Spin Cotton

Cotton has been used as a handspinning fiber for thousands of years, yet today many people think of it as a difficult fiber to work with because of its short staple length. Once you have gained an understanding of the techniques required, you will be making your own yarn easily - and without stress!


This is the first thing you must put in your mind. Second you need to examine the fiber closely. Feel the texture, see how short the fibers are and begin thinking “cotton”. Now, how do we adjust our wheels to spin such a short staple?

There cannot be a strong pull on the fiber or it will simply pull apart before it gets any twist and strength. If you have a flyer-driven wheel with a scotch tension:

1. Loosen the drive belt so it is just tight enough to make the flyer go around.

2. Loosen the break (draw-in) so it just rests over the bobbin.

If you have a double band drive wheel then simply loosen the tension so it just allows the flyer to go around.

We also know that the shorter the fiber the more twists per inch it will take to make a strong yarn.  So that means we want to use our highest ratio.  If your wheel has scotch tension, then you need to put the scotch tension band over the whorl with the smallest diametor.* If your wheel is a double band,  then you put one string of the drive belt around the smallest groove in the whorl.* The bigger the wheel and the smaller the diameter of the whorl, the faster the flyer will go around.  The faster the flyer goes around the more twists that will go into the fiber each time you treadle.  If you do not have a high ratio then it means you will have to treadle more times to get the same amount of twist.

*Adjusting Your Wheel

If your wheel is not drawing in the spun thread, then you must tighten the tension..or if the flyer is not spinning then the belt must be tightened - but only tighten it the wee tinniest bit at a time.

You should always have your belt and brake as loose as possible. For one thing it makes treadling much easier and of course with a short staple it will not “yank” the fibers apart. This is the same reason that a support spindle is better for cotton then a drop spindle, there is no pulling on the fiber with a supported spindle. Even better yet is a charka style wheel where there is absolutely no draw-in or pull. You can spin so finely with one that it reminds one of a “spider web”.

Draw back until you are comfortably back just behind your hip. With the sliver being carded, it will draw out easier as long as you do not allow the twist to go into the drafting area.

After you draw the thread back to your hip, pinch off at the end of the sliver, stopping the twist from going beyond your fingers. If you want the thread thinner, keep pinching off the end of the sliver and keep drawing back. When you are satisfied with the size of the thread, hold it there and keep treadling until you have plenty of twist in the thread. Then of course, relax your arm and move your hand forward toward the orifice and let the thread wind onto the bobbin.

After much practicing you will seldom have to pinch the thread with your front hand to use it as a break,as long as you are using well prepared cotton sliver. Even though your tension is very, very slight, the sliver will slide smoothly and evenly against the bobbin . Remember not to let the twist into the drafting triangle and be sure you are spinning from the correct end of the sliver.


1. Be sure to check the sliver for the right end to spin from.

2. Draw back fast enough so the twist does not get into the drafting area.

3. If the thread keeps drifting apart (breaking), then it needs more twist per inch.

4. If the thread is kinking up and plying back on itself before going on to the bobbin, then you need less twist per inch.

5. Change the hooks frequently and do not let the thread pile up in one spot on the bobbin.


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