View our selection of recycled silk yarns

Recycled Silk Yarn Kathmandu Himalaya

Our yarn is made by people - not factories or machines!

    How is Silk Sari Yarn Made?           Meet our spinners            Meet our Knitters  

   View items made with recycled silk yarn  

Meet our spinners

Mrs. Jun Maya Ghale (one of our best spinners) with her young sonOur recycled silk sari yarn is made by economic disadvantaged women who are organized through several women's development groups and cooperatives in Nepal.  By taking an item that would normally be thrown away (remnant silk from the making of traditional saris in India) and making it into our colorful recycled silk sari yarn, the women have created a cottage industry that allows them to support their families make a living wage which allows for them to live beyond just subsistence survival.  One of our best spinners, Jun Maya Ghale is pictured to the left with her young son.

The group that produces our recycled silk and banana yarn is made up of Tibetan refugees, Nepalese and Indian women, ranging in age from 20 to 60 years old.  These women hand mix and hand spin silk thrums (The fringe of warp threads left on a loom after the cloth has been cut off) to earn a living wage to support their extended families.  Most work from home in small villages high in the mountains of Nepal. 

These women, whether working from home or in a provided safe working environment that offers child care and meals, work at their own pace. Earning a very good (living) wage, most of these women are supporting extended families of up to 20 people.  Through the sale of our recycled silk yarn and products made from it, we are able to enrich the lives of the artisans by paying a living wage, providing building materials and equipment (sponsor a family or donate items) and providing much needed medical care and educational grants.  We also provide no interest micro loans to weavers (of which only 75% has to be paid back). 

Additional photos of spinners and how you can help coming soon!

How is Recycled Silk Sari Yarn Made?

Cutting the thrums of silk into even lengthsmixing and teasing silk threadsMixing and teasing silk threads to create recycled silk yarnteasing silk threads to make silk yarnusing a drop spindle to spin silk yarnholding the teased silk threads and using a drop spindlerecycled silk yarn in its raw mixed form of silk fibers and as finished yarn on a drop spindle

A handwoven Sari on the loom showing the warp threads, called thrums, which are cut and sold

raw silk remnants as they come from India sari mills


Silk thread scraps left over from the making of Silk Indian Saris (traditional clothing in India) are purchased from small mills in India.  

The top photo to the left shows the fringe remnants after a sari has been woven on a hand operated loom.  These remnants are called thrums and are the pure silk threads that are the fringe of warp threads left on a loom after the saris has been woven and cut off.   These threads are collected, separated by color and bound into the skeins of pure dyed silk that you seen in the lower photo to the left.  Red and maroon colors predominate because these are auspicious (good luck) colors in India.  

measuring the silk fibers

cutting the silk fibers into even strips

the cut silk fibers ready to be mixed


The skeins of silk threads (called Fiber - literally the individual filaments of silk) are separated by color, unwrapped and laid out.  Contrary to the name "recycled silk yarn", the raw materials are all new remnants left over from making saris - not used saris!   While it might seem straightforward and simple to separate the various colors and qualities of silk, it can be quite tedious.  Various qualities of silk (both wild and domestic), natural and synthetic dyes used and gauge of the silk has to be taken into consideration.

The skeins of silk are cut into even strips then arranged by color so that the finished yarn will have a complex set of colors.  The fibers are then carded (brushed smooth and straight). 

Jun mixing the fibers

making sure the silk fibers line up for mixing

mixing up the silk fibers

mixing silk fibers


The various shanks of silk are mixed by hand, a long process that ensures that the colored silk fibers are evenly mixed.  The length and quality of the fiber determines its texture, strength and overall quality.  Superior quality recycled silk yarn is made from longer fibers - producing yarn that is smoother, stronger and more elastic.  Cheaper recycled silk yarns containing shorter or a mixture of fiber lengths are softer, fuzzier and less strong.   One of our best spinners is Jun Maya, pictured to the left.


