Living in linen country, I may not have a lot of experience growing cotton. I've worked with cotton fibre of course, from boll and prepared fibre, but never successfully grown it.
This year, however, I have (fingers crossed) a very likely chance that I might harvest my very own cotton for the first time. This is exciting for me. Cotton harvest in Canada? Who would have thunk it, eh? After asking some question about cotton growing in another thread here on Permies.com, there were a lot of concerns about how difficult and dangerous it is to work with cotton. With some comparison to the thought that bast fibres like hemp and linen are somehow safer. Perhaps true when we think about industrial methods of processing, but quite the reverse of how they are when home processed on a small scale like is needed to clothe a family.
What a wonderful opportunity to discuss tricks, techniques, hints, and frustrations with processing the two most common plant that clothed humans through most of history: Cotton and Linen.
Linen is yarn/thread and fabric made from the flax plant. Yes, that's the same plant that makes flaxseed, and linseed, and linseed oil, and flaxseed oil. Only, the plants used for making linen clothing have been selected to have very few branches, few seeds, and to focus their energy into making a long, straight stem that has hidden within it beautiful, soft, strong fibres that we can extract through human cunning and ingenuity, to make cloth. Linen is amazing. It's one of the few textiles that is stronger wet than it is dry. After silk, linen has the strongest fibres (of the natural things humans make clothing from).
In the past, the word linen referred to fine cloth made from any bast fibre - be it nettle, hemp, or flax. Bast fibre, (oversimplifying here) is a general term for fibres extracted from the length of the stem or leaf of a plant, unlike cotton which is the fluffy stuff from around the seed.
Nowadays, linen refers specifically to the textile products of the flax plant. At the point where the fibre transform to thread or yarn - that is the moment that the word changes from flax to linen. But before that can happen, the flax must first be pulled, sheafed, stooked, dried, rippled, retted, sheafed, stooked, dried, broken, scrutched, hackled, and then, only then can we start to spin the line flax. Although, if we want to spin the tow, it needs to be furthered hackled, combed, carded or a combination of the above. A lot of steps, many of them involving very pointy spikes, some over two feet long!
Cotton on the other hand is the lovely fluffy stuff that coats the seeds of the cotton plant. However, it's not all sunshine and roses - actually roses are a good analogy, because the cotton fibre is protected by some rather spiky bits.
(Did I mention yet, I'm oversimplifying things for this introductory post? I'll get more technical if people want, but really I just want to write this post as an introduction to the awesomeness of these two fibre sources)
To use the cotton fibre, we must first pick them off the plant, make sure they are dry enough, extract them from the spiky shell, and the more troubling problem of removing the seed from the fibre. Just like flax, the oil that can be extracted from the cotton seed has it's own useful qualities, so in an industrial setting it is desirable to remove every last bit of fibre from the seed. The fibre of course, has other ideas, but meh. Human want's, human does.
The big downside about cotton, is how it's grown and processed in an industrial scale. For me, I have concerns about GMO, heavy agricultural inputs like chemical fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and irrigation. Then there is the transport from the field to the gin, to the spinning mill, to where it's dyed, to the weaving mill, to the sewing sweatshop, to the big warehouse, to the smaller warehouse, to the shops, to my home. That's a lot of transport, and a lot of people who helped to make this pair of jeans I'm wearing as I write this. I worry that the cotton that made these jeans has traveled to more countries than I have, and how little were all those people paid that were involved in this one piece of clothing? To make it so affordable for me? The more aware of this I am, the more concerned I am for the wellbeing of people and the environmental impact on the planet. This is why I am so interested in textiles. Things like this that I worry about in the world aren't going to go away until individuals start taking responsibility for their actions - in this case responsibility for what I wear.
ops, a bit close to being political. Sorry. Just wanted to highlight the issues. Anyone want to discuss the problems with the clothing industry , we should probably move to the cider press part of the permies.com form.
Instead, let this thread be about solutions. A positive place to find answers to challenges that we encounter.
Unlike flax, there are surprisingly few steps to transform cotton from harvest to cloth. Get the fibre out of the pointy pods, get the fibre out of the seeds (not always necessary as you will see in future posts), and then organize the fibre to make it easy to spin.
