Cotton Bowing for Beginners

Melvenea’s pro tips for bowing your stash of handpicked, handginned cotton fiber.

Melvenea Hodges Nov 3, 2021 - 4 min read

Cotton Bowing for Beginners Primary Image

Bowing cotton outdoors. Photo by Waymel Hodges

There’s a good chance cotton fiber has found its way into your stash at some point. What’s not to love? It is soft, abundant, and can be used for just about any project. If you have loose fiber that has not been combed or carded into a sliver, rolags, or punis, you will need to prepare it for spinning a smooth yarn. You can fluff cotton into a lofty cloud for spinning with a simple homemade bow. When the bowstring is plucked it catches the fiber and the vibration shakes the cotton into a lofty, easy-to-spin cloud. All that is needed to create a bow is a flexible branch about 40 inches long and 1½ inches in diameter and about 28 inches of tightly twisted twine or fishing line. I made my own using a willow branch and one filament of 25-pound fishing line. Choose a suitable branch, remove the leaves, and cut off any split or weak sections from either end.

Cotton bowling article

Tying on bow string. Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Create the bow by tying a knot at one end of the prepared branch and wrapping the filament/twine around the end about eight times before tying it off. Bend the twig into a wide arch then secure the loose end of the filament to the opposite end of the bow by wrapping it around about 8 times; tie it off with a knot. Your bow string should be tight enough to make a ping sound when you pluck it with your fingers. Now you’re ready to bow cotton. ginned cotton examples

Handpicked and handginned cotton (left); and mechanically ginned (right).

Tip: This technique works best with cotton that has been handpicked and handginned. Mechanically ginned cotton is often compressed and embedded with crushed vegetation. The fibers are crimped, stuck together, and even slightly twisted in places. There will also be broken fibers intermixed. This fiber is best prepared with handcards. Bowing will open the fiber up, but it will not separate the tangles enough to spin a consistent yarn. Handpicked and ginned cotton can be ready to spin with just a little bowing.

Basic Bowing

  1. Place a handful of cotton fiber on a solid surface.
  2. Position the bow over the fiber supply at a slight angle.

Bowing cotton

Position the bow over the fiber supply.

  1. Begin to pluck the bowstring, allowing it to grab the fiber.
  2. Lift your bow slightly, giving the cotton room to bloom.
  3. Pull away any fiber sticking to the bowstring, releasing the fluffed fiber. Bowed cotton

As the fiber blooms, move the bow away from the now fluffy fiber.

Repeat the process until your cotton resembles a sheer, lofty cloud. Store your ready-to-spin cotton cloud in a basket.

Spinning cotton

Melvenea spinning cotton cloud. Photo by Waymel Hodges.

Melvenea Hodges is a fiber artist born and raised in Benton Harbor, Michigan. She is committed to practicing traditional textile techniques in honor and expression of her heritage as an American maker. She intermittently blogs about her latest creations and fiber adventures at