My Love Affair with Cotton
Note: This is a guest post from Irene Laughing Cloud.
Cotton excites me! It excites all my senses. I love the smell of it fresh out of the field. I love how soft and cozy it feels next to my skin. I love how clean and crisp it looks in my weavings. I love how practical it is from the sheets I sleep on each night, to the absorbent bath towels I rely on in the morning, to the jeans I pull on day after day, to the tablecloths I set a dinner party table with, to the socks that keep me warm in winter and the T-shirts that cool me off in summer. I love everything about cotton!
Yet, it hasn’t always been that way. When I first started spinning, and then weaving in 1976, I only spun and wove from the abundant source of wool I had at my disposal. A good friend had a sheep farm and each spring when I helped with the shearing in the hills of Arkansas’ Ozark mountains, I came rambling home in my little Honda CRX stuffed with a bounty of fleeces. I carefully skirted each fleece and once soaked and washed in my bathtub, gingerly separated the locks and hand combed them to fill a handmade willow basket to overflowing. I spun and spun and spun wool for hours, days, and months. I loved my wool and would never think of spinning anything else.
Then by chance, I took Harry & Olive Linder’s three-day, pre-Convergence 1978 workshop, Handspinning Cotton. My love affair with cotton began the moment I sat down at my wheel and had my first taste of spinning this beautiful, white, clean, smooth and gentle fiber. I immediately left my wool spinning skills behind and learned to conform to cotton’s needs for spinning it. I was hooked, so to say.
From there I decided to not only convert my entire wardrobe to cotton, but to also weave cotton children’s clothing for sale. The only problem then was that I couldn’t find a source of cotton yarns suitable for my loom. At that time, the revival of spinning and weaving focused on wool, flax and silk. Cotton yarns were nowhere to be found.
After extensive research and mailing out over 200 form letters to yarn manufacturers, I found three sources that were willing to sell their coned cotton yarns to me. Once I was dazzled by the vibrancy of rich colors and the variety of yarn weights available, I wondered, “If I can’t find quality cotton yarns for my weaving, perhaps other weavers can’t either. I’ll just start a mail order yarn business, name it Cotton Clouds (my nickname at the time was Irene Laughing Cloud) and see what comes of it.”
Now 36 years later, Cotton Clouds has grown to provide a wide selection of cotton and cotton blend yarns in more than 2,000 colors; exclusively designed kits; cotton fibers for spinning and where I share my love for and expertise in cotton with spinners, weavers, knitters, and crocheters.
Dare I say, “We’ve come a long way, baby” in the consciousness of using cotton yarns in our weavings? This special COTTON issue of Handwoven is the perfect testament to the answer as YES! There are so many wonderful cotton yarns in just the right sizes, weights, textures, and cornucopia of colors to please just about everyone’s taste for clothing and accessories, kitchen towels, table linens, household items, and more!
In this special issue on Colorful Cotton, you will find not only a cornucopia of projects, but the information you need to be a happy and successful cotton weaver. Stephanie Gaustad gives you a microscopic view of the cotton fiber, highlighting its strong as well as weak characterisitics; Sharon Alderman shares her helpful hints and tips on Finishing Handwoven Cotton Fabrics and you’ll learn almost everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how cotton changed the world during the Industrial Revolution from Aldon Amos. More than three decades ago, Sally Fox came to me at a trade show proudly sharing her first success at breeding colored cotton. I immediately fell in love with naturally colored cotton, have continuously supported Sally’s enterprise and have spun and woven with it ever since! Here she shares her spirited journey in “A Life in Bloom”.
When I first mailed out those 200 form letters to yarn manufacturers, searching for cotton yarns, UKI (Usdan Kolmes Industries) supplied me with 8/2 unmercerized cotton and perle cotton in 3/2, 5/2, 10/2 and 20/2 weights. Weavers have had to be content with these cotton yarns as their mainstay. And might I say that they’ve done a splendid job designing everything from towels, to runners, to curtains to clothing these past 36 years. Now, in this current issue of Handwoven, you’ll find a better variety of cotton yarns than ever before. Cotton has been combined with linen (cottolin), bamboo and silk to weave everything from four and eight shaft towels including a thoroughly modern take on Summer and Winter Polka Dot Towels!
Did you know that you can weave with sock yarns? Kate Lang-McKibbon’s Huck and Snuggle Baby Blanket, woven on a 20” 4-shaft loom uses one of knitter’s favorite sock yarns, Panda Cotton, a mix of cotton and bamboo that will knock off any baby’s socks!
Yes, I will say it. We’ve come a long way, baby, and I don’t mean just babies! Weavers now have a much better choice of cotton and cotton blend yarns to weave the goodness of cotton into their projects with today’s cotton yarns. My love affair with cotton grows with each new cotton project from Handwoven!