Cotton, aka “Tiny Lambs”


So, I’m auditing a class on informal learning, and our first written assignment was to learn something and write about it. I decided to learn to spin cotton on my support spindle (which, despite being a “Tibetan” spindle, looks nothing like anything I saw folks using when I was basically next door to Tibet). I had some cotton bolls that a friend had collected from the university research fields when she was out there for a pest management class. Borrowed some cotton cards from a different friend, and away we go. I was expecting the carding and rolling punis to be the easiest part, since it’s basically the same as carding wool and making rolags. I thought drafting would be tricky, because I am used to two-handed drafting and would have to retrain myself to do it one-handed. I was so wrong. Rolling the punis was trickier than I expected, and clearly the most crucial step of the process- the ones that I rolled well just drafted out all on their own like a dream, and the sloppier ones were much more difficult to manage. While reading up on cotton processing, I saw a couple mentions of a traditional Indian method of using a bow (like bow-and-arrow) to fluff the fiber and roll the punis. What?! But I can’t find any more specific information about how to do it. Grrr…and, another excuse to go back…

And then there’s plying. I realized I had absolutely no idea about plying on a support spindle. I looked up some videos on Youtube, and can I say, people, PLEASE. Let’s get some better instructional videos up there! Here were problems I had with every video I found:

1. The camera was opposite the spinner, thereby requiring me to mentally flip everything I saw. Maybe somehow position it behind you looking over your shoulder, or use a head-mounted thingy? I have seen knitting videos with a head-cam, and they’re great.

2. The camera was focused on the spindle, which had a couple consequences:

(a) The people appeared as headless torsos. It was a little weird.

(b) The hand manipulating the fiber was off-screen, so I was missing out on half the work that was happening.

3. They all started working from a wound ball of singles, so I couldn’t see how they went from the copp on the spindle to whatever they were drafting from for plying. Which seemed like an important intermediary step, and one that I didn’t do so well on my own.

So I muddled through, wound my singles into a sloppy center-pull ball (gotta work on my nostepinne skillz) and plied ’em up. They kept getting a bit snarled and also broke a few times because I didn’t put in enough twist. Eventually things got so knotty that I just decided to cut my losses (literally, and by literally I mean literally, folks). But I do have a teeny little bit of highly uneven, fragile handspun cotton yarn!


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