Cotton is far more insulating than flax and other bast fibres. It is soft from the get-go, whereas linen needs time and abuse before it becomes soft.
The closer to the equator you live, the better cotton will grow. The closer to the poles you get, the better flax will grow. Flax loves cooler weather, cotton hot summers with long frost free season. Cotton likes nutrient rich soil, fibre flax is forgiving and will grow nearly anywhere with a fine tilth. Chances are you live somewhere that will grow flax or cotton. Both are lovely fibres to work with, but each has their challenges too.
As time permits over the next few days, I hope to write a post introducing each linen and cotton, with a more detailed explanation of how they transform from harvest to cloth.
In the mean time, perhaps you have personal experience working with these fibres? Please share your story and creations. Any questions about working with these amazing fibres, feel free to ask.
This could mean so many things to so many people, so I'll take the time to define it.
It totally varies depending on the material being used - and the user. If it was wool, I would say no more than 4 fleeces, or 25 pounds, of wool per month, washed, processed, spun and woven. Cotton on the other hand, I would consider a pound a year plenty to keep me happy. But unless you are use to working with wool or cotton, these numbers aren't very useful to you.
To make it more meaningful so that both fibre artisans and those only mildly interested in textiles can easily see what I mean, I'm going to give it totally different definition than normally used, for the purpose of this thread.
Home scale or small scale fibre processing would provide 4 people, 2 adults and 2 kids, with two complete sets of clothes per year. Summer clothes, winter clothes. Plus a few blankets and maybe a bit of extra cloth to sell for pin money. It could be less than this, but I think more than this would require some serious dedication of time and materials which the enthusiast is willing to invest in.
To a fibre artist, this actually isn't that much to do, but when you look at most of human history, this is a good deal more than most people would get. 2 sets of clothes, per year!?! And yet to the modern point of view, it's pathetic.
Clothes in the past were made with such skill and attention, that an item of clothing could easily last a person many years of daily use. So, a linen dress may last 5 years, or even 15. Harvested, processed, spun, woven and sewn by hand and it lasts that long.
Handmade clothing doesn't have to be frumpy and weak. It can be delicate, luxurious, hard wearing, whatever the artizan wishes. But to make good quality, takes time and attention. That's why I suggest this meaning for small scale fibre processing.
A brief introduction of how to transform cotton into yarn or thread on a home scale; with a strong focus on how to do so with minimum amount of tools and infrastructure.
With a stick and some cotton fluff, one can easily make yarn. Yarn, plus a stick or two, and you have all you need to make fabric. Fabric, a stick, and a bit of leftover yarn, and now it's clothing.
Most handspinners buy their cotton commercially prepared in rovings, which are like long, soft snakes of cotton fibres that have been organized by machine so that the individual fibres all more or less point the same direction. Cotton fluff is made up of lots of little fibres, like soft hairs, that usually range from 5/8th of an inch to 1 and 1/2 inch long. These can be dyed, bleached, or even the natural colour of the cotton.
Different kinds of cotton plants produce different colours of cotton fibres: White, cream, tan, brown, green, yellow, red-brown, and fawn to name a few. White is the most common crop in the world - which to my mind means that if you have naturally coloured cotton, then it's probably less... um, influenced... by larger corporations who take a strong interest in growing cash crops.
For home processing the cotton the fibre is removed from the boll and then the seed is removed from the fibre. Before spinning, the fibres are usually organized in some way to make spinning a smooth, consistent yarn/thread easier.
Here's an interesting video about spinning cotton WITHOUT removing the seed first.
For most types of cotton, the fibres stick really well to the seeds and we have trouble getting every last bit of fibre off. My personal preference is to leave these final bits of cotton on the seed. In my limited experience, these final bits of fibre tend to be shorter than the main body of fluff, and the fibres feel more brittle in my hands.
For processing large amounts of cotton, one can use a small cotton gin to remove the fibres from the seeds. I find it quite quick and easy to pick the seeds out of the cotton with my fingers, so I don't know if it would be worth investing in a gin unless I processed from scratch a pound or more of cotton a year.
