Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pick a bale of cotton

A few years ago, I had the urge to spin cotton, and as with all of my obsessions, I overbought the raw materials- in this case, pounds of cotton sliver (which is pronounced SLY-ver), in lots of different natural shades. I was particularly intrigued with the Fox Fibre cottons- undyed cotton that grows in colors: brown, oatmeal, and green. I also somehow ended up with about 3lbs of natural brown cotton lint (ginned cotton fibers that have been carded but otherwise not prepared for spinning. I think it's mostly used in paper making), and an entire bale of ginned, uncarded white cotton that my friend Ann sent me from Arkansas.

The only problem in this scenario is that I swiftly learned that I don't like spinning cotton. Cotton has a very short staple (about 1/2", as opposed to the 2"-3" for angora, 2"-6" with wool, and often 6"+ with mohair), and therefore needs a lot of twist for the single to hold. And by a lot of twist, I mean a LOT of twist. My natural spinning mode is hard and tight (get your mind out of the gutter, Alan- those are legitimate yarn words), and even my default MO wasn't tight and hard enough. I had to adjust the ratios on my Ashford Joy, to the smallest groove on the flyer. And even so, my learning curve was steep, because in order to put that much twist into the cotton, I had to learn the long-draw, which is also not my default style.

I did not learn it well.

Anyway, as with many of my failed experiments, I sighed and shoved the materials back into a corner of my Wool Room (which did not appreciate the plant invasion, lemee tellya), reset the ratios on the wheel, and forgot about it. Until yesterday, when I again got the urge to spin cotton. Why not?, I thought. Maybe this time, I'll get the hang of it.

And you know what? After a half hour that consisted of many restarts and even more bad words, I did get the hang of it. My cotton single is lumpy, but lumpiness is part of the charm of handspun yarn, right?

 I chose a baggie with small amounts of several colors: white, oatmeal, green, and brown, and spun them all onto the same bobbin. I intended to Navajo 3-ply the yarn, but that didn't work, in a spectacular way. The yarn broke every 24" or so, and I invented a few new swear words before giving up on that notion. Instead, I plied the single to a very fine cotton yarn. That worked beautifully.
 Note the colors- off white, brown, and green.

 In order to set the twist of handspun cotton yarns, the yarn has to be boiled. In order to bring the colors out in naturally colored cotton, it has to be boiled in water with some baking soda added. The deepening of the colors was instant, and amazing to watch.
 The difference in the colors is amazing!
 It's just as well that the Navajo plying didn't work- look at how messy this is.
 Ah- much better. The large skein is 175 yards of slightly heavier than lace weight. It's still damp, so it'll weigh a bit less than the 1.7 ozs (which is what the scales said now).
I have another bobbin of singles ready to ply. This will probably boil out darker too. We'll soon see.

So, what am I going to do with all this handspun cotton yarn? Hell if I know. I don't like knitting with cotton.

1 comment:

twoknitwit said...

I love your spin ~ you may find you like knitting with the cotton you so painstakingly spun.

It's beautiful!