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Using Cottonwood Fiber

 
Adrien Lapointe
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Has anyone tried to use the "cotton" from cottonwood to make fibre?

It seems like it would be a good idea to use fibres from a perennial plant to clothe ourselves.
 
garrett lacey
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Location: Edmonton Alberta
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http://whatdoino-steve.blogspot.ca/2009/07/cottonwood-untapped-alaskan-resource.html


That link suggests that someone had reasonable success spinning a blend of cotton/cottonwood. I wonder if there are other things that would work to blend with it, flax maybe?. The issue with the cottonwood fibre seems to be that it may have shorter fibres making it difficult to spin.
 
Deb Berman
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I've been spinning cottonwood fiber for years. Individual trees are quite variable in staple length and fiber quality, suggesting that varieties that are especially good could be selected for and/or bred. I like it a lot as a fiber. It's every bit as strong as cotton, and the staple length is fine for spinning a high-twist yarn, plus the nicest trees produce a fiber that has a nice luster to it. I have thought for a long time that cottonwood fiber has the potential to be a nice sustainable perennial source for cellulose fiber yarns.

 
Adrien Lapointe
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Deb,

do you have any pictures of the process and/or the end result?

Adrien
 
Deb Berman
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I don't have pictures but the process is pretty straightforward:

1. Collect a bunch of cottonwood cotton (the cleaner the better)

2. Pick the obvious bits of sticks, leaves, seeds etc out of it

3. Ideally, card it with cotton cards, or some fairly fine, soft carding equipment or brush (I frequently don't bother with this step for just a small amount, but if you want a really uniform smooth yarn this makes it much easier)

4. Spin it with a small lightweight drop spindle, or a wheel that's good for high twist short staple yarns. What wheels work best are probably going to be really user dependent, since every handspinner has his/her own preferences. The main thing is to put enough twist in the yarn that it doesn't fall apart, but not so much that the yarn ends up stiff and ropey. Also, how much twist you want to put in is somewhat dependent on what you plan to do with the yarn. If you want to weave with it but are only using it for weft you won't need as strong a yarn as you would for warp.

5. Ply it as desired (again dependent on what you want to use it for --a plied yarn will be stronger than singles, especially for beginning spinners or when first learning how to spin a new fiber).

6. Wash it. I always wash things in lukewarm water, probably because I'm lazy and don't want to have to think about it, but I actually recommend experimenting in this case, as there isn't a lot of information available about it and we might as well start researching it.

7. Dry it under tension --this is what people usually do for cotton yarns, and often for other fibers also. It helps to "set the twist".

8. Try to be patient --it always takes a while to learn how a new fiber behaves. If you're not feeling patient then I'd recommend blending it with some kind of wool --even a little bit can make all the difference, as wool is very forgiving and practically spins itself, so you don't have to pay such close attention.


If I have time later in the spring when the cottonwoods are shedding their cotton, I'll see if I can send some pictures. Some willows around here also produce a lot of cotton some years, which is also spinnable but tends to be even shorter staple, requiring more attention and patience, but still doable.
 
Devon Olsen
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Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
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a shirt made of cottonwood cotton sure would be nice to have, perhaps next year ill try to prod someone with an interest in making their own yarn into trying it out...
 
Larry Morgan
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Dear Deb,
I'm writing a paper for a conference on sustainability that shall be held in Cape Town (http://www.lensesconference.polimi.it/) and I'm quoting this forum and your interesting experience with cottonwood fiber.
Could you share the images of your "cottonwood shirt" and more information? Do you think we can email each other?...

Larry
 
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