We can spin the fibre as it is, and it will make a lovely, textured yarn. However, the yarn won't have a lot of strength. It would be good for weaving as weft, or played with a stronger yarn for knitting or crochet. However, the final product would not be long wearing. For clothing, it helps to organize the fibre before we start spinning.
Carding the cotton fibres into a puni makes it very easy to spin on a spindle or wheel. This is very popular method during the Guandi spinning movement in India, as it's fast, simple, and easy to do - once you get the hang of it.
As you can see in this video, it is done using two paddles with bent wires - these are called 'hand carders' and is in my opinion, one of the most undervalued tool when it comes to making fabric.
Later in the video you see spinning on a Takli spindle. It's a very light weight supported spindle that goes really fast and is excellent for spinning cotton thread. The method she uses to draft apart the fibres in the video is called a (modified) short draw, it is usually reserved for making yarn from wool or other animal fibres. With a short fibre like cotton, I find it really slows me down to use this kind of draw/drafting technique. Instead, I prefer the long draw style like in this video.
At the moment, I spin about 12 to 24 feet of fine cotton thread per minute. I'm not very proficient with this tool - yet, but with daily practice I hope to become much better. The biggest advantage of a spindle for making any kind of yarn is that it is portable.
Just about any support spindle will do well for spinning cotton. Unlike most spindles, a support spindle does not hang by the thread as it makes it, but instead, it rests it's bottom in a bowl. Here's a video with a Russian style spindle and a long draw which (in my opinion) is awesome for spinning cotton.
The other most common tool for transforming cotton fluff into yarn is a Charkha. This style of wheel is called a spindle wheel, which is driven by a larger drive wheel and often an accelerator. On my book charkha, one revolution of the drive wheel makes the spindle spin over 220 revolutions. For comparison, most spinning wheels these days have a ratio of 1:8. Spinning cotton on this tool is far more spiritual for me than any other spinning. Although the charkha, especially the book charkha, wheel is highly portable, and it goes so much faster than a tahkli spindle, I find that I don't like to take my charkha with me. It requires room for the arm to swing while drawing the yarn and I am constantly interrupted by people wondering what I'm doing. If I'm in the mood for public education, the charkha certainly draws a crowd. However, I usually reserve it for a bit of before bed meditative spinning as a friendly way to wind down from a busy day.
SOB! Help! Mods, save me! This would be so much more awesome if I could make the videos work.
Edited by moderator to fix video links
Cotton, we can just grab handfuls of fluffy stuff right off the plant and start making yarn. Linen/flax on the other hand, has it's fibres hidden within it's stem, surrounded by hard stuff (boon) and connected together with a sort of glue like substance. It takes several different stages to extract the fibres from the stem.
I'll write more on linen later, but right now it's time to do some actual farming.
To process linen from flax takes very dry environment. I know, I know, most of your reading probably tells you that getting flax ready to spin happens in the winter, or the 'down time' on the farm. Well, that's not here. Here, the down time is about 6 weeks in the summer between getting your summer crops going in the ground and waiting till it's time to plant your winter crops. Locally this is the dry time, and locally this is when we get flax ready to spin into linen.
Once the flax is grown, sheathed, stooked and dried, it is then retted. Retting is a controlled rotting which helps to separate the 'glue' that sticks the nice soft fibres to the woody bit inside the stem of the plant. Retting can be done in water, usually in a slow moving streem. However on a large scale, this can be (at best) stinky, but normally quite damaging to the local water supply. So most people these days Dew Rett. For dew retting we lay the flax on the ground, on the short grass, at a time of year when there is dew, but the weather is also fairly warm. Locally that's early spring or about now in the fall. We flip the flax every few days to make certain that it retts evenly. This can take anywhere from a few days to two months depending on the conditions. When ready we dry the stocks again and wait for a dry day to work the flax.
What comes next is separating the fibres from the rest of the stem. There is a pithy core and a hard straw like outside to the stem. In between the two, that's where the lovely fibres live. If the air is moist, the fibres stick back to the sticky bits of the stem and it's very difficult to separate. Thus, rain stop play.
Since I don't have the equipment myself, I hope to take some photos at the next flax to linen demonstration. Some of the big spiky things not to mention the horrible finger eating break are more impressive if you can see them for yourself.
Looks like I'm about to find out what it's like to gin by hand that much cotton.
