I first learned to spin cotton in a Cotton Spinning Workshop by Harry and Olive Linder. It was an amazing class. There was so much information; I was too new to absorb it all. I wish I could take the class again, but alas, they are no longer with us.
I left the class able to spin cotton slowly on my double drive band Saxony-type wheel. It took many support spindles and finally a Tahkli spindle before I really loved to spin cotton.
Support spindles are the very best way to learn the “feel” of drafting cotton. The nice thing about support spindles is you are in control of the twist , you can stop them any time and they don’t reverse directions on you. Drafting cotton is a lovely thing. It is a very light and easy draft due to the short staple length of the fiber. If you can, start with a puni. The fibers are compacted and have a better tendency to cling to each other.
The Tahkli Spindle
The Tahkli has the added benefit of spinning very fast. This quickly adds the high twist needed to hold cotton together as a yarn. You can produce an amazing amount of yarn faster than you think spinning cotton on a Tahkli.
I suggest using a backward draw to spin on a support spindle. In the backward draw the twist is going into the fiber as you are drafting back. You almost cannot feel the draft – it is so light. It is easier to watch the twist go into the drafting zone; holding the fiber very lightly, keep pulling back to stay just ahead of the twist so it stays in the drafting zone and does not move into fiber you are holding in your hand. This is sometimes called the point of twist draw.
This is the only draft you can use on a supported spindle or a Charka as one hand is needed to spin the spindle or turn the wheel on a Charka.
For a suspended spindle (AKA drop spindle) you can use the backward draw or a short forward draw. The short forward draw gives you a little better control, at least at first, for a more consistent yarn. It is a slower way of producing yarn but it will work on almost any suspended spindle. I have not tried in on spindles that weigh more than 1 ½ ounces. The densly compacted fibers of a puni are conducive to spinning on a suspended spindle.
Tips for starting to spin cotton on your wheel
Once you have the feel of drafting cotton you can spin cotton on any wheel. There are some adjustments that will make this easier. The primary aim is to decrease how fast the yarn is wrapped onto the bobbin so that sufficient twist will be added to the newly spun yarn so that it will strong enough to hold together.
Spinning Wheels & Ratios
A wheel with a fast flyer or a lace flyer will spin cotton more effieciently.
Fast flyers or lace flyers are made to add more twist in your yarn during spinning.
These flyers have high ratios. A high ratio would be 24:1 or higher.
A ratio is the number of times the flyer goes around (inserting a twist each time) for each revolution of your wheel.
The wheel goes around once each time you treadle.
So if the ratio is 24:1 then the flyer goes around 24 times inserting 24 twists for one treadle.
If you are using a short forward draw –for example a one inch draw – for each treadle then 24 twists will go into that one inch of yarn. (Probably not something you would want).
If you are using the long backward draw and you draw back seven inches and let the yarn go in for each treadle then those 24 twists will spread out over those seven inches.
Cotton Friendly Wheels
Thankfully spinning wheel manufacturers are making fast flyers for our spinning wheels today. Ashford, Louet and Schacht, all available at Cotton Clouds, have fast flyers for many of their wheels. The Ashford wheels also have the Lace Flyer Kit designed to give ratios up to 30:1 to 40:1 for the Traditional and Traveler spinning wheels.
Flyer Driven Wheels
If you have a fast flyer, use that starting with the largest whorl. If you do not have a fast flyer start with the smallest whorl you have.
For all wheels, decrease the tension on the drive band on the wheel until the wheel does not turn at all, and then slowly increase the tension on the wheel just until the wheel turns.
If your wheel has a brake do the same with the brake–take the tension off the brake then slowly increase the brake until the leader on the bobbin starts to be pulled into the orifice. This is your starting point for spinning cotton.
Adjust the tension on the brake first if you need to increase the uptake—that is the “pull-in” of the newly made yarn.
If you have a double drive band you will need to increase the tension on the drive band to increase the uptake of your yarn.
Bobbin Driven Wheels
For Bobbin driven (the drive band is on the bobbin) wheels, you may need to take the brake off completely to slow the uptake of yarn.
If you are still having trouble with your yarn being pulled into the orifice too fast you can slow down the uptake by criss-crossing the yarn on the hooks and starting to spin on a half full bobbin.
Happy Cotton Spinning!
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