For those who follow my normal weaving blog, you might be surprised to see yet another blog, and on the same day. But this one will be about cotton, and one which I think needs to be publicised more.
So here goes ……
When I think of cotton, I think of cotton from suppliers such as MB, UKI, Borgs, Bockens etc. I put it into categories, mercerised, unmercerised, Egyptian etc. But whilst I have a small knowledge of cotton, I do know one thing, I have to order it in from overseas.
Sigh – just a fact – but an annoying one (to me).
Many months ago, whilst enjoying some time on FaceBook, I came across a web page “Australian Super Cotton” located in Queensland Australia. I immediately sent through a message asking where I could obtain some of their cotton because I was excited about this product.
Imagine my disappointment when, after the initial contact, I was told that the cotton was available, but only in large ply yarns suitable for knitting or crocheting.
I don’t want to weave with 4, 8 or 12 ply cotton, I want something finer – hissy fit ensued.
But then a month ago, I stumbled onto an advert for a pop up market in Queensland where there was going to be a trader selling Australian cotton, and ….. wait for it …… in 6/30 weight which is equivalent to 10/2 cotton.
Now as y’all know, I am not the quickest cab off the mark, but I shot off an e-mail to a very lovely lady who responded quickly.
Yes ! the cotton was 100 percent Australian, yes ! it was ginned and spun within Australia, yes! it was equivalent to 10/2 cotton and yes! she was happy to send me a sample.
Well, what is the point of having a sample if you can’t put it on the loom, and what is the point of buying a single 250 gram cone when it won’t be enough to give it a true workout on the loom ….. okay, so I am trying to justify buying more than just one cone ;0)
Two kilos arrived in the mail.
Just so happened that at the same time as this cotton arrived in the mail, there were a couple of other local weavers meeting at my house for our monthly “Twisted Sisters” get together.
I opened the satchel and we all oohed and aahed over the cones. After much stroking of the cones and talking about Local product vs Imported products we were all excited to see how this cotton would stake up against the imports.
Just so happens one of my looms was nekkid, so I put on enough warp for 6 tea towels.
I wasn’t wanting to dye the yarn, I just wanted to see how this particular cotton handled on the loom in its natural state so I could gauge its peculiarities.
Now before y’all start thinking that I think am any sort of expert ….. STOP ….. you and I both know that is not the case. But I am inquisitive, and I do like trying new yarns to see how they handle compared to other yarns that I have used in the past.
Having woven with nearly all of the major cottons available on the market, I knew what I was hoping for.
Right from the get go, I knew that this cotton was a very strange creature indeed – it wanted to twist, okay, I can play that game, all cotton twists, but this was an excited twist for the want of a better phrase.
All went well on the warping mill, but as I laid the cotton onto the loom in preparation for winding on, the warp started turning into a cable – still – not a problem, there is no tension on it, and like all energised yarn, it just needs a little tension to make it behave.
Remember, as Laura Fry states “A thread under control is a thread under tension” !
Nothing to panic about ;0)
Winding on was a pleasant surprise, there was no snagging on the lease sticks, the cotton slid over the lease sticks and onto the back beam like a dream.
Then it came to threading the heddles. Now I wind on B2F, always have, always will, it works for me. I also, when threading the heddles, like to hold eight threads in between my fingers to make threading go a little more quickly.
This is where the chocolate came out and the cotton had me scratching my head.
Not only did the cotton start to unwind at the ends, but it then decided that it didn’t want to leave all its other single thread buddies and started winding onto the threads around it, and then they in turn started twisting onto other bunches. Trying to slid the cotton through my hand and fingers was a nightmare. I had bunches, twists and knots happening each and every time.
Frustration grew, but before heading to the scissors, I went onto the computer and asked the FB weaving brains collective if they had come across anything like this, or, could they suggest of any solution (apart from turning to hard liquor).
The suggestions were as varied as the knots the cotton produced.
Seemed the only solution was to take one thread at a time, and know that I only had 420 ends to deal with.
Finally the heddles and reed were threaded, chocolate consumed and my hair standing on end.
I lash onto the front beam, so I knotted the cotton in groups of 20 ends and started lashing on.
When I lash on, I don’t just grab the centre of the bundle and thread the lash thread through, I open up a shed on my loom and put the lashing thread through the centre of the split bundles. I find this way of lashing gives greater tension to all the threads in the group.
Well this cotton had other ideas.
With the shed open, I slide my finger through the open shed and down the thread bundle till I hit the knot, then, putting tension on the bundle, I slide the lash thread through and wrap it around the cloth beam.
Not going to happen easily with this cotton. I had so many twists that there was no way I could slide my hand down to the knot without first undoing the knot and trying it all over again.
May I say at this point, that I am pretty anal, and I do try and keep all my threads even and untwisted, but this cotton was driving me to drink !
Don’t worry, just get it lashed on and try weaving. Life is too short to try and get all the twists untwisted.