I started already, however, my hands don't like touching this cotton as much as normal. Possibly because it's not organic cotton and just before harvest, commercial cotton is often coated with a defoliant (leaf getterridofer). Or possibly it was stored in a house with scented air - either of which would give me a rash.
It's going to be fun doing that much cotton in one go, but it will probably have to wait till the new year - right now is the start of my Christmas spinning for sale.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Removing the seed.
Apparently, there is a kind of cotton where the seed is quite smooth, and the fluffy stuff isn't 'stuck' to the seed. However, that's not the type I have. I have the stuff where the cotton fluffy stuff is firmly attached to the seed. With the smooth seed variety, one can easily remove lots of seeds using a metal rod or rolling pin set up. The seeds that cling to the fibre, however, are the kind that usually go through the cotton gin with the saw blade style, don't get your arm stuck in it kind of machine.
In a home processing setting, one doesn't need a gin to remove the seeds. The key is not to grab hold of the seed, but to lightly grab hold of the fibre on either side of the seed, and push the seed out. It's quite quick and easy to do. My arthritic hands find it mildly tiring after an hour, but by that time, there is a nice pile of seedless fluffy stuff that we can card.
Next, it's time to organize the cotton for spinning. There are many ways to do this that are easy to do in a home setting. One way involves hitting it with willow switches to create a lofty cloud that can then be spun into yarn. Another way involves spinning the fibre right off the seed.
My preference is to card the cotton into punis. Two cards are used, each card is a paddle with lots of tiny wires on it, each about 1/4 inch long, bent, all at the same angle, and so close together than if you put your hand on it, it is difficult to poke yourself. For cotton, I use the cards that have 108 wires per inch which are the Ashford Fine hand cards. We 'charge' the cards by putting the unorganized fibre on one side...
... then use the other card to gently organize the fibre. It's a lot like brushing hair - we start at the tip of the fibre, brush out the knots, then move up a bit. It takes a bit of getting use to, as the natural instinct is to brush the wires together instead of brushing the fibres with the wire. Brushing the wires together not only damages the cards, damages the fibres, but worse, it makes the poor person use more muscles and tire quickly. Once one gets the knack to carding fibre, cotton or otherwise, it's fast and easy. I find hand carding to be the quickest way of organizing fibres, outside a commercial fibre mill.
It is easy to compress and disorganize cotton, which makes it difficult to spin. To avoid this, I like to roll it into punis, which are tightly rolled, carded cotton. They look like cotton cigars. I use a knitting needle, and roll the carded cotton around the needle, then roll the needle, in the same direction, until the cotton is firm and won't disorganize in storage. Because these are now cigar shaped, I keep the punis in a cigar box until I'm ready to spin. One to four punis fill a spindle (depending on size of punis, size of spindle, and spinning style).
Now the cotton is ready to make into yarn. Fast and easy. Unlike wool, there is no need to wash the fibre before spinning. Unlike flax, one does not have to ret, break or hackle. Simply isolate the fluffy stuff, organize it (if you like), and spin it.
Additional photos borrowed from my blog, Trampled by Geese
Once it's harvested, sheathed, stooked and dried, the next step is to remove the seeds. This is called Rippling. For a small amount, one can use a rolling pin and cloth to press the seed pods open and release the seeds. Once opened, the seed pods act like shards of glass on the hand, causing slivers and all sorts of nasty, bloody mess. Removing flax seeds with a dowel and cloth is far too slow for me, and only useful if one is processing a couple of handfuls of flax.
A flax ripple
consists of one to four rows of thick, spikes, between 10 to 30 inches long. These are usually made of metal because it's easier to construct and lasts a good deal longer than wood. The first ripple in the above link, looks more like a distaff than a ripple, but there is a lot of regional variation of tools and methods to process flax.
The seed ends of the dried flax plant are passed through the ripple, the space between the spikes is just large enough for the plant stock to pass through, but not the seed pod. The seed pod pops off the plant and collects on a cloth which can be thrashed (beaten with a stick) and winnowed (remove the chaff from the seed).
Once the seeds are removed, the stocks can be stored somewhere dry (and away from fire) until the weather is right for retting. Retting is a controlled rotting that breaks down the pectin and other sticky substances that glues the fibre into the stem. After retting, the flax is dried again.
