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Using Cottonwood Fiber

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.

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.
(1 like, 1 apple)
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.


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

(1 like, 3 apples)
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.
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...
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?...

Just bringing this to the top because I found an awesome resource yesterday. When branches break off in a windstorm, it can be easy to gather a whole lot at once. They can be laid or hung in a sheltered location until they pop open. I'm wondering if ms Ranson has any experience with this?

There's currently lots of this material by the trails around Elk Lake, near Victoria.

I don't imagine that I will gather it and make string, but it sure seems like an expedient way to stuff a pillow.
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The people in my valley are miserable right now... They have runny-noses. Their eyes are puffy. They are coughing. They look sick. Yup. The cottonwoods are dropping their fluff.
(0 likes, 1 apple)
I did a little harvesting test yesterday. I went around an area with lots of pods on the ground and gathered for 10 minutes. It takes a lot of fluff to amount to anything when you compress it in a bag. I was careful to not include the woody seed portion. I could see it becoming quite tedious.

My pile looks like quite a bit, but when I squeeze the air out of it, it's slightly larger than a baseball. When the pressure is released and it's allowed to expand, it's probably half the size of an average loaf of bread. For this to work at all, I would need to find an efficient method of harvest. But then, I didn't have to plant, water or weed it.

I could see that if branches were brought inside a sunroom before they pop, they could be allowed to  finish within the still space. Then the material could be carefully gathered without much loss. There were a few areas along a pathway, where I was able to gather loose fluff fairly easily with my fingers. I have a small cordless Makita vacuum cleaner that would probably gather this material efficiently and compact it somewhat.

....... side note
In 1982, I found myself trapped on a high plateau in Newfoundland on a warm day that turned into a rainy and snowy night, in the middle of summer. I very quickly gathered a hockey bag, half full of pods from milkweed or some other similar plant and spent an uncomfortable night huddled in my insulated bag.
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What about crocheting a lacy wrap for young women? or a light blanket for babies? It might have its problems, but it IS soft.
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