Some spinners are afraid to spin cotton. They’ve heard it’s too difficult. Fear not! Joan Ruane loves to teach how to spin cotton on a tahkli spindle. Over several decades, she has perfected her own techniques for spinning cotton and cultivated a passion for teaching other spinners to master the art. It all starts with a leader.
Note: Joan calls this a takli spindle, not a “tahkli” spindle, after reading a 1924 article published by the Indian Spinner’s Association. Many of today’s spinners use the latter spelling, so we’re including both. This article is excerpted from Joan’s article “The Little Takli Spindle” in Spin Off Fall 2016.
Making a Leader
Most of the little metal spindles today have a hook at the top, and it is easy to start a leader on it. Hold the cotton fiber in your left hand and the spindle in your right. Catch a few fibers on the hook at the top of the takli, pinch the cotton against the hook, and draw the fiber slightly out of the fiber mass . Rotate the takli several turns clockwise. This will start your leader.
If you prefer, you can make a leader out of sewing thread or 10/2 yarn. Cut the yarn about 4 feet long, tie the ends together with a small knot, and trim off any excess. Then make two half-hitch loops at the base of the shaft just above the copper disk. Hold the takli upright, pinch the fibers on the hook, and pull the fiber mass back a little .
Keep the spun yarn at a 45-degree angle so the twist from the takli will travel up into the yarn. Spin the takli and let twist go up into the leader. Repeat this until you have about 16 inches of yarn. With your little finger and thumb, pinch just below the drafting area (where the twist meets the fiber). This will stop the twist from getting into the fiber. Holding the takli and thread firmly, gently draw back with the left hand, pull out any thick areas, and then even up your yarn .
This can be done before you put too much twist into the yarn, while it is still in roving form and can be pulled apart. Then holding your left hand straight up over the bowl, give the takli a good spin to tighten up the yarn and make it strong. At this point, you can even lift it out of its support so it dangles in midair and tension is held in the yarn as the last twist enters it. Release the leader yarn from the hook, slide it down to the bottom, and wind clockwise all but 6 inches of the leader yarn, placing it just above the whorl (disk) .
JOAN RUANE has been teaching cotton spinning since the mid-1970s. She teaches, writes articles on spinning, and has produced two educational videos: Cotton Spinning Made Easy and Cotton Spinning with the Takli. She recently updated and republished Hand Spinning Cotton by Olive and Harry Linder. Her educational web site is www.cottonspinning.com.
Learn more about spinning cotton in our free All About Spinning Cotton eBook.