Two tips to get you spinning cotton

Two tips to get you spinning cotton


A length of clear rubber tubing to help me hold my fiber as I first learned to double draft the cotton helped to avoid the death grip often associated with learning a new technique.

Lately, I've been bitten by a bit of a cotton bug. It appears that this fiber is everywhere (especially in natural colored varieties). Inspired by Ann Durham's story of spinning enough cotton to weave a shirt while on the phone at work, I've been spinning my cotton with a supported spindle as time allows. It is amazing how it adds up.

Being relatively new to spinning cotton, I got a couple really big pointers this past fall at the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR). Occasionally members of the Spin-Off staff are lucky enough to sit in on a class and I got to join Andrea Mielke Schroer's retreat Takli and Bead Whorl Spindles. In this class we learned the ins and outs of spinning on taklis and bead whorl spindles. The main focus of the class was how to spin on the small supported spindles, but we also looked at cotton preparation, the history of cotton, and supported spindles, and using cotton yarn. Andrea brought samples of things she made out of handspun cotton.

The first big help was that Andrea gave each of us a length of clear rubber tubing. We threaded our cotton fiber through the tube to hold onto as we spun. This alleviated much of the dreaded "death grip" that is inherent with both starting a new technique and switching from worsted to woolen spinning. She said that she was introduced to the idea by Eileen Hallman of New World Textiles. The tube has 3/4" outside diameter and 5/8" inside diameter and really helped me focus on my spinning rather than how I was holding the fiber.

Next was something Andrea also shared in her article "One-Minute Takli Tip" in the Summer 2012 issue of Spin-Off. It has to do with what hand you use to operate your spindle. I was very interested to find that, although I am right handed, it is easiest from me to spin the supported spindle with my left hand. Andrea suggests that if you are going to spin with your left hand, that you should use the same motion as you would with your right, typically called a "flick" and spin the yarn the opposite direction (S-twist rather than Z-twist). As she said in the article:

"For either hand, the motions are exactly the same-curl your ring and pinkie fingers against your palm as you pick up the takli and hold the shaft between them. Hold it at the tip or below the hook if it has one. Let the back of your ring finger rest against the spindle shaft. This creates a brake that you can use to stop the spindle and help create tension to draft against for any stubborn spots. Have the spindle stand at a 60- to 70-degree angle, leaning slightly toward your fiber supply. This ensures that the yarn will draft off the tip of the spindle at an angle that allows for the best transfer of twist to the yarn. Squeeze your index finger and thumb together as you roll the shaft forward toward the tip of your index finger

Flicking a supported spindle with your right hand. Photos: Andrea Mielke Schroer

With practice, this becomes a flick of your finger and thumb: your thumb moving forward as your index finger moves backward. It doesn't have to be a superquick motion, per se; a smooth, even flick is more useful than a lightning-quick one that begins or ends with a jerk. The direction of spin (clockwise for the right hand, counterclockwise for the left) encourages the spindle shaft to rest in the space between your middle and ring fingers while it spins."

Flicking a supported spindle with your left hand Photos: Andrea Mielke Schroer

While it is definitely easier for me to do this with my left hand, I am able to do it with my right and it is hugely helpful to use the same motion (although because of the opposite twist results, you can't switch hands on the same batch of yarn).

As I get more and more comfortable with my cotton spinning, I am beginning to explore new methods and ideas for spinning this new to me fiber. Recently, I was looking at Stephenie Gaustad's The Practical Spinner's Guide: Cotton, Flax, Hemp and can't wait to try spinning cotton with a light suspended spindle and my wheel. I think the tips she shares will definitely expand my cotton spinning.

Spin on,

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