About Cotton & Kapok
Cotton fiber grows in a boll, or protective case, around the seeds of cotton plants. Cotton has a very short "staple length," making it slightly tricky to spin without employing a few tricks (see below!) but it is incredibly soft and worth the effort.
Kapok is another seed hair fiber used in textiles. It grows around the seeds of the rainforest Ceiba tree. Kapok is a bit too short to spin on its own, but can be blended with other fibers.
Allison's Tips for Spinning Cotton
If you're used to working with fibers of a longer staple length, or with a bit more crimp, then your first experience spinning cotton may be incredibly aggravating. Mine certainly was! #slubs4dayz, kids. Slubs. For. Days. The yarn kept breaking, and I basically wanted to throw my spinning wheel in the trash. That's because I was trying to spin cotton like any other fiber. Cotton isn't like other fibers. But it can be super pleasurable and easy to spin -- once you learn its mysteries. There are five basic tricks to spinning cotton:
Apply a "Z" twist to singles.That means, if you're on a wheel, the wheel should be spinning clockwise. If you're on a spindle, roll that baby off your left leg.
Use a long-draw method.Trying to inchworm it up with a short-draw will definitely make you want to throw your wheel in the trash can. You can't pinch at those tiny fibers. You gotta let the spin do its thang!
Spin. Faster.You need a lot of spin to hold said tiny fibers in place. Use a high ratio and treadle like it's going out of style. And remember, high twist != hard yarn here. Cotton is hella soft.
Reduce the uptake.You're trying to apply a lot of (even) twist. You don't want your wheel sucking up the yarn before you're done with it. Hang out and love that yarn. Feed the bobbin when you're ready for it. There are three tricks for reducing tension and uptake: 1) If you have one, turn that little tension knob. 2) You can add some bulk to the bobbin (with waste yarn, wrapped paper, whatever you got). 3) If your flyer has hooks -- lace 'em up! Criss-crossing your yarn from one side of the flyer to the other (like you're lacing a shoe) will significantly reduce uptake.
Ply that mofo.All yarns get exponentially stronger when plied. But for cotton in particular, its short staple length essentially vetoes artistic singles. (If you want to go that route, card it with something designed for strength, like flax, ramie, or nylon.) For art yarn aficionados, approach plying as a great opportunity to add some color and texture to your yarn!
Where To Buy Cotton Spinning Fiber
A curated list of indie vendors and artists offering up super-gorgeous cotton spinning fibers:
- Organic, hand-dyed cotton sliver from Blue Barn Fiber
- Hand-dyed cotton roving from Robin J. Edmundson
- Variety of cotton roving from Cotton Clouds
- Organic, fair-trade pakucho roving from Vegan Yarn
- Hand-dyed cotton top from Blue Mountain Handcrafts
- Variety of cotton spinning fibers from Mielke's Fiber Arts
Where To Buy Cotton Yarn
A curated list of indie vendors and artists offering up hand-dyed yarns from cotton and blends: