Time to spin cotton
The lovely natural dyed cotton of Ella Baker.
Cotton is an amazing fiber—great for keeping us cool and dry when it is hot and humid out. Cotton is the fiber of the ages. It is the fiber the ancient Egyptians cultivated to clothe themselves and also to wrap their dead in to ensure a safe passage to the afterlife. When the Spanish encountered cotton in the new world, they depicted it as a plant with little sheep growing on it—the fiber was as soft and fine as the wool of their Merino sheep back home. In India, takli spindles and charkas have been the perfect tools for spinning the short staple length of the cotton fibers for millennia. As the United States was formed and developed, the textile industry depended on the cultivation of cotton. Today's spinners choose cotton for many of the same reasons—it can be used to create a lightweight, comfortable cloth that is enduring, useful, and beautiful. Cotton really is the fabric of our lives as the cotton industry says.
However most spinners prefer to spin wool—perhaps because it is the first fiber they try or they were told that spinning cotton is hard. If you've been avoiding spinning cotton for any reason—it is time to reconsider. I was one of those rare spinners who learned on cotton. I was a college student studying Spanish and Latin American Studies in Costa Rica and I happened to be living with a spinner. I had always loved crafting, so it was natural that I asked her to teach me how to spin. Petra lent me a well-worn drop spindle (no hook) with a whorl cut from a tire, gave me a pattie of cotton, and showed me the basics. With the encouragement of the neighborhood kids who thought it was hilarious that I was so old and didn't know how to spin (I was twenty-one at the time—they had all learned to spin before they were five), I was determined to learn how to spin. I came home from my four-months in Costa Rica with a large ball of fine, highly-twisted cotton thread that I had spun and a new path ahead of me.
The tools Amy learned to spin cotton with in Costa Rica.
For many handspinners who generally start spinning wool, cotton can be a bit intimidating because the staple lengths are short compared to wool requiring a high amount of twist to stay together as a thread. Our new eBook, Cotton: From Growing to Finishing, is filled with great tips about spinning cotton from past issues of Spin-Off. Great cotton spinners from the past and present—Ella Baker, Stephenie Gaustad, Harry Linder, and Celia Quinn, to name a few—share their expertise and love of spinning cotton with you. Many of these articles are treasures from the early days of the magazine and, while some of the references to current events and availability are dated, the information is timeless.