Someone wrote while addressing me, and suggested they might like to attempt to make some Silk strings for their own use. I replied:
I would recommend, if you haven’t already, that you get a copy of the Yu-ku-chai-ch’in-pu translated by Jim Binkley and read the description of how to make silk strings. Then set it aside! As interesting as I found the construction notes, the playing techniques and tablature are the most useful parts of this book.
An engineer might have some ideas about how to work with silk, but one would do better to learn spinning techniques with other fibers and apply what you have learned to silk, as I have. To make musical strings is not the same as spinning yarn, but you will be possibly informed by your experience with other fibers.
Sources of the most appropriate silk for your strings might be the most challenging problem. I have several sources at this point, but keep leaning toward raising my own tiny makers. There is a wonderful little report about the possibility of a small industrial program of silk production, with tables and measurements that I found a couple of years ago. It is, however, specific to Texas soil and weather.
The next area of interest touched upon in the Yu-ku-chai-ch’in-pu concerns glue. As an artist for 50 years I had explored resins, glues and mediums and found Alexander Raykov’s application of materials I am already familiar with to be brilliant. He was, however, not making strings for qin, which I found to be a different kind of instrument altogether. The homespun notes in the qinpu of Chu Feng-chieh will also not avail you!
The reason for this is that, of all the available adhesives and resins available from Nature, cooked rice starch is great for low-duty joining of porous materials, but there are much better kinds of glue that are compatible with the Fibroin in silk. What I developed is very close to Sericin, the glue that holds cocoons together. I reasoned that millions of years of insect development would arrive at the most perfect glue, while the common rice starch left over from cooking food was simply a matter of human convenience! What I have developed is a glue substance that is applied to the long fibers as they are tightly wound together, and a cayslyst is then introduced to harden it just before it dries. In a matter of hours the glue shrinks the string considerably, and with the addition of DRY heat, at the melting point of the adhesive, the whole network is permanently bound.