When the weather is dry, and only when dry, we can finish preparing flax for spinning.
We use a break to chop away at a handful of retted flax stems.
This is a very nice, double break. Normally they only have one up and down thingy, but this one has two. The... for lack of a better word... blades of the break are tapered, like the edge of a knife, only blunt at the end. If one gets a bit enthusiastic, one can easily break an arm in this device.
After the break, we scrutch. A wooden sword is used to flake away the boon from the broken stems, leaving mostly fibre behind.
These fibres are then hackled:
Hackles are big spiky things and this is where I loose the most skin. Modern day hackles are usually made from nails, or round metal spikes about 6 inches long. There are usually three or more stages of hackles, coarse, medium and fine. Here's the photo of the coarse ones my friend lent me.
As the debris is removed, and the fibres are organized, we move from coarser to finer hackles. Some people even use a florist spiky thing for their fine hackles, which work quite well.
For the most part, modern hackles are very tame. A traditional hackle is not made of round spikes, but rather of triangular or square spikes, with a very fine point and raisor sharp edges. These are far more efficient than the round spikes, but also better at tearing flesh. This is why most people don't use them, however with the square spikes, we can process flax much faster and create a better result. An example of traditional hackles here.
The end result is called line flax and is used to create the finest linen yarn. There is a lot of fibres that are too short and get combed out during the hackling. These are called Tow and can be re-hackled to create various qualities of spinning fibre.
So there you have it. A few tools for home processing cotton and linen. Perhaps you see now why I laugh at the thought that home processing cotton is dangerous. We have only the spiky boll shell to contend with, whereas flax (and to a lesser degree wool) require far more dangerous tools. That said; on a commercial scale, all textile fibres are processed using dangerous tools, which is perhaps the origin of the myth that home processing cotton is more dangerous than other fibres.
Pictures borrowed from my blog, Trampled by Geese
As for making two sets of clothes for everyone in the family, wasn't it one set of clothes and room and board that was the typical salary of medieval servants?
If you're making your own clothes, especially ones starting from fibers instead of cloth, they should last a lot longer than merely several years. Spun worsted, wool can be made into cloth that will last decades, not mere years.
The staple length of the cotton fibres can make a lot of difference, so I've read, in commercial processing. However, in a home setting, there's very little change in technique or tools. I've worked with several different kinds of cotton now, and I feel that the quality of the yarn has more to do with the spinner and due attention fibre prep than the variety of cotton. It seems that year to year, the quality of the individual fibres can vary, even on the same plant (when grown as a perennial). The weather for that year and the spinner seem to have more effect than the specific cultivar.
That said, I do like the longer staple lengths of Barbadense cotton (Pima, Sea Island, and some Egyptian Cotton) which can have up to two inch staple length, and the wonderful coloured cotton varieties bred by Sally Fox. I think I like these longer staples better because they are closer to wool which is my primary fibre. Once the fibre is in a puni, it's difficult for me to tell the difference between the different staple lengths.
I don't know much about the wages of a person during the middle ages, but it's an area that interests me. Can you recommend any books on the topic?
My idea of two sets of clothes is more from agricultural labour. Looking at England, circa 1371, they would need at minimum two work shifts/underdress, one linen kirtle or outer dress. One wool outer dress for working, probably two (one for basic daily chores, and one for grubby chores), and one full set of good clothes for going to church. Of course, how many clothes the person owned varies depending on the wealth and status of the villain or freeman.
Looking at more modern times - circa 1940s - agricultural workers would have two main sets of clothes, one for church, and one for working in the fields. As Sunday Best wears out, it gets downgraded to daily wear and replaced with something new.
But would they need to replace their clothes every year? Absolutely not. You are completely correct. They would replace a piece here and there as it wore out. Wool and linen, especially, wear well when treated well. A wool dress can last a generation or three. Linen even longer.
