Spinning Tips

I get many questions about cotton spinning from students at workshops and readers on-line. I decided to answer some of these questions on-line to encourage you all to use your handspun cotton yarns in a variety of ways.

Cotton Tunic

Weaving with your handspun cotton yarn is an absolute delight! Here is a cotton top that I wove using handspun cotton except for the deep blue/turquoise accent. Donna Sebastian of Sebastian Designs in Silver City, NM designed the shirt - thanks Donna!

Here are the answers to some common questions about weaving with handspun cotton yarn. I wanted you all to know how you can create yardage to use in sewing projects with your own yarns.



Tip #1 - Using Your Handspun Cotton for Weaving

Tip #2 - Plying With Your Handspun Yarn

Tip #3 - Fluffing Cotton After Dyeing


Many of my readers have asked how I prepare my cotton handspun yarn for weaving. They are wondering if they still have to boil the yarn to set the twist and do they need to size the handspun cotton yarn before using it!

Since Harry and Olive Linder wrote their book "Hand Spinning Cotton" many things have change for the better regarding cotton spinning. Wheels have higher ratios now, spinners are better informed and have much better prepared cotton sliver to spin with. As an end result, we have better spun cotton yarns coming off our bobbins than they did in the late 60’s and early 70’s.


I usually spin my singles very fine and ply them for my warp, being careful to balance my plying so the yarn does not kink back on itself. Then I leave it on my wheel bobbin overnight or for a few days which helps to set the ply. Then I go directly from the wheel bobbin to the warping board.

To use singles as warp, you must be a little more careful that the singles are evenly spun with a firm twist but yet not allowing it to kink on itself. Then you should run the singles through a solution of Gelatin diluted twice what is called for on the package. As it comes through the Gelatin solution, pinch it between your fingers, laying down the fibers and squeezing out the excess water. The yarn should be wound on a blocker and left to dry. This will give your singles a little more strength and smooth out the threads so they glide through the heddles easier without wear and tear on the yarn. The Gelatin will wash out in the first washing after the weaving is finished and laundered.


Cotton Tunic

As for the weft, since I live in hot country, usually I weave the weft with my singles that also have been on my wheel bobbin for a day or two. Sometimes I remove the singles onto my shuttle bobbins and let them "set" on the shuttle bobbins for a few days before using them in my boat shuttle. If by chance one section is a little over-spun, then I simply pull the thread straight and drop the shed before beating it. This has always worked for me.



Allen from Crochet4Life in Uganda, Africa sent a question about plying and the effect of "S" and "Z" twist on her handspun cotton yarn. Here is her question and Joan's reply:

"The 2-ply looked fine while being worked on the wheel (I kept the singles under tension, etc) but when I removed it to make a ball, it was plying back on itself still because of much twist per inch. But also the ply would undo in some parts along the length. I think this has to do with S-and Z- spins. The singles were both Z spins. I cannot figure out yet how to feed the Z singles on to the bobbins so as to make an S ply. Need some practice on this. " - Allen

Joan's Reply:

After reading this paragraph at the bottom of your last e-mail it looks like a lesson in plying is necessary.

First off most cotton yarn is spun Z (making the wheel go right or clockwise, same for spindle). However crochet cotton yarn is often times spun S (counterclockwise to the left) and then plied with a Z because many crocheters find that the yarn holds together better when plied with a Z. It is the motion of the hands when crocheting that prefers a Z plied yarn.

ALWAYS, the ply is opposite of the single's twist...so if singles are spun Z then they must be plied S to make a balanced yarn. Or spun S then they must be plied Z.

When plying, the lazy kate should sit behind you on the side you are working from (either side is fine). From the pictures it looks like you work with your left side..that is how I do but the right is OK also. The bobbins should have some tension on them so that they do not move freely..putting some soft material along side of the uprights so that the bobbins rub on the "soft" stuff but do not impede them completely. That way the bobbins will not back lash on you and tangle.

When plying Z singles then the wheel MUST be turning counterclockwise (S or to the left) and that will balance off the Z twist singles.

The back hand (if working on your left side, the back hand is the left hand) should separate the two single and stay put by your left hip. The front hand (in this case is the right hand) does all the work. The right hand pulls the two single threads forward keeping tension on both threads evenly and with a finger in between the singles..bringing it up almost to the orifice (mouth of the flyer) and then slowly slide your right hand back to your left hand that is stationary at the hip.

Pinch and pull another length forward again keeping tension on the yarn at all times. After you do it a couple times, stop and pull out about 16 inches of plied yarn from the bobbin, let it loop down and see if it has a slight twist or way too much twist. It should have a slight Z twist but only a soft Z twist. If it has a S twist then you need more ply or S twist.

What you are looking for is a plied yarn that will drape and move into a slight Z twist. SO what is a Z or S twist...When you look at the yarn and the angle of the twist is from the right down to the left, that is Z twist, like the center of the letter Z. If it goes left down to right like the center of the letter S then it is S or counterclockwise twist!

Tip #3 - How to Fluff Dyed Cotton Sliver

Laura Burke Downing wrote about some questions she had after dyeing some cotton:

Your instructions for dyeing sliver on your website have been so helpful! I am done dyeing and the sliver is dry, but now it is compacted and looks like a little rope. Did I do something wrong, or is this what is supposed to happen? I started teasing some apart, because it is the only way I can work with it. Is this okay? I have just heard how cotton can't bounce back from compression, but I don't know how else I can spin this without pulling it apart.

Joan's Reply:

Hi Laura... You can't hurt the cotton...tease away! I might suggest you put the dyed cotton sliver in the dryer, in a large mesh bag, with a wet towel and turn it on regular dry (normal). Next time after you dye the cotton you can let it dry a little on a rack. Then before it is completely dries, put it in a mesh bag or even leave it loose in the dryer and turn the dryer on normal. This will fluff up the sliver. Good luck and let me know how it works!


Hope this information is helpful in your spinning and weaving. Thank you so much for visiting my website and your interest in cotton spinning!

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