What is it about cotton?


While most of the cotton on the global market is white, cotton can occur in natural, nonwhite colors: rose, buff, brown, red, chocolate, green–even lilac, blue, and black. Image from the Practical Spinner's Guide: Cotton, Flax, Hemp by Stephenie Gaustad.

For years I had a secret goal of spinning a very fine cotton yarn, weaving it into a very fine handkerchief, and trimming it with a very fine handspun cotton crocheted edging. I can just see it in my mind's eye, but I've never followed through. Why not? I don't know. What is it about cotton that keeps so many of us from actually working with it?

It's not hard. You can spin it on a hand spindle or a wheel—almost any wheel, with a little fiddling. It spins up fast. I watched Rita Buchanan spin cotton on an electric spinner while reading a book, and ending up with enough yarn to weave a set of placemats and napkins. I watched Stephenie Gaustad spin many skeins of cotton on a charkha wearing her handspun cotton smock, which clearly didn't take a lifetime of work to make. You can watch Stephenie's video and see just how easy and speedy it is. You can read her book and know way more than everything you need to know to quickly become a master cotton spinner. You can dig into our cotton-spinning eBbook, Cotton: From Growing to Finishing, and glean knowledge from a generous handful of expert spinners on everything from growing your own to dyeing your cotton yarn. This is not hard! People have clothed themselves in handpun cotton for . . . 9000 years? I just read about a fragment that dates back that far.

So what about my handkerchief? Here's the reality. A mere 150 yards of fine singles cotton thread would be enough for a 10-inch by 10-inch hankie (set at 30 ends per inch). Another fifty yards of two-ply would give me enough trimming yarn to play and sample and make 40 inches of lace—just a little over a yard. I should be able to produce that much thread in five hours with time to spare, spinning only about one yard per minute. Did I do the math correctly? I'm on it.

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