Spinning Yarn on a Charkha
I volunteered to give a demonstration for my spinning guild on my Charkha this month and I thought I would share this information with you. The Charkha is a very old tool, one of the oldest forms of a spinning wheel, popularized by Gandhi in the last century. The concept of the spinning wheel came to India by way of Iran in the thirteenth century. The charkha is powered by hand-cranking a wheel which in turn spins the spindle which sends twist into the fibers being spun, thus creating yarn or thread. "Charkha" means wheel in Hindi and was a tool as well as a symbol for the Indian Independence Movement. Gandhi understood that the people of India could be self-sufficient if they spun their own cotton thread and made their own cloth for their clothing, rather than being dependent upon imported fabrics. The resulting cloth is known as Khadi cloth, and I wrote about that a few blogs ago. I have both a book-size Charkha and a briefcase-sized Charkha. The Process of Cotton to Yarn When I lived in Maryland, I tried growing cotton with very little success. Maryland has high humidity which promotes rot. Cotton needs a long dry growing season, which is why the South is perfect for this crop. I must admit though that a friend of mine, who was an avid gardener in Maryland, was very successful in her attempts to grow cotton, and the blooms are so fragile, delicate, and beautiful. I wish I still had a photo of them. If you Google "cotton bloom" you can see some photos, but they don't do it justice. Here is the product of the cotton plant, cotton bolls. The fibers of the boll, or lint, are attached to the seeds. It is quite tedious to remove the seeds by picking them out of the cotton. No wonder the cotton gin was so important in revolutionizing the cotton industry. I learned an African technique of using a stick to roll the bolls, which makes the seeds pop out. Some people use pasta machines! When cotton is almost mature, the plants are defoliated, to drop the leaves and force the boll to mature. Most cotton crops are heavily doused with toxic herbicides. These poisons will reside in the cotton oils, an unfortunately prevalent food additive in use these days. I try to avoid any food that has cottonseed oil listed in the ingredients for this reason. When spinning or knitting with cotton, it's a good idea to buy organic whenever possible to reduce your exposure to those toxins. One way organic cotton is defoliated is by withholding water. What a simple, basic solution! There are many natural colors of cotton. Here are just a few of the possible shades of browns, beiges, and greens. I know I have more hiding around the house... If you are interested in spinning on a charkha, I recommend Eileen Hallman's website New World Textiles for videos, organic cottons, and Indian Charkhas. On Jonathon and Sheila Bosworth's website you can see their beautiful handmade Charkhas, in luscious woods and high quality spindles and workings. When working with raw cotton (not prepared as a sliver for spinning) the cotton can be carded to make punis or poonis (an Indian term) that are little rolags that make spinning on a Charkha easy. When preparing wool, the desired result of the fiber preparation is to make a rolag that is light and airy. For easy spinning of cotton on a Charkha, the punis must be dense and rolled tightly. Here is how I make mine. I start by charging my cotton cards with cotton lint. Then I card the cotton and then strip the carders. Here is what came off my carder: Now, I roll it tightly on a dowel I sanded smooth for this purpose. Then I push it off the stick. Here's a one-minute low-quality movie of me spinning on my Charkha. I couldn't find my Flip camera, so I used my regular camera and the quality isn't the same, but you get the idea. [wpvideo gpTVjAfx]You can see some non-skid cloth peeking out from underneath the Book Charkha. That helps to keep it from sliding around as I spin. Also, the weaving on the coffee table was made from a commercial cotton warp and handspun cotton weft in Crackle weave, in case any of you are interested. I like to spin on both Charkhas, but prefer the book sized one for some unknown reason. Mainly I have spun cotton on it. Here is a skein I spun on the Charkha. Here's a detail shot. I plied it on my spinning wheel in a corkscrew fashion for more texture. I find it difficult to ply on the Charkha because the spindles don't hold as much as a bobbin does on my regular wheel. I hope to weave cloth for a top someday from this.