Every once in awhile, we need a new rug around here. So, here’s the beginnings of the next one.
These are a few skeins of yarn spun in the last couple of days. The first two white ones and the little blue one in the middle are cotton yarns. The fiber was grown here in the garden. The big fat skein is raw wool from a friend’s lawnmower sheep. It’s a bit rough and not soft enough wool that you’d want it next to your skin, especially with the options of the much softer Seat Island cotton or angora bunny fibers to choose from.
This is the spinning wheel the yarns were made on and the smaller skein of white cotton is there on the bobbin in front. The wheel has the much larger bulky flyer on it for making the fat rug yarns.
I’d had some other fiber on a bobbin next to the drive wheel’s hub and it got into the hub. It ended up pulling almost all the fiber off the bobbin and winding it around the axle of the drive wheel so we had to do a bit of wheel maintenance.
The fiber on the ground behind the wheel is the trouble making fibers. I think this is the first time the drive wheel has been taken off the frame since the wheel arrived in 2009. In this picture, the smaller standard flyer is there and the cotton yarn has just been finished.
This spinning wheel is an Ashford Traditional, they’ve been made for almost half a century if not longer and are probably the most common spinning wheel on the planet.
This is about five bolls worth of, what’s the term for cotton picked off the plant but still has the seeds inside? ‘Picked cotton’ perhaps? This is Bleak Hall Sea Island White cotton and it typically has three lobes per boll.
This is a close up of a typical Bleak Hall Sea Island White cotton leaf. It typically has three lobes that are deeply cut. I wonder if lobes on leaves indicates number of lobes on the bolls? I think a short staple cotton plant has much shorter lobes on their leaves, but this is the only type of cotton growing here so I can’t post a picture to compare.
The flowers are yellow with some red in the center. It makes bolls with three lobes instead of what I’ve heard is the more usual four or five on the short staple cottons.
Folks also talk about it being painful to pick cotton, something about stickers on the bolls or something. Bleak Hall Sea Island cotton doesn’t seem to have the same sort of stickers. There’s a point at the tip of each section of the pod around the cotton fibers, but that point isn’t sharp or even particularly hard. It usually is somewhat soft and curls back on itself.
The cotton fiber and seeds pull easily out of the bolls and the fiber comes off the seed easily and cleanly.
Removing cotton seeds from the fluff, (which is usually called ‘lint’, I think), anyway removing the seeds is called ‘ginning’ although there’s no gin or even rum involved. I don’t have any mechanical means to remove the seeds since Eli Whitney’s famous cotton gin uses these sort of toothy saw blades to get the lint off the seeds. Which doesn’t work for a really long staple cotton since that method tears the fibers into short strands.
One of the reasons for the decline of long staple cotton may have been a lack of machine ginning for it, I think. It would take a roller gin instead of a saw toothed gin to keep the staple long, I’m not sure if there were a lot of roller gins or what. There was also the boll weevil and the Civil War that took it’s toll on the cotton fields of Sea Island cotton.
This particular variety of cotton, Bleak Hall Sea Island White, was last commercially grown in 1922, I think. It did sell for a much higher price than the other varieties of cotton but what with the weevils and war, it wasn’t commercially grown after that.
The USDA collected seed from it in 1934, I think it was, and a friend of mine, Joey on Maui, got some cotton seeds for some genetic experiments he was doing in the late ’70s. He chose ‘Bleak Hall Sea Island White’ because he thought the name was interesting, at the time he didn’t care about staple length or quality of fiber. He did his experiments in collage and then put the remaining cotton seeds in the refrigerator.
At some point, he grew out some of the Bleak Hall cotton and then came to get an angora bunny for some matching fibers to go with his cotton. As part of that, he brought me six plants. I gave two of those plants to one of my rabbit wranglers to have a reserve in case something happened to my plants. The remaining four have been planted here for 697 days now (just under two years) and are still growing and producing bolls.
It’s a tropical cotton so it likes water and grows for at least several years. I’ll see if it dies off after another year or so. So far it’s grown into a medium sized sort of spindly shrub.
To ‘gin’ the seeds by hand, I just pull the ‘lint’ out from the seed and then pinch the seed out from the middle or pull the fibers off, which ever is easiest at the time. Occasionally, a seed with at least a portion of crazy long fibers shows up, sometimes I’ll plant that seed.
This particular seed is the last one I planted. Not all the fiber is as long as that one section, but that one section is crazy long. From what I hear, most cotton has a staple length of about three eighths to maybe half an inch. Most of the fiber length from Sea Island cottons are almost two inches but if I can grow cotton with a four inch staple, that would be amazing.
