Cotton yarn is popularly manufactured on a large scale to produce clothing and familiar household textiles such as towels, washcloths, or even rugs. However, it is also possible to make cotton yarn by hand through multiple methods. This generally involves different types of machines, and the resulting yarn can even be dyed. We have carefully researched the best way to turn cotton into yarn at home.
You can use various tools to spin cotton into yarn. But a spindle feels closest to spinning yarn by hand because it is a hand tool, not a machine. If you have to card homegrown cotton, you can use other hand tools. The spindle won’t save time, but the steps may be easier to manage than a traditional spinning wheel:
- Card raw fibers
- Tie or spin leader yarn
- Park and draft
Cotton is comfortable, easy to clean, and unusually durable. This makes it a popular material for all kinds of common textiles and clothes. Keep reading to learn what you’ll need to spin cotton into yarn at home, how to treat the resulting yarn, and the usual characteristics of spun cotton yarn.
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What are the raw materials used to make cotton yarn?
A raw material refers to the most basic ingredients necessary to compose something, such as steel. In this case, the only raw materials needed for cotton yarn would include pure cotton. Cotton is a soft, durable fiber that grows from the seeds of the genus Gossypium. Specifically, you would need the family Malvaceae to grow your own cotton.
Can you make yarn out of cotton balls?
Cotton balls are actually not very different from the fibers that are peeled right off the plant seeds. Therefore, it is possible to make yarn out of cotton balls. Cotton balls can be processed in exactly the same way as prepared cotton slivers. A sliver of cotton is a pre-carded, uniformly thick collection of raw cotton.
How to Make Cotton Yarn At Home
1. Card Raw Fibers
If you are using raw materials grown from your own cotton plants, then you will need cotton cards. Sometimes referred to as cotton hand cards, these hand tools are a pair of combs that can be used on raw cotton fibers.
First, the cotton is swept through the bristles of one of the cotton cards by hand, starting from the handle side. This separates the fibers, pulls them into a parallel shape, and it should also remove seeds. That initial process is sometimes called charging the cotton cards.
Using the Cards
Once the cotton is straightened out enough, you can begin using both cotton cards. Keep one of the cotton cards face up, and make sure the handles are facing away from each other. Carefully rub the tips of each cotton card together.
Then, work your way further up the comb until the entire face of both cards can be rubbed together. This is a gentle process, which helps stretch and even out the cotton fibers.
Now, some of the cotton fibers should be left on the upper card. Scrape the lower card straight up now, instead of side to side. This way, all of the cotton gathers onto a single card. Repeat this tender process until the cotton texture is soft and full enough to end up laying on the tips of the bristles.
Gather the Puni
At this point, you will need a puni stick. A puni is essentially just a completed roll of carded, even pulled cotton fibers. A puni stick is usually a dowel rod that has been specifically cut and sanded to roll up fibers into a puni. However, almost any dowel rod should work.
Use the puni stick to gently roll up the collected fibers from the tip to the handle. You can review these traditional steps by taking a look at this YouTube video, which follows through the full process:
Otherwise, you can skip the above step by purchasing cotton slivers outright. A sliver is very much like a puni because it is also a collection of carded cotton fibers that are equally thick.
However, these are not rolled by the puni stick. You can read the post "4 Of The Best Cotton Yarns For Dishcloths" if you're more interested in creating a specific object than the actual spinning process.
2. Tie or Spin Leader Yarn
Before you begin spinning any yarn yourself, it is often important to secure a leader yarn to your spindle. The leader yarn is an initial attachment of string tied to the spindle's shaft with a slipknot.
This winds all the way up the shaft, ensuring that all subsequent spinning will only get tighter as you work ahead. The leader’s length will usually range from 18 inches to around 2 feet. You can then attach the fibers of your desired yarn to the end loop of the leader yarn.
If you would prefer to spin the leader yarn yourself, then you can spin some of your own fibers directly into the hook of the spindle from the beginning. Rotate the spindle clockwise to twist the fibers.
Evenly stretch out the fibers and then twist again, repeating this process until you have the appropriate length for a leader yarn. Evenly stretching out the fibers is also known as drafting or drawing them.
3. Park and Draft
You will need to choose from different hand spindles, each with a unique whorl. This refers to the special disc on the shaft that provides weight and maintains your spinning speed.
First, create tension on the spindle by rolling it against your leg. Next, you can hold the spindle in place by gently squeezing it between your knees. This is considered parking the spindle.
Then, draft out the cotton puni until it thins out. Loop this through the leader yarn or directly into the spindle hook. Pinch the fibers a few inches above the starting position, and twist the spindle in any direction. However, it is important to remember to continue using the same direction, or you may quickly undo your work.
Once there is enough tension in the twist, you can stretch out the fibers further up the cotton puni. After drafting about the same amount of fibers as you began with, pinch the cotton again, and release. The tension in the spindle should allow the twist to follow through to the next pinch.
This process can be repeated until nearly all of the cotton puni is twisted into yarn. Reserve enough space at the end of the puni to attach a new one.
You will draft out the tips of the existing puni and the new one. Holding the latest pinch, press the drawn out fibers together, and pinch further up the puni. If you release, and the twist doesn’t crawl up to the new position, simply adjust the tension by twisting the fibers yourself with your free hand.
You may review this complicated process by checking out the following YouTube video, but bear in mind that there is no explanation for the leader yarn:
What can you use to dye cotton yarn?
In order to dye your cotton yarn, the substance will need to be evenly distributed. You will likely need to convert your cotton into a carefully wound ring, with smaller strands of string to hold different points in place. You may also require mordant dye, which is basically a primer that will help various types of dye bond with your yarn.
Then, the process of dying your yarn can drastically change based on the desired dye. It is possible to use a number of unusual sources, including household ideas such as Kool-Aid, flowers, or even fruit like raspberries.
Each individual source of coloring will demand a different method of preparation. For example, the raspberries would need to be pulped in order to collect their natural color. Instead of making a homemade dye, you can also purchase commercially sold dyes that are ready to go.
Is cotton yarn hard to work with?
Cotton yarn is famously difficult to work with, particularly for beginners. This is because cotton yarn can be slippery, and not very elastic, which may reduce your ability to effectively create tension.
And if you used pesticides on your homegrown cotton plants, this may translate into the cotton fibers. The National Pesticide Information Center advises that touching or breathing pesticides are effective exposure routes that can potentially cause injury.
Does cotton yarn soften after washing?
Yes, cotton yarn will gradually soften more every time it is washed. The fibers will become loosened, which results in a fluffy appearance. Washing cotton yarn is often done intentionally, when it is necessary to work with cotton that feels too stiff or scratchy. You can read the post "Does Cotton Yarn Soften After Washing?" To learn more about why this works.
Although cotton is a popular material for many kinds of clothes and textiles, it can also be challenging to work with. It is even more difficult to grow, pick, and spin your own cotton into yarn. However, it is also a rewarding process that is both creative and thoughtful. It also allows you to sell the yarn yourself, dye it any color you wish, and work it into practical items.