Monday, April 20, 2009

My Weekend: "Cotton & the Charkha"

By Leigh

Fiber Forum was fantastic. It was the first time I'd ever been to an actual fiber conference, and as you can imagine I enjoyed every minute of it. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos, so you'll have to put up with a pretty much pictureless description of my weekend.

Mostly I want to share about the class I took; "Cotton & the Charkha" with Eileen Hallman. If you've ever taken a class with her, then you know what a great teacher she is. We had time for about four class sessions, so we covered a lot of territory and I learned a lot. For example:

Did you know that:

  • There are approximately 35 species of cotton in the world
  • Only four of these are cultivated commercially
  • Most non-cultivated cottons are not white
  • Many of these produce very little lint
  • All cottons do not spin the same
  • The only difference between cotton and hibiscus is gossypol
  • The natural colors of cotton are pH sensitive
  • A single cotton fiber is made up of only one cell
Charkha spinning wasn't as difficult as I thought. My biggest concern was that I would have difficulty drafting with my left hand. I'm a right-handed spinner, but the spindle on a charkha is on the left. Thanks to Eileen's teaching method however, left-handed long draw was a pretty easy transition for me. We used book charkhas, and this is what we learned to do:

  • Set up the charkha for spinning
  • Spin singles
  • How to use the charkha's skein winder
  • How to Navajo ply and
  • Make a center pull ball directly off of the charkha spindle
I can show you the fruit of my labors....

That's my cute little mini-center-pull ball on the bottom. We also got to spin a variety of cottons, from the 31 samples in the notebook we received in class. Below are the ones I chose to try.

You can click on this one to biggify a bit. Of course, these are freshly spun and the twist is not set, but it did give me an opportunity to feel how differently they spun.

Eileen does a lot of weaving with her handspun cotton, mostly as weft from singles. Working with Bluster Bay, she has developed a clever boat shuttle that holds charkha spindles for weaving without winding! Very nifty.

As you can well imagine, a book charkha has been added to the top of my wish list, especially considering my cotton stash enhancement last year. And if I forget what I learned by then, I can get Eileen's DVD. Fortunately, she's a member of my guild, so anything I might need will be handy to get indeed!

Posted 20 April 2009 at

Related Posts:
Fiber Forum 2009
Southeast Fiber Forum
Fiber Forum Weekend


Theresa said...

Wow, sounds like a really great class. Good job and you certainly have a whole heap of cotton to spin.
Looks like a lot of spinning goodness in the future.

MiniKat said...

Sounds like you had a blast! Oh to have been a fly on the wall in your class. So much great information! :-)

bspinner said...

I once had a book charkha and never got the hang of it. Boy, I wish I could have taken a class like you did. So glad you had a great time and learned so much.

textillian said...

What a great time! I have always been fascinated by charkhas but afraid to try because of the left-handed thing you mentioned.

So is your mind buzzing with new ideas?

Jackie said...

Very very interesting! I did not know that much about cottons. It sounds like a great time!

Woolly Bits said...

I love the coloured cotton varieties - unfortunately they are not so easy to get over here! and I find the colour change with boiling rather inspiring - even though I spin with the normal wheel, no charkha. the spindolyn works pretty well, too, with cotton!
have fun dealing with your dyed lot!:))

Leigh said...

Barb, I wouldn't have been able to figure this out without a class either. Too bad you don't have your charkha any more.

Patrick, I've very motivated! Eileen's method of learning the left-handed long draw was pretty easy. We did it in two steps. We would draw out a couple of inches with the left hand, stop, then turn the charkha wheel a quarter turn, repeat. By the end of the weekend I was able to do both at once.

Bettina, from what I understand those colored cottons are going to be harder to get everywhere. Sally Fox isn't growing as many types any more, and no one else is doing it on any large scale.

I live in a cotton growing region, but the commercial cotton industry has managed to get laws passed making it illegal for anyone to grow any other type of cotton (than what they sell) within so many miles of existing commercial cotton fields. And they will prosecute. The supposed reason for this is to avoid cross-pollination. However this is rare as cotton is self-pollinating.

The color changing of cotton is fascinating, isn't it. We learned that either boiling or a high pH will produce the same effect.

Julie said...

Its sounds like you had a real good time and what a fun class!

Peg in South Carolina said...

I took a 2-hour workshop with her at SAFF a few years ago. Spinning on the charka was interesting and I did get to the point where I knew I could work on learning how to spin it at home. But it just wasn't me. I can see, however, that a long workshop would be just perfect for learning this skill.

Lynnette said...

The class sounds amazing, what fun to use such a portable spinning wheel - Ghandi was really on to something there!
Thanks for the cotton facts - almost all were new to me and I love to learn more fibre info...

cyndy said...

Sounds like a wonderful time, and sounds like you learned a lot!

So sad to hear that no one is growing the cotton. How quickly things become lost to us.

I'm running into the same problem with the flax. No one is growing it. Lots and lots of flax for consumption (In the USA)...but I have only found one variety to be available for textile (and it is the same one I grew last year).

And this is "The year of Natural Fibers!" How can we change this? You would think we could get a permit or something.

Sharon said...

You have made cotton interesting for me and how smart of you to develop your cotton spinning skills since it's more suitable for your climate. I hadn't ever thought about cotton, but I have a high speed whorl - may have to give it a whirl &-)

Marion B. said...

cotton is fun isn't it?