However, modern attitude towards washing and caring for fabric have been influenced by the whole 'better living through chemistry' school of thought. Our machines are tough on clothes, not to mention the chemicals in our detergent (instead of the more traditional soap) and city water treatment. I think a reasonable life expectancy of a quality, handmade garment in daily use is about 5 years. Much longer if treated correctly. Given how most people are use to having several changes of clothes and not smelling like manure for a week if they happen to wrestle sheep in the muck the day after washing day... I think two new sets of clothes per year, would be a good expectation for modern people in a home processing setting.
I've been trying to get some of the original Sea Island cotton, but it hasn't been commercially grown since 1920 and the seeds in the USDA seed banks were gathered in the 30's so there was a period of time where the seed could have degraded. Boll weevils and war across the cotton fields is what is supposed to have taken down the Sea Island white as a commercial crop. There are a couple plants of what is supposed to be Bleak Hall Sea Island white growing out in the garden, but other plants grown from the same seed only had a staple length of an inch and a quarter to an inch and a half, not the two inches and a half inches like we're trying to get so I don't know if it is true seed or not. True Sea Island white (or at least what we're trying to get) is supposed to have a staple length of two to two and a half inches, be somewhat shiny and very soft. Not sure if there will be any crimp in it or not, but cotton has very little stretch so probably not. So far we've only gotten up to an inch and a half on a good day, not quite what we're looking for but we're still working on it.
Commercial processing for cotton seems to be primarily for upland cotton. It sets bolls in a determinate fashion so they can all be harvested and processed by machine. I think they grow it as an annual for mechanical harvesting. From what I've heard, Sea Island is a perennial and indeterminate cotton, so it sets bolls later than upland and not all at the same time. Which is not so good for mechanical harvesting. I've not noticed any sharp spines on the Sea Island, although I've had limited harvesting of it so maybe I've just not met them yet. Oh, and a fellow I've been chatting about Sea Island with said his typically has three lobes on the boll instead of the more typical four for upland. But, this is just anecdotal information.
According to what I've seen online, once they get the upland harvested, the lint is removed from the seed by saw blade looking gins. The longer staple Sea Island is supposed to be roller ginned, but I can't find any commercial roller gins in the US who will process small amounts of cotton and then send that cotton back to the grower. I'm looking for something like a small woolen mill, but working in cotton. The big cotton mills may buy cotton from folks, but they won't process it and send it back. Which means the grower is kept at the wholesale level in the transaction and doesn't get to the retail level of income.
I've heard that if you have a long staple cotton which comes off the seed easily, you can gin it with a hand cranked pasta maker. I'm thinking a hand cranked pasta maker with some sort of rubber coating on the rollers might gin it easier, too. Wouldn't take much, a couple sheets of some sort of rubbery vinyl stuff fed through the rollers and the tail end held down with a bit of rubber cement would let you take the rubber covers off and on depending on what you were using the pasta maker for. Or they make a rubber coating for tool handles, that might work to coat the rollers, if the rollers need coating at all, of course. Not that I've tried this yet, of course. Other than lacking the cotton to process, there isn't a hand cranked pasta maker yet. There's the one that fits on the Kitchen Aid and I'd use that for processing cotton, but not for putting rubber on since I'd still be using that for pasta, too.
We have several different colors of cotton on the island, I've seen greens and browns, although the staple length on the brown isn't anywhere near useful, IMHO. The darkest browns have more what looks like dryer lint than useful cotton lint on them, but they are colored. There's supposed to be some other colors in South America, too, I think. Reds and pinks, but I've not seen any of those in person. The white is preferred by the commercial folks since then they can dye it any color they want. Somewhat like sheep breeding, the big commercial mills (the wool pool) will only buy white wool. Any colored fibers and they won't accept the fleece. I buy the colored fleeces from a local shepard with Merino and Merino crosses since he can't sell them to the wool pool. He says he has a gray Merino for me this year, usually it's been shades of brown. Also a Dorsett and two Clun Forest ram fleeces. Those should be lovely. The more open fleeces spin up a lot faster than the Merinos, although part of that may be because the Merino is a bigger fleece, too.
Sorry, I don't have any book references for medieval clothing-as-part-of-annual-salary. I've seen several references to it in a variety of books, but only as a passing reference for household livery and such. Room, board and a set of clothes seems to have been fairly common, although they also used "vails" and other sorts of tip type payments during the course of the year. Special "largesse" at various times or various reasons, but not as part of the annual pay. Part of this reading was from looking up medieval dress styles for the Society of Creative Anachronism. I'd had some friends in the SCA and they'd stage events during the year and they preferred folks to dress in period costume if possible so I'd gone to the library to look up medieval clothing.
