A Yarn Story: Cotton Tales

Rainbow handspun cotton - closeupBy Amelia

I started spinning cotton on a tahkli, a little brass support spindle, in order to learn how to spin cashmere (hint: cotton's harder). My other spindles for cotton are an Akha spindle and a featherweight top or bottom whorl spindle (under half an ounce). But I digress.
Confetti - handspun cotton
This first skein was spun on a charka. My Bosworth book charka, to be specific. It has a 70:1 ratio, is highly portable, and just amazingly glowly lovely in Cherry and Maple. Portability, utility, and beauty -- what a combination! This skein is cotton with 2% polyester nub. That 2% is the "limit" for what you can have as "noise" in a skein and not list it in materials, but it was done for specific effect here. So, officially, this is "100% cotton". I think it's very interesting to see what 2% looks like so clearly.

This skein is 122 yards, 3/4 ounce, about 18-20 wpi. It's a true 3-ply yarn, plied from three charka spindle-fulls into this one skein.

I've pretty much always spun cotton long draw, not inch-worm. It's so short staple, that inch-worming is more like millimeter-worming, not much fun at that distance, for me. There's a type of long draw called "point of twist drafting" that pretty succintly tells you how to draft -- that's what I do, mostly. Once it's drafted out and initially spun, I might tug a little to see if the thick spots will come out (sometimes they do), then put in the extra twist cotton needs before winding it onto my spindle/charka/wheel.

Because some local spinners spin cotton on their wheels, I've kept trying to go back to that. Finally, after about 5 years, I've done it! And you know what my local friend S said to me when I told her of my accomplishment? "Amelia, why would you do that? spinning cotton on a wheel is hard, you have a charka - use it!" I can always trust S to come right to the point, grin!
Rainbow handspun cotton
The skein above was spun on my Jensen Tina II, and then chain-plied to keep the colors distinct. It's space-dyed Acala cotton sliver. Acala is a breed of cotton, with a nice staple length and shine. It was definitely a challenge, but is tightly spun and looks to be a delight to knit or crochet with (or weave!).

It's a small skein, just 74 yards, 1/2 ounce, and 20 wpi so fairly fine. I think it would be a lovely accent in a handknit summer cotton tank, or make a nice color band in a woven handtowel.

It takes alot of twist to spin cotton, so for wheel spinning, you'll want the draw-in tension on your wheel set to almost nil, so that the cotton isn't being drafted out of your hand all the time before it has enough twist to hang together. On the spindle or charka, that isn't an issue.

In terms of amount of twist in cotton ~ if you don't put enough twist in it to make it hang together, it will drift apart when you ply. It takes a lot more twist than wool, so if you are already a wool spinner, be prepared to add what seems like "way too much twist" to the cotton. No, it needn't corkscrew (that would be too much twist). But almost to that point. You want a ply-back test to have a closed loop at the bottom, no opening at all. No O.

I expect I will heed S's advice and stick with my charkas over my wheel, though I may occasionally try it to see if my skills have advanced. Because, I can now spin short staple cashmere on the wheel just fine -- so after a pound of cashmere (or even half a pound -- spinning cobweb that takes a loooong time), it would be worth checking if my hands have learned more about spinning short staple fibers.

Oh and ... cashmere now seems really easy (grin).

Confetti - closeupThese two skeins are "Confetti" and "Rainbow" ... and if they haven't yet been snatched up, you could own either of my creations yourself ... they're up on By Our Hands, my Etsy shop. Mention that you saw the skein here, and I'll add a sample of Soak wool wash, a token of reader appreciation.

For more on spinning cotton, see the Cotton topic.

Interested in other yarn stories? They're all listed under the Yarn Story topic.
posted 12 January 2009 at http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/

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