Finished spinning this spindle-full of cotton and winding it onto plying ball. I’m gonna count this as “finished” even though it’s only part of a much longer process because it took frickin forever.
Did I mention it took forever?
LOTS of committee meetings, Fiberfrolics, car rides, tv binge-watching. Then had to wind it off the spindle. Now next step is to fill another spindle, wind it off again, then ply (twist) them together. Then rinse and repeat until enough for my weaving project. So probably several more full repeats.
Eventually it’s going to grow up to be woven dishtowels, some assembly required.
The gory TL:DR details for those that care:
This cotton started off as gleaned cotton, which is cotton left on the ground after mechanical harvest that still needs the seeds and dead leaf bits removed. Someone gathered up a bag and gave it to me. The fallen cotton picks up A LOT of tiny dried leaf bits, left after defoliant used before they mechanically harvest cotton. Then of course picking out the seeds. It’s not hard to rig a small DIY gin for getting the seeds out faster, however, it’d do nothing but crush the dried leaves even worse. Slow but it’s better to just do it all by hand. Great for binge-watching TV and audio books.
The next step is to prep the cleaned cotton to spin. I experimented with various options and finally settled on just simply using hand cotton cards to fluff it.
Then it’s spun on a “tahkli” which is a support spindle style originating in India. The typical tahkli normally is a brass whorl (disk) about the size of a quarter that’s affixed to a metal shaft. My particular tahkli (see first pic) is one made by an Etsy artist that’s an enameled steel shaft and the whorl weight is constructed of a mix of wood/glass/metal.
The physics of the tahkli are that it’s center-weighted (vs much larger whorl) so it spins VERY fast, which is necessary to add enough twist to very fine thread of short fiber before it comes apart. Also to that end, it is a support spindle, which means you spin it by flicking while the tip rests in a dish (puts no weight on it to pull apart while building twist). Suspended spindles are tricky for very short fibers. Doable but tricky. Also possible on spinning wheel, but easier on tahkli, plus much more portable project. Tahkli are evolved to spin cotton and do it perfectly. Incidentally, the little dish is a spoon rest I stole from my kitchen.
Of course, while spinning, there’s the inspection process. Meet my inspector, Ethel.
Then it had to be carefully wound off the spindle onto a plying ball (I made in a needle-felting class). Traditionally the core of the ball might be a coin, but I like larger cores. The idea is that it helps make it easier to wrangle very fine thread and keep it under tension. I like the wool cores because they’re light, I can make many sizes/shapes, it’s easy to build in texture/bumps while felting which gives more for the thread to grab and stay in place. Plus they’re fun to make.
The point of a plying ball is to have a storage holder for the thread when plying the threads back together (twisting around each other for strength). Even if I had multiple tahkli (I do), plying directly from it risks uneven tension and broken threads when the thread feeding from it switches abruptly from large to small circumference on the spindle, or if the spindle gets caught in turning as it is feeding, then double that managing two spindles. It’s extra work and time winding, but MUCH smoother feed (equals less breaking thread) plying from balls tumbling around in separate bowls beside me as I pull the thread from them.
I also experimented with ways to smoothly wrangle the spindle when winding. What worked the best, plus easy low-tech and compact storage, was simply laying the spindle on a smooth scrap of leather (low abrasion turning) and light weight over ends with the knitted dish clothes. (Upper left of next image.) It lets the spindle turn freely but not a holder that would scratch up the coating on my spindle. Plus the leather and cloths are something I already carry in the spinning kit. So that sudden moment of inspiration is a big improvement on my previous system in several ways. A keeper. Yay.
So below is a composite of the last process, unloading the spindle to felted plying ball so I can start the process again.