I'm suspecting modern clothing also gets washed more often than it's earlier counterparts. I've got a tendency to toss work clothes into a pile and then if I'm gonna be doing something mucky, just taking them off the dirty clothes pile and using them again. It doesn't matter if they're dirty if I'm just gonna add more dirt. That also works for jeans and such. They'll get worn several times before being washed, especially if they've not been gotten particularly dirty the time before. But, I know folks who change clothes several times a day and wash them after they've been worn once. Most of these folks are the young and fashionable who have parents who do their laundry. I've noticed that once they start doing their own laundry this clothes changing activity slows way down.
Hmm, if a good set of clothes will last a minimum of five years and you get two new sets of clothes a year, then wouldn't you end up with fifteen sets before the first one wore out? With fifteen sets, there'd be less wear and tear on them overall so then the clothes should start lasting longer and the clothing should start multiplying. Maybe two sets of clothes until you have so many sets and then down to one set per year or just replacing what wears out? On my list of clothing to make (although it's with bought cloth, not hand made cloth) is two pairs of shorts, one loose dress and a pullover shirt. Those are mostly to replace what's wearing out, but there's no rush on this and they probably won't be made until maybe next year sometime. Part of this has to do with moving house, if there weren't other projects first (like ceilings, it would be nice to have some ceilings and not look at the underside of a tin roof) then new clothing would have been worked on. Probably kitchen curtains will be made before new clothes, but kitchen curtains don't need replacing all that often at all.
I've read in different places about "small clothes" and "clothes presses". Small clothes is pretty much underwear, I think, and apparently they had more changes of that than outerwear. Although if they were really poor, they may not have had any small clothes at all, which would then result in rashes and boils, one would think? Do you know what a "clothes press" was? All I can think of to press it would be to put it under their sleeping place. I'm not sure they had mattresses when they had clothes presses, though, so I don't want to use the term "mattress". "Trews" is another medieval clothing term I've not quite got a handle on, either. Oh well, we have to make the fabric before we have to worry about what trews are.
Thank you for telling us more about cotton. There is so much to learn. I appreciate you taking the time to write about the different kinds. I think there should be a hand crank roller gin available from here
Hmm, if a good set of clothes will last a minimum of five years and you get two new sets of clothes a year, then wouldn't you end up with fifteen sets before the first one wore out?
You're right, it does seem a bit excessive - two sets of clothes a year.
I chose it for this thread as a of bench mark. Two sets isn't a taxing amount of cloth to make in a year. Two sets of clothes is also something people can easily imagine. Some readers may not have worked with textiles before; thus the idea of what home processing scale would look like.
My thoughts for this thread were: these are the materials, these are the tools involved, this is the kind of work, and here's what is possible with a little effort and enthusiasm.
Do you know what a "clothes press" was? All I can think of to press it would be to put it under their sleeping place. I'm not sure they had mattresses when they had clothes presses, though, so I don't want to use the term "mattress". "Trews" is another medieval clothing term I've not quite got a handle on, either.
In Britain, a press is a wooden cabinet for storing fabric items. I believe it's still a common term in Ireland, and in England exists mostly as a 'linen press' in posh English houses for storing the bed sheets.
'Trews' is common slang for trousers, so I'm guessing the original medieval version of trousers were the real 'trews'.
Edit - I've just remembered, what I call 'trousers', most of you probably call 'pants'. What I call 'pants' are, I guess, what you guys call 'underpants'? Divided by a common language, and all that...
Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
What is the best type of spinning wheel for working with cotton?
The one that fits your budget and works well with your body.
Which isn't much help if you're just starting out because there are loads to choose from. Here is a selection I like.
A support spindle is my favourite place to start. This one is made specifically for cotton and is very popular in India.
Learning on a spindle lets one slow down the process and focus on the individual steps. It's affordable and once you get the hang of it, it's fast. Another advantage is that it is portable. Even though you may spin less per minute on a spindle than one will on a wheel, it's portability means you can usually spin more in a day with a spindle than a wheel.
