ways against the curve for a few minutes in your hands will also soften and reveal the layers. Soaking in some warm water for 1/2 hr or so works too. When stretching the layers, the criss-cross of the fibres is apparent and acts as a natural resist in the dyeing process with interesting colour variations.

Felting with thin layers and wispy bits

As long as you can see light through the pieces, fine mesh layers felt in really well. They are easy to curve, shape and weave and seem to felt in better if put into position on the wool, before wetting out.

Carding little fluffy bits with wool produces a lovely mottled effect. Slightly thicker layers of the rod will also work with persistence and provide more texture in areas where it is thicker. Click to view larger images.

Trapping full rod thickness in felt

Using thicker layers or the full thickness of the carrier rod results in greater textural effect. As the silk is too dense for the wool to grab onto, trapping is a solution. Silk hankies and various fibres like silk and viscose work well. Despite the felting and fulling process, most of the texture and dimension of the rod pieces are retained.

Fine veiling with wool doesn’t work too well as too many edges of the rod pieces remain exposed. Using more wool to  trap the rods or pieces more effectively makes them almost invisible! Stitching them in place at the pre-felt stage with a wool yarn works.

Felting with silk paper made from carrier rods

Silk paper can be solid or sparse depending on the thickness and quantity of the layers.  After separating the layers, place them on a silicon sheet or baking parchment and spay lightly with water. Cover with baking parchment and iron. The moisture and heat activates the sericin and ‘glues’ the pieces together. Do not iron directly on the wet carrier rods unless you like to scrape things off the bottom of your iron. Keep ironing until almost dry and they are sticking together. Allow the paper to cool and harden up a bit before handling.

Cut or torn pieces can be trapped under net or gauze or used in ‘craters’. Maximum dimension and crinkling results, as there is almost no attachment of the silk paper to the wool fibres.