Blooming like cotton bolls
When I first started editing Spin-Off, we ran a reader survey in the magazine to learn more about what our readers like to spin (among other things). I was surprised to learn that plant fibers were so little loved. Well, that was eleven years ago and in that time, I've seen the love growing.
I was surprised because my first fiber love and the first fiber I really learned to spin was cotton. I was in the Costa Rican jungle (about twenty years ago!) where the cotton grew on trees around the house in hues of brown, green, and cream. Having practically no prior spinning experience, I didn't know that learning to spin with cotton was considered more challenging than learning with wool. It is just what my teacher spun and what her mother spun before her, and her mother's mother before her.
We made little patties of cotton as we rubbed the fibers off the seeds, fluffed them up a bit by hand, and spun on a suspended spindle with a whorl cut from an old rubber tire. I dropped the spindle a lot before I got the hang of it—fortunately the shaft was whittled from a very hard wood that grew in the area, and the whorl was, you know, rubber.
Watching Stephenie Gaustad's new video, Spinning Cotton, all these memories came flooding back from that time. I also started piecing things together as I watched it. No wonder I was compelled to make such a fine thread as I was learning—Stephenie points out that the fine cotton fibers want to be fine, highly twisted yarns. She also uses a great variety of tools, from a very simple hooked wire to a miniature replica of a cotton gin that shows the inner workings of the machine that changed the course of history. What a wealth of information she shares—and so easily. Watching the video I feel like we've just sat down in her studio with a cup of tea and are chatting about the wonders of cotton as she reaches over to pick up some cotton bolls and show how the fibers grow off the seeds.
I had to pause the video and run to get my stash of cotton (natural brown—yummy!) and tahkli spindle—it was too hard to resist the allure of Stephenie's siren call to cotton.
P.S. Thank you all so much for all the great comments you posted last week on the blog in response to my request (i.e., plea) about how to light a spark while teaching teens how to spin. I've read through them all carefully and gleaned many useful tips that I'm going to try the next time I'm in the classroom.