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Friday, 20 July 2012

Challenging Cotton

The 18th July was challenge day for the Tour de France riders as they had a gruelling climb through the Pyrenees.  So participants in the Tour de Fleece also had a challenge day.  We had to spin something difficult - perhaps a new type of fibre, or a different method of spinning, or learning a new plying technique - usually something we hadn't done before.

As I am hoping to harvest my own cotton later in the year (fingers crossed!) I thought it might be a good idea to have a trial run; so for my challenge day I spun some cotton.

The preparation started a few days before when I dismantled some cotton bolls which had been sitting on the windowsill in a vase for quite a long time.

Top right are the cotton bolls with their stalk, lower right is the waste, and left is a lovely pile of cotton, still attached to its seeds.

Each individual cotton seed is surrounded by its own fluffy bit of cotton, and the next stage was to comb the cotton out from the sides of the seed so it looked like a round, flat disc.  I used the metal teeth of Jak's cat brush for this.  I don't have a photo of that stage, so you'll have to use your imagination.

Next comes the spinning.  I had to alter the set-up of my spinning wheel first because cotton needs a lot of twist to hold the fibre together in a strand (the fibres are very short). Normally I have the drive band set up on the largest whorl of the flyer - the band goes around this and the wheel itself - but to get enough twist in there I'd have been pedalling for ever!  So I put the drive band on the smallest whorl which decreased the length of the drive band (a bit like gears on a bicycle).

Each cotton seed is spun in turn by working around the seed in a circle until each bit of fibre has been sucked off the seed and into the thread.  It was quite difficult at first because the thread kept breaking (not enough twist to hold the strand together), but I soon got the hang of it.  Here's what I spun on the 18th :-

I know, it doesn't look a lot does it?  But it took me about an hour and a half to do that. In this photo you can see the drive band going around the wheel, and then around the smallest whorl - it's usually on the biggest.

I finished the spinning yesterday morning :-

It's a bit over-twisted, but hopefully some of that will be absorbed in the plying which I plan to do this morning.

Just out of interest, I used eight bolls for this spinning, and here are the seeds I was left with afterwards:-

268 fluffy little seeds.  How do I know how many there are?  Well, I have this very annoying (to me) habit of counting things.  If I'm climbing steps, I count them; if I'm peeling prawns, I count them; if I'm shelling peas - well, you get the idea!  It drives me nuts at times.

Today is Day 21 of the Tour de Fleece.  The final day is Sunday 22nd.  Only 3 more days to finish my selected spinning.  Not sure if I'll have enough time, but I'll give it a go.

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