Quite some time ago, I acquired a takli and some raw cotton. In fact, there was a lot of cotton! I have two grocery bags of ginned cotton, which is quite a lot considering how much handling needs to go into spinning a small amount of cotton. It goes a long way!
I have worked with the takli and have a couple small balls of singles in natural white and natural brown cotton. Using a takli is interesting and quite a challenge. I am able to use it to make a pretty good single and that's about as far as it goes. I don't think I would want to use one to spin enough for a shirt! It's a slow process but satisfying to see that you can actually make string with little spinning top and some fluff.
But I needed something that makes cotton yarn faster than that. I do have a small wheel which I have used to spin cotton about 20 years ago. I made a point at that time to spin every day, no matter how late it was or how tired I was. I spun for at least 20 minutes a day, most often longer than that. Once you are sitting at a wheel, you just don't want to stop! I was spinning cotton at that time. I had some pencil roving I got from somewhere and didn't have to do any carding – very nice to spin. Because cotton is so short and doesn't have any scales like wool does, you have to put in a lot of twist to hold it together. I mean, a LOT of twist! It's surprising how much twist you can put into a few cotton fibres and they still won't give up. Because it is so short, you cannot make very thick yarns either, so there is a lot of spinning necessary to make a respectable yarn with some substance. I have a very low ratio on this wheel, so there is a lot of treadling for a few inches of yarn.
I was looking at the cotton I have and decided to give it another try. I have small cards which I have been using for the wool I was spinning, and they work alright with the cotton, although there are more neps and noils produced by them. I make the carded batts into punis, which are tightly rolled tubes of cotton fibres. This makes drafting much easier. With these short fibres, you really should be using the long-draw if you expect to make any progress at all.
Here are some pics of the cotton and the punis. That is a 4 mm needle that I use for making the punis. I tend to spin most of my fibres fine, and this just begs to be spun fine! I am happy to comply. This also means that it takes a very long time to fill a bobbin. As I recall, it took nearly two months of daily spinning to fill a bobbin with cotton singles, and then took over 2 weeks of steady plying. It's a lot of work for only one skein of yarn!
What will I do with the yarn when I am finished? I don't know. It's going to be very fine and it is cotton. It doesn't have the elasticity of wool and will not get softer with washing and blocking. I could knit it into a t-shirt... if I had enough yarn ... but I'm not sure I want to do that much spinning or knitting for that matter! It will just remain in my box of work produced... and may one day be incorporated with something else into a useful item. Until then, I will look at it, fondle it, and say "I made it all by myself".
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