Spinning Cotton on a Wheel
by Jill Holbrook
First, know your wheel-
1. Single Drive, Flyer Lead: The flyer turns with the wheel and the bobbin is braked. The brake band is very sensitive to adjustments to increase or decrease the take up by increasing or decreasing the brake.
For cotton, use a small whorl with a ratio of 12 or higher. Loosen the tension and increase it in tiny increments until the leader goes into the orifice but you can hold it back as needed.
2. Single Drive, Bobbin Lead: The bobbin turns with the wheel and the flyer is braked. The bobbin whorl determines the ratio. This wheel is perfect for soft spun wools.
It requires a few adjustments for fine yarns and for cotton as the take up is fast. A half filled bobbin or a piece of foam wrapped around the center of the bobbin can slow down the take up. Threading the yarn across several hooks can also slow the take up and thus the pull on the spun yarn. Remove the brake for cotton spinning.
3. Double Drive: The flyer and the bobbin are turned by the same band. The mother of all is moved to adjust the take up.
For cotton, decrease the take up. With this type of wheel it may require more treading to provide enough twist in the cotton.
Before each session of spinning, oil all required areas of your wheel and clean and oil the shaft and check that the bobbin spins freely. Treadle after oiling.
For cotton spinning, put on your smallest whorl. This allows for a higher ratio between the whorl and the wheel and thus puts more twist in the yarn for each turn of the wheel. Adjust the drive band so it is just enough to get the flyer to turn and loosen the brake so there is just barely any take up. Test this with your leader and be prepared to make adjustments again when you start spinning.
Cotton Fiber & Spinning-
Cotton Sliver has a direction to it. This is it can be easier to spin and spin better in one direction. If you are getting a lot of lumps especially a series of equally spaced bumps, try turning the sliver around. This should draft better. Put a clip or string on the correct end.
The Long Draw:
The long draw is the easiest and fastest way to spin cotton on a wheel or spindle. Cotton fibers love to stick together. The trick is to not hold the cotton tight. Hold the cotton very lightly.
Begin by laying the cotton onto the leader. Begin treadling slowly and watch the cotton grab onto the leader. Draft back slowly with the back hand that has the fiber.
The forward hand stays close to the orifice and acts like a “gate” – opening and closing the thumb and index finger to allow twist or prevent twist while the drafting hand is moving back. Stop and check the yarn at intervals for too much twist or not enough.
Plying and Finishing Cotton-
For weaving, no finishing is required. You can take the yarn straight from the wheel, wind it onto a bobbin for your shuttle and weave with it. The finishing is done in the cloth.
For knitting or for warp most people prefer plied yarns. As there a high twist in spun cotton, it works best to tension the yarns while plying to prevent tangling.
Use a tensioned lazy kate or add tensioning to one by braking the bobbins or adding drag where the bobbin turns. Once the yarns are plied, wrap them around a niddy noddy or other holding device to make a skein.
Tie at least three figure 8 ties around the skein. Then soak in hot tap water for 30 minutes with a dish detergent that does not have bleach and does have a surfactant such as Dawn.
If you wish to finish a yarn that is a single, it must be kept tensioned or it will be snarled. Wind the yarn onto a PVC pipe bobbin and simmer it in a pan for 20 minutes. Another option is to steam the yarn while it is on a niddy noddy. Both of these are finishing techniques. The yarn should not return to a kinky yarn.