A regular spinning wheel can be used to spin cotton, but it's not something I enjoy using. Others do enjoy this, so it's worth trying it out. What I do like is putting a quill or spindle on a spinning wheel, like the Ashford quill spindle. This is excellent for spinning cotton with as you have so much more control than with a flyer and bobbin set up.
A Book Charkha is another great way to spin cotton. Small and fairly portable, this has an accelerator which speeds up the process quite a bit. You can see it on the far left of this picture.
At the moment, I'm doing most of my cotton spinning on my great wheel (also known as a walking wheel).
The big disadvantage is that we stand at the wheel to work it, using our whole body. But this is also what I like best about it. It's like spinning yoga.
This wheel has an excellent response to the spinner and with the miners head accelerator, has an extremely fast ratio. One draw is about 4 yards long, and that takes three turns of the big wheel. So, I'm doing 4 yards per 10 seconds or so... that's a guess, I haven't actually timed myself.
There are quite a few great wheels around, but they take a lot of space. As they are usually over 100 years old, they usually require a bit of repair and some love to keep them in tip-top shape.
Hope that helps a bit.
Thanks, again -- I will be referring to your fiber threads frequently in the future.
r ranson wrote:I find that drop spindles are difficult to spin cotton with. Cotton is such a short fibre and needs loads of twist, that a regular drop spindle can't put the twist in fast enough and is too heavy for the yarn. A little support spindle like this Tahkli spindle works wonders. You rest the tip in the bowl, and it spins fast. Having the spindle supported in one hand, allows the other hand to do a long draw (woolen if it were wool) which is one of the fastest ways to hand spin.
Have you ever seen one of these https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iP9_5bmZUns&feature=youtu.be? I have a wheel and have taught spinning with a Navajo thigh spindle, but thought this device would be easy for beginners to learn on as there is no weight placed on the fiber. I've never spun cotton though so don't know how it would perform on short fibers. Your thoughts?
I suspect cotton would work with this one, but I would probably be frustrated by it because it doesn't spin very quickly. It also yanks on the yarn a bit with each turn, which is fine for wool or most fibres, but not so great for cotton.
For me, I like support spindles for cotton because they spin so much faster than most other spindles. However, if everyone was the same, we wouldn't have different kinds of spindles. Thankfully we aren't all identical.
If possible, try as many different kinds of spindles as possible to see what fits your style best. Cotton isn't tricky to learn, but it takes a different technique than wool or linen. Practice helps tremendously.
Here's a collection of different support spindles. The whorl isn't very big, so it doesn't have as far to travel. Some of them have the shape of the spindle and the yarn as the 'whorl'. They generally have a very fine tip that rests in a bowl. Low friction means they can spin very very fast.
You can also make your own with a bead and a stick or bit of coat hanger.
Going Green wrote:I would love to know more about the whole process from sourcing the seed to growing and harvesting
It is something I would like to have a go at, I love working with cotton so growing my own and processing it myself seems like the next step.
Likewise, I would be interested to know if growing a few plants is worthwhile in terms of yield. How many northern-grown plants would be needed to end up with a pound of usable fiber? What varieties have the longest fiber for novice cotton spinners?.........
Since I've only grown cotton plants in depleted soil with little or no water, I'm not sure what a 'normal' yield would look like. Probably a lot more than what I'm getting.
Three years with 4 to 6 plants, has gotten me about a pound of fibre in my conditions.
One boll (seed pod) gave me one puni (prepared carded fibre) which gave me this much cloth (it's the brown bit)
I wonder if we want a thread just for growing and using cotton (since this one focuses on linen as well).
Kathleen Sanderson wrote:A thread for just cotton might be a good idea, though I am also interested in linen.
I think so too, I visit this thread only to see if there's new information on linen / flax. No cotton grows here in the Netherlands. But flax does (and nettles even better).
Flax brake, and comb, mounted on the same box that the corn sheller uses. I use the handle of the brake as my scutching sword. (beating the fibers against the sword, rather than swinging the sword.
I guess that I have flaxen hair.
Edit to add: I should have used a dust mask while processing the flax. Cough, cough, gag.