Cotton is the most common natural fabric used to make yarn and other textiles. However, most people don’t know how to make yarn from cotton at home without fancy machinery. This guide (+video) will show you the basic procedures!
What You'll Learn Today
What Is Cotton Yarn?
In 2019, cotton accounted for roughly 40% of the market share of textiles worldwide. So, it’s no surprise that someone in need of yarn will be reaching for cotton as the starting material.
In its most basic form, yarn is simply a twisted collection of individual strands of either natural or synthetic fabrics. Yarn can be made from a variety of materials, including wool, polyester, linen, and of course cotton.
Cotton is harvested from the field, manipulated to fit the needs of yarn, and put through the process of making yarn from cotton.
Factories mass produce cotton yarn for the masses. But, how do you make yarn from cotton by hand? All you need is a couple of tools and some practice!
How To Make Cotton Yarn
Making yarn from cotton involves having the right tools, prepping the raw cotton, and using a couple of hand tools to finalize your yarn.
Here are the basic materials and tools you need (although there are more that could make the process more efficient):
- Raw Cotton
- Fiber Combs
- Spindle or Spinning Wheel
Step 1: Comb The Cotton
Place your raw cotton between two fiber combs. You will be using the combs to straighten out the fibers and remove any seeds still in the cotton.
Combing is the most important first step as it is how you get your strands of fiber straightened and parallel.
Step 2: Drafting/Drawing For Beginners
Drafting, also known as drawing, is stretching your combed material to a thinner diameter. If you have a spinning wheel the process is easier. However, a hand spindle can be a bit trickier for new learners.
If this is your first time spinning cotton and have access to a drop spindle, the process of spinning and drafting at the same time can be challenging. That’s when you can use a method called Park And Draft.
Normally you would drop the spindle and draft at the same time in one cohesive spinning motion. But, the Park And Draft allows the user to focus on each function individually to make things easier.
First, you attached a leader to the spindle and you blend your new cotton onto the leader. Then, you can draw out a section of cotton to the desired thickness and spin the spindle to your desired tension.
You then grab the fabric where the twist is stopped with the free hand and draft out another section of material to the same thickness. Then, the spin is repeated to the same tension.
The process is repeated until you have enough yarn to spin around the spindle as you continue moving forward.
Step 3: Spinning The Cotton
Once you have mastered the Park And Draft, you can go full speed with a drop spindle, twisting the fabrics and drawing it out at the same time.
The more you twist, the higher the tension in the finished yarn. This makes it more durable but less flexible.
If you are using a spinning wheel, your job is most likely easier as the process is more controlled by machinery than by the user.
Step 4: Blending New Cotton Fibers
Once you have reached the end of a bunch of cotton fibers, you need to blend in separated materials. Again, the Park And Draft can be useful.
Twisting two ends of cotton fibers allows them to grip each other and form a cohesive fabric. Once the bond is established, the spinning can continue.
Step 5: Roll A Yarn Hank
A yarn hank is simply a rolled-up collection of yarn that is used for storage. The easiest way to do this without extra equipment is to roll the yarn up with your hand and elbow.
Hold one end in your hand between your thumb and index finger and loop it around your elbow. Loop it back through your hand and around the elbow again and continue until the yarn is finished.
You can tie a small piece of yarn around one side or even tie both ends of the yarn together to keep everything in place.
Step 6: Blocking The Yarn
Blocking, or washing, your new yarn will help it balance out its tension and set the yarn to be stronger.
There are many ways to block yarn, but the simple way is to soak the yarn in warm water, squeeze out excess water, and hang dry it.
Attaching a weight to the bottom of the hank will help create more balance in the tension throughout the yarn.
Step 7: Store In A Skein
Once your yarn is fully dry, take the hank and twist it a couple of times. Then, fold it in half. Tuck one corner into the other corner to hold the skein into place. This yarn can be stored and used anytime you need it!
Ready To Make Cotton Yarn?
Making your cotton yarn allows you to control the quality and features of the yarn itself. You can dye it how you like, create different strengths and textures, and be more self-sufficient with your textile needs.
Hopefully, this article has shown you the basics needed to get started making your yarn from cotton! If you’re looking for more stuff that can be made from cotton, check out this article on paper making.
Frequently Asked Questions
Virgin cotton yarn is good for very soft knits. For example, you might make baby clothes and toys, soft hats and sweaters or light, airy shawls. Cotton yarn made from repurposed cotton fabric is a good choice for coarser, sturdier items, such as market bags, hot pads, kitchen scrubbies, tea cozies and the like.
To prepare cotton for spinning, you must comb or card the fibers to remove short fibers and impurities. The end result should be aligned in parallel. This makes a straight fiber of a uniform texture that yields better results when spun.
There are three methods of spinning that are very often used to spin cotton into yarn. They are: (1) Spindle spinning is a very ancient spinning method that is done with the use of a handheld spindle and a long, slim rod that has a weighted bottom (whorl). The spinner creates the thin strands of yarn by hand and then uses the spindle to twist them into yarn. This method is portable and versatile. (2) Cotton Charkha spinning is another very traditional spinning method that comes to us from India. The charkha is made up of a hand-operated horizontal wheel with a spindle on one end and a bowl to hold the loose fibers on the other. The spinner sits at this end and feeds the cotton fibers into the spindle by hand, all the while spinning the wheel to create the yarn. This method of spinning is stationary but very efficient. (3) Wheel spinning involves the use of a traditional spinning wheel which is quite large and is made up of a drive wheel with a flyer, a yarn storage bobbin and a foot-operated treadle. With this method, the spinner sits at the front of the spinning wheel, feeds cotton fibers onto the grooves and hooks of the flyer by hand and operates the treadle by foot to turn the drive wheel. This makes the flyer rotate to twist the fibers into yarn, which is then spun onto the bobbin for storage. This large machine is very stationary.
Using existing cotton fabrics to make cotton yarn is an excellent way to upcycle or recycle. To do this, you would shred or cut fabric scraps into small strips and then spin them into yarn as you would virgin cotton fiber. Of course, the finished product would be rougher and more variable than a virgin wool product but could be suitable for many projects.
Reducing, reusing and recycling by making cotton yarn from existing fabrics is a great way to conserve resources (e.g. energy, water, chemicals used in virgin cotton production) and save space in the landfill. Recycled cotton yarn and fabrics are more affordable than new cotton yarn and fabrics. On a larger scale, cotton yarn production can provide work and economic opportunities in many communities.