Cotton, Spinning

Garden experiments

Three young cotton plants in a raised garden bed

Earlier this year I decided to grow cotton in our home garden, at the time I had no idea what I’d do with the harvest. My skills in the garden are probably that of a novice so maybe I wouldn’t get more than a small handful of cotton. I bought a small packet of 10 seeds online and started them in one of my hydroponic systems. Only 4 seeds germinated and then only 3 survived the transplant. In the same bed, I added luffa as well as catnip and chamomile. I’ve also never grown any of these before and as usual, didn’t pay attention to spacing recommendations (I’m more of a “Let’s see what happens” kind of person). My luffa and cucumber plants took over the garden so I thought my cotton experiment was over by mid-summer. The only thing I could see in the garden was cucumber and luffa plants spreading out to soak up as much sun as possible.

I’ve been a knitter for a long time and dabbled in spinning a few times. I have owned 2 different treadle wheels but ended up selling both for various reasons. I did keep my spindles though since they took up little to no space. But cotton is a short-staple fiber, a very short staple actually. Most cotton is around 1″ in length, although Pima or Egyptian cotton varieties are slightly longer. Short staple fibers need lots of twist and are very fragile while being spun. Supported spindles are used to spin cotton and other short-staple fibers since they don’t rely on the newly spun yarn to support the weight. While I had a supported spindle, I wasn’t as familiar with it as I was with my Trindle (a type of high whorl spindle with removable weighted arms).

Fast forward to the end of summer. My cotton plants survived the abuse of the luffa taking over the planter and were starting to open up. I noticed a few squirrels trying to take off with tuffs of cotton so I would pull the boll as soon as I saw it start to open and put them in our dehydrator to fully dry out. Then I was able to pick out the seeds, called ginning. I was surprised to see how many seeds came from each section in the boll. I knew almost nothing about growing cotton, let alone the various types but learned that there are two main types. Pima and Egyptian cotton are probably most well known and have a longer fiber length, around 1.5″, and have a smooth seed that can easily be pushed from the fibers. Upland cotton is the most well-known variety of cotton with a shorter staple, usually half an inch in length. This type has a hairy seed that has to be picked out of the fibers. The cotton in my garden is an upland variety with hairy seeds and very short fibers.

Ginning the cotton from our garden was a good task to occupy my hands while watching endless kid shows during the day with my youngest, or while watching a movie as a family. After all the cotton was harvested from the garden, I was surprised by how much I actually got. Since I began ginning as soon as the cotton was ready I wasn’t able to get a weight on all of it before processing. However, right now I have 240 grams with seed waiting to be ginned, 90 grams ginned, and 24 grams hand-carded into punis or rolags. The 90 grams of cotton fill about half of a brown paper grocery bag, so there is quite a bit!

About a month ago I decided to buy an electric spinner and about 20 pounds of raw fleece. I wanted to learn how to process wool all the way from off the sheep into useable yarn. Which I’ll write a separate post about hopefully later this week. While getting familiar with my e-spinner, I realized spinning cotton on it was not yet possible. My skill level just wasn’t there yet. I bought a tahkli and a small wooden bowl from Etsy in order to spin my cotton. And I was able to spin 33 yards on Saturday this past weekend. Which isn’t bad for my first attempt at both spinning cotton and using a tahkli. I don’t see being able to spin my large stash of cotton on just this little spindle though.

Then I remembered that I had two other supported spindles that I bought from a friend years ago. Neither of us can remember the name of this spindle or its maker, however. But it is wonderful for spinning my cotton so far. I can rest the base between my legs while curled up on the couch and spin from one of my hand-carded rolags. Last night I was able to spin quite a bit after supper and wound the single onto a cardboard tube this morning. I’m still working on making a balanced single with enough twist with an even thickness as well as my long draw techniques. I think I have the basic idea down and now will work on filling my spindle with cotton singles. My end goal is to spin enough cotton to be able to knit a lightweight sweater or weave yardage for a shirt. While my garden grown cotton might not be enough, I bought plenty of bolls and punis from the Woolery online to more than meet my goal.

A living room in the background with kids show on the tv. In the foreground, a laptop is open with 2 wooden supported spindles sit on top along with a cardboard tube with finished singles of cotton. A pink wireless mouse is seen to the right of the laptop.

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