This is the fluff from the four or five bolls that were picked yesterday. I should have put the ruler in the first picture, I guess, but oh wellos! These things aren’t scientific, just making yarn from cotton in hopes of maybe growing a shirt someday. There’s enough now for a washcloth, not sure if I want to make a washcloth first, though.
The smaller white skein on the bottom is the one made from the four or five bolls picked yesterday. The blue skein at the top is one which has been dyed with fresh indigo. Indigo grows as a weed around here. Next time it flowers, I’ll pick a bunch and dye all the yarns blue.
So there’s still some more work before a shirt has been grown, but it’s got a start at least.
I’m not sure if it’s a washcloth or a shirt or what, but now we have some cotton yarn.
It’s spun to yarn thickness and not thread thickness. I don’t have the patience for thread, either to make it or knit with it.
Maybe I’ll make a shirt or something. Kinda interesting growing clothes. You figure it wasn’t all that long ago – relatively speaking – that all folks had to grow and spin cotton or wool if they wanted to wear something other than tanned hides.
When did commercial spinning and big powered looms come into existence? 1800’s? Egyptians were making cotton cloth seriously way back when, but they had spindles and not spinning wheels, didn’t they? Wonder what sort of looms they had to weave the yarns on? The Chinese folks were making exquisite silks way before any European industrial revolution. Guess I should go study the history of textiles. At what point did the majority of folks cease to wear tanned hides and switch over to woven textiles?
Why do folks take textiles for granted so much today? Is the entire process mechanized so folks don’t appreciate it as work?
Bleak Hall Sea Island White cotton yarn. Yay! It’s a three ply thick fingering weight, haven’t a clue how many yards are in the skein nor how much the skein weighs. It’s a soft and almost silky feeling yarn, not sure what I’ll make with it yet. Cotton yarn doesn’t have much elasticity to it, so something that drapes instead of clings would be best.
The yarn in the back of the picture was a test skein made with Navajo ply. That essentially creates a three ply yarn, but the lack of stretch in the cotton made the Navajo ply a bit tricky. A true three ply was easier to do with this fiber.
Now I just have to wait for the plant to grow more bolls. Fortunately Sea Island cotton seems to be a perennial cotton and just keeps making more cotton all the time after it gets started. Of course, we’re in the dead of winter right now so there’s a little less sun light so the bolls are slowing down. But, this is Hawaii, so there’s not all that much difference between daylight hours or temperatures throughout the year.
The fiber from yesterday has been spun into yarn. Kinda a sport or even a worsted weight somewhat rustic yarn. It’s soft but has almost no stretch to it at all. Not sure what to make from it.
It was Navajo plied since I didn’t have two or three bobbins full of cotton to ply from. The lack of any elasticity at all made the Navajo ply a bit more tricky than normal. I’d never really thought about how the elasticity of the fibers changes how it’s spun.
It’s very soft, much softer than you’d expect a cotton to be. I think the next skein will be a bit thinner and probably a three ply from bobbins instead of the psuedo-three ply from Navajo ply.
Maybe I’ll make a shirt from it, it would be a comfortable shirt, perhaps? Something that can drape, it doesn’t have any ‘cling’ to it at all. Since it’s 100% cotton, it’s not a particularly warm fiber so a scarf may not be the best use of it.
We’re really advanced with the cotton fiber prep so far. Basically, it’s the kitchen table, a book in a reader, a cup of tea (although in the picture the cup is empty) and the cotton to have the seeds picked out of it. Ginned, I think the word is ‘ginned’ but we have no cotton gin so it’s cotton picking, I guess?
Well, tis the season, I guess. For cotton, anyway. 😉
It’s going on just over 506 days since the Bleak Hall Sea Island white cotton was planted and it’s still out there making bolls. The first bolls showed up long ago, somewhere around day 148, I think it was. Since then, it’s just kinda been making bolls. Never a lot of them but usually a few here and there. This is how much was out there today.
I didn’t count how many, maybe eight bolls or so. The seeds are still inside so it’s still densely packed in the photo above.
It gets fluffy when the seeds are picked out. It has a shine to it, too, even though it’s cotton. It’s also almost got a bit of crimp to it, but not much of that. It’s very soft and almost silky. I don’t know if that’s from it being freshly picked or if it’s because it’s Sea Island cotton.
These are how clean the seeds are when they’re picked out. Each boll has three lobes and there’s multiple seeds in each lobe so there’s quite a few seeds in cotton.