From Seed to Sliver with Jill Holbrook

Posted by Jessica Ybarra on

If you love to spin cotton, it does not get any better than this!

My spinning study group had the wonderful opportunity to go into the experimental cotton fields of the University of Arizona and pick as much cotton as we wanted. I caution against greediness here. There is an amazing amount of fiber and seeds on those little bolls.

Taking the seeds out by hand takes a lot of time. Find the pointy end of the seed and peel the fiber down from this end much like peeling a banana.

Although we thought this was great fun, it did give us an appreciation for the men and women who had to pick cotton and remove the seeds by hand. Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, it took18 hours to remove the seeds from one pound of cotton lint.

There is a lot of lint (the official name for cotton when it is off the seed) on one cotton seed. You can spin directly off the seed but only if it is a naked seed as in Pima cotton where the lint does not adhere to the seed. This can get tedious especially if you are spinning on a wheel. It is better to take the seeds out and then spin the fluffed up cotton – it is fluffed after removing the seed.

If you get ginned Pima or ginned Acala cotton it is usually after it has been compacted into a bale. Ginned cotton has to be fluffed before spinning. You can just tease or fluff the cotton by hand or use hand cards to open up the fiber. Using the teased-only method will usually result in a slubbed yarn that gives a nice texture to knitting or weaving.

If you are spinning cotton for the first time or if you want a smooth, easy-to spin-yarn, using a puni is the answer. A puni is fluffed or carded ginned cotton rolled and slightly compacted on a stick. It is the slight compaction and the fact that the cotton has only been ginned and not altered by the industrial methods that make the puni so easy to spin. The cotton clings to itself better and is not as slippery as some of the sliver prepared cottons. You can make your own with handcards. Often the wider hand cards with a finer carding cloth are called cotton cards. It is possible to make punis on wool hand cards but the finer, closer set teeth of Cotton Cards do open the cotton fibers much better.

Or you can buy punis made in India. These are Acala cotton – the shorter stapled cotton. They are lovely to spin.

Spinners now have access to fabulous Easy-to-Spin Sliver cotton. These are pulled from the commercial processing before the fibers are stretched and the crimp is removed. There is still some tooth in the fiber so they are not as slippery as commercially processed cotton sliver . It is easy to get a nice smooth yarn with the Easy-to Spin Pima Sliver, Easy-to-Spin Acala Sliver, and Easy-to-Spin Green Sliver. They are a joy and comfort to spin.

Watching this short video showing all types of Cotton Clouds’ fiber preparations will help you chose which is best for you!


All this talk of cotton has made me want to go spin some cotton. Come join me and show-off your handspun on Cotton Clouds’ Facebook page for all to enjoy! Have fun spinning cotton!

Irene Schmoller, Founder and Owner

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