Life after Pearsall's

Tim Cottage

Formerly tbc1415
The venerated Pearsalls Gossamer silks, accepted as the traditional standard for soft hackles is just about the only silk thread we hear about when soft hackles are discussed but there are alternatives. I would bet my life that the famously frugal Scots didn't hesitate to raid the wife's sewing supplies when in need and used whatever they found.

Over the past few years I have kept an eye out at thrift stores for other silks that would work as well. Value Village, Salvation Army and garage sales are great resources for silk threads. Alternatively, your grand mother's sewing kit should yield some nice silk threads but could involve a certain amount of risk. Look for wooden spools as they are an indication of an age when silk was the standard for strong and colorful thread.

There are a number of other brands that fill the bill. Coats & Clark's, Paragon, Belding Corticelli, Hemingway Bartlett and others. Many of these brands offer some really vibrant colors with a very high sheen. The sheen of silk comes from the faceting of the individual fibers (think STS Trilobal dubbing from Hareline). Trilobal refers to the cross sectional triangular fibers that give the reflective sparkle.

Belding Corticelli, Button Hole Twist is fairly well known as the thread of choice by Jim Liesenring for pre made dubbing ropes when tying flymphs. Spools of Button Hole Twist (size D) are sometimes designated as just Twist or in the case of Hemingway Bartlett as Smocking & Fasoting. These are heavy three strand threads and need to be split into their individual strands for typically small soft hackles. They do come apart readily so its not a big deal to separate them. Other sizes are just right straight off of the spool. As with Pearsall's they can be waxed with light or dark waxes to shift their colors.

Just as in threads marketed as tying threads (most if not all of which are made primarily for industrial sewing) sizes vary within a specific size designation. One company's size D is not the same as a size D from another company. To add further confusion some threads are designated by letter and some by number. Its best just to use your hands, eyes and imagination when considering a stash of silk thread found at a thrift store.

Another alternative to pre-spun and plied thread is flat silk floss by Alec Jackson, JEC and others. Take a length of floss suitable for a fly body and wax it. Tie it in and holding the other end between thumb and finger twist it until it becomes round. You don't have to wax it but the wax will help keep it spun but will allow it to unspin somewhat. To counter act the unspinning just add a twist after each wrap around the hook. Just to be clear, we are not using a bobbin. Using your hands will give you much better control over the amount of twist. By varying the amount of twist you can add some taper to the body as you wind up the hook. It can also give a more segmented look.

In any case, keep your eyes and mind open to alternatives that will expand your choices. You wouldn't want to paint a picture without a full pallet so why would you want to tie flies without one.


Tim Cottage

Formerly tbc1415
Could be a lame question - but - how do you handle the other 2 strands of floss when you split them??
More ties?
Yes, more flies. Use one strand for one fly and the next for the next fly, etc. If you are tying big flies there is nothing to stop you from using two stands twisted together or just use the three strand thread as it comes off the spool but traditional soft hackles tend to be smaller flies, hence the need to untwist heavy threads into thinner strands.

Rob, If they carry Pearsall's Embroidery Silk they should have it, if not, there is always internet shopping. A couple folks on a wet fly and flymph site have bought some of the embroidery silk and say the colors are spot on according to the old Pearsall's colors, plus a bunch of new colors. Same color shifts with white and Cobbler's wax.
Tim, The old Pearsall's Gossamer will still be available from Veinard stockists. Most US fly shops get their Pearsall's from Veinard's now. I don't see a problem getting the standard Gossamer from a fly shop.

If you haven't tried them, YLI is a pretty good silk thread as well. A bit thinner than Pearsall's, but nice colors.

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