At this point I want to mention that I LOVE the idea of having a local product. I SO want to champion this 100 percent Australian cotton, I have the pom poms ready to do a cheer and I want to be able to put my hand on my heart and say to the world that this is a beautiful cotton and y’all have to try it.
But I won’t do this if I don’t fully believe the words that I am saying. So I think that is the main reason that I have spent so long with this cotton and paid particular attention to each step of the process.
Once it was on the loom and weaving started, this cotton began behaving itself. I was no longer swearing under my breath and wondering why on earth I though I could consider myself a weaver.
At the same time, I had sent through an e-mail to the supplier asking if anyone else had had these problems.
Seems I was the only one voicing any issues. Okay …. let’s just get the tea towels woven and off the loom. Maybe I was doing something really stupid and just didn’t have the connected brain cells to realise it.
This cotton wraps at 18 epi, so I had threaded the reed 2, 2, 2, 1. I did find, that in some areas, where the cotton was threaded two to a dent, that they did want to twist onto each other, and they became a bit clingy.
But overall, the cotton wove beautifully. There was far less fluff, or shedding, of fibre, and in fact, unless I got down on my hands and knees under the loom, I would not have known that there was any shedding.
One up for the Australian cotton.
Now to the wet finishing. I put all 6 of the tea towels into the washing machine and ran them through three full wash cycles.
Out of the washing machine, dried and pressed, they look lovely, they feel lovely, now to try one on a wet glass – oh Lordy – here we go again – ZERO absorbency. What in the world had I done wrong.
Back to the FB weaving brains collective.
Most comment : “Did you soak the cotton in soda ash?” Well, no, was the simple reply I gave back, I was not going to dye it, so why soak it in soda ash? I don’t soak the other cotton I use prior to using.
Well – the majority wins. I put the cotton tea towels into a solution of soda ash, 20 grams of soda ash per litre of water. I left the tea towels in the solution and googled the internet to see if there was another solution to my problem and should I hang up my shuttles and realise that a weaver I will never be !!!
After 30 mins sitting on top of the soda ash solution I ended up having to weight down the top layer.
Taking the tea towels out of the solution after two hours, I put them into another wash, let them dry, ironed them and then, with a sinking, but hopeful, heart, I went back into the kitchen. Well knock me down with a feather – they had absorbency !!!
So, dear readers who are still with me and who haven’t turned to hard liquor or fallen asleep, soda ash is the trick.
AND, I am thinking that with the next test run, for yes, there will be another test run, I am going to skein the cotton off of the cones, soak them in soda ash, THEN wind a warp and see if this soda ash treatment helps with the twisting. I might even do a third test run and as the cotton is drying after its bath, put a weight on the bottom of the skeins and see if that helps the twisting.
Heaven help me, my life is going to be consumed by this cotton and the exhibition pieces might consist of a lot of Australian cotton tea towels ;0)
My final analysis of this cotton, and please remember, this is just my opinion:
It is an energised yarn, and does want to twist, but this MAY be reduced by soaking in a soda ash solution BEFORE weaving.
If you want this cotton to absorb (i.e. weaving tea towels) you have to soak it in soda ash.
It does track. Particularly noticeable in the plain weave section of my tea towels. A feature that some people don’t mind, but just know that it will appear. Probably less noticeable if dyed, and again, may be less energised/noticeable if given a soda ash bath before weaving.
I had a lot of shrinkage – 27 inches in the reed, 20.25 inches after wet finishing and pressing.
LOL – Has made this weaver gain a lot of weight due to high chocolate consumption.
100 percent Australia cotton.
Beautiful handle and drape to this cotton. If I had not known that it was Australian cotton, and someone had handed it to me and asked me to guess, I would have suggested that it was in fact Egyptian cotton and possibly Borgs/Bockens.
Much less fluffing, shedding and pilling than I have had with MB/UKI/Borgs/Bockens – either mercerised or unmercerised.
Much easier to wind on than the UKI that I use – less catching in the lease sticks.
Much softer than UKI cotton (and I am a fan of UKI cotton)
So the pom poms have come out and I am ready to cheer for this home grown local product. And I can, with hand on heart, say that it is a beautiful cotton and a pleasure to weave with, and, once I can get the twisting issue sorted out, it will be an absolute dream and my cotton of choice.
For those who wish to try this cotton, please, please, please do so. The more weavers that we can convert, the more I have my hopes pinned on the fact that the manufacturers might put some money into turning some of this cotton into ring spun – then watch out world, Australian cotton is coming to kick some butt and take some names !!!
I have ZERO connection with the suppliers or manufacturers of this cotton. I am receiving ZERO kick backs, commissions or hand outs of any kind.
I am just a crazy weaver who is falling in love with this Australian Cotton and I want the world to know that there is another cotton on the market. Maybe it is the right cotton for you ?
Details just in case you are interested, you can contact the supplier, Meriel Chamberlin, Founder and Creator, through her website Full Circle Fibres http://www.fullcirclefibres.com
Happy Cotton Weaving Y’all
Tracking as seen above