Silk is the natural fiber produced by silk moth larvae. Our silk yarn is made from the cocoons of these moths.  These cocoons are woven of a single strand that can be as long as 4,000 feet long (that's almost a mile!).

The food fed to domesticated moths determines their silk's natural color; this can be white, green or yellow.  There are also wild and semi-domesticated silk worm fibers as well.

Click here to see the lifecycle of the silk worm & to learn more

teasing the silk fibers to make yarn

mixed and teased silk fibers ready to be made into yarn


Once the silk strands have been mixed, the raw material is hand teased by repeatedly picking and pulling at the strands.  This  part of the process is key to making the yarn be fun and original and yet well mixed and having the fibers aligned so the yarn will be strong.  The longer the teasing process, the better quality and tighter the gauge of the yarn.


detail of spinning recycled silk yarn

showing how a drop spindle is used to make silk sari yarn

picture showing a detail of the silk fibers forming the drafting triangle

twisting the silk fibers into yarn using a drop spindle


The actual process of making the fibers into yarn is done the same way it has been done for centuries:  by hand using a drop spindle or charka.

This stage of the recycled silk yarn is where skill really comes into play.  The more skilled the spinner, the tighter, more consistent and the higher the quality of the yarn produced.  The photos to the left show one of our spinners creating the silk yarn using a drop spindle.  Holding the teased fiber in her left hand, she skillfully creates a consistent yarn. 

Note that immediately above the spindle  and below her hand is the "drafting zone" or "drafting triangle".  This is the area where many of the factors that affect the yarn is determined.  If this triangle has more fibers in it, the yarn will be thicker, if it has fewer fibers, the yarn will be thinner.  The yarn is formed when fibers enter the drafting zone and are caught by the twist that is coming up the yarn from the rotating spindle. 


NOT ALL RECYCLED YARNS ARE ALIKE:  We carry several grades of recycled yarn:  Most are 100% silk, unless otherwise noted.  However, many other sellers online actually sell lower-grade yarns that have 30% or less silk (and some that contain no silk whatsoever!) and are made up of mostly rayon, nylon or cotton fibers.  We no longer offer balls - only skeins, as we've found that the consistency of skeins is better (sometimes balls would have high quality yarn on the outside and lower quality on the inside!!)  We GUARANTEE the quality and content of our yarns. 

Raw silk fibers and finished yarn on a drop spindle

artisans making the finished yarns into skeins

the finished skeins of recycled silk yarn


After spinning the yarn, it must be made into skeins.  Typically this is not done by the same artist who spun the yarn but other women working in Kathmandu, Nepal.  After consistent lengths or more commonly weights of yarn are measured, the yarn is skeined.  Some women use tools called niddy-noddies, the backs of chairs or as in the photo to the left, their toes, knees and or arms!  The yarn is tied to keep it from tangling then it is twisted and then bagged. 

Consistency in the quality of the yarn is very important.  Historically we sold yarn balls, however we've found that the consistency and quality of the yarn is far superior in skeins so we no longer offer the balls.    We currently offer several grades of this wonderful recycled silk yarn from our finest Lhasa (100% handpicked, best quality) to our mixed yarns.  


Meet our knitters, weavers & crotchetiers

Our recycled silk sari yarn is also made into items by a group of women working in Kathmandu, Nepal.  These women often work from home or in a provided, safe environment.  Knitting, weaving and crocheting items including scarves, hats, mittens, gloves, purses, bags and other items.  Zanzibar Tribal Art always has a changing selection of these items for sale.  The women are paid living wages (usually 2-3 times what they would make working at other jobs), are given health care, child care and have access to micro, no-interest loans, saving plans, building materials, as well as educational assistance for their children through the various programs we have in place.  You can sponsor one or more artisans through donating a variety of badly needed items (coming soon!) 

learn about our Recycled Silk Scarves

view the types of Recycled Silk Sari Yarns that we carry

learn about our Recycled Silk Scarves



This site was last updated 03/22/11