Mixing It Up with Natural-Color Cottons

Read all about the author’s explorations into natural color cottons and the creation of a handwoven gamp from green, brown, and white slivers.

Cindy Conner Mar 6, 2024 - 7 min read

Mixing It Up with Natural-Color Cottons Primary Image

Woven swatch of Cindy’s first homegrown-cotton project, a few of her beautiful bolls from 2023, and colorful bundles of handspun loom waste. Photos by Matt Graves

This article was excerpted from the Spring 2024 issue of Spin Off. Cindy's woven gamp showing color interactions between natural-color cottons (below) is so inspiring that we wanted you to have a chance to zoom in online and get a better look. To read Cindy’s full article, check out Spin Off Spring 2024.

I grow cotton and flax to make clothes for myself, but when I first grew cotton to spin, I had no idea that I would end up with a homegrown wardrobe or write a book about the process. In the beginning, it was just for fun. I planted green and brown cotton varieties about 100 feet apart in my garden. I found out later that the recommended isolation distance is 660 feet for home use, longer for pure seed. Although not evident that year in the fiber, crosses between the varieties began to show up the next year. However, since the color at harvest is muted, I did not notice some brown in with the green, nor was I looking for it.

Some of the green, white, and brown cotton varities that Cindy has grown in her garden

After saving my seed and growing cotton for several years, I decided to use the second- and third-year harvests from the green beds to spin for fabric for a vest.1 I had intended to have a strictly green fabric, but what resulted was so much more interesting. There was brown and even a bit of white mixed with the green. Cross-pollination is not necessarily a bad thing for an adventurous home grower. It opened my eyes to the possibilities waiting to be discovered. Since 2016, I have been working with these crosses in The Cotton Project.2

Working with homegrown fiber can be both limiting and freeing—limiting in the amount you have to work with, depending on the harvest, and freeing in that you can combine what you do have in ways you may not have tried if you were able to order any amount of fiber you wanted. I am dependent on the amount that I have grown, and it has challenged me in a good way to be creative with my spinning.


I’ve created a series of samples to encourage you to mix natural-color cottons, but I know not every spinner lives in a cotton-friendly climate or has the desire to grow cotton. To share the color-mixing fun with more people, I decided to explore commercially available cotton sliver and see what I could do with it.

Cotton Sliver Color Mixing

I used the Spin & Weave Towel Kit from Cotton Clouds, containing green, brown, and white slivers.3 My goal was to weave a gamp, which is a sample woven in a grid pattern so that each block showcases how different colors used in the warp and weft interact. I wanted to give you inspiration and suggestions on combining these colors, rather than keeping them separate.

Colored cotton darkens once it is scoured. You clean away any oils and dirt and the color pops! For this project, I scoured some of the yarns and left some raw, which expanded the number of colors I had to work with. Scouring does cause the skeins to shrink a bit, which may be something to consider if you are combining scoured and raw fibers in the same fabric, but I have done so without problems. Experiment and see how things go for you.

You can see from the finished sample that without doing anything other than scouring either the warp or weft and leaving the other raw, you can have a fabric that is a bit more interesting than if it was a very solid color—at least for the green. To show how the color difference will persist in the fabric, I have washed this gamp five times with my regular laundry in warmwater and cold rinse using Seventh Generation Free & Clear detergent.

Cindy's goal was to weave a grid pattern so that each block showcases how different colors used in the warp and weft interact.


Gs – Green cotton, scoured
Gr – Green cotton, raw
W – White cotton
Br – Brown cotton, raw
Bs – Brown cotton, scoured
GBc – Green and brown cotton, carded together
GBp – Green and brown cotton, plied together
WGp – White and green cotton, plied together
WBp – White and brown cotton, plied together
WGBc – White, green, and brown cotton, plied together

There is a lot of fun to be had, no matter what fiber you are spinning. I hope I have sparked your imagination to have your own unique adventures with natural-color cotton. Happy spinning!

Top row: Unscoured green warp, green/white plied weft (left); scoured green warp, green/white plied weft (right). Bottom row: Unscoured green warp, white weft (left); scoured green warp, white weft (right)

Read Cindy’s full article, including detailed color notes on her warp and weft, in the Spring 2024 issue of Spin Off magazine, where she also displays a set of knitted swatches using her color-mixing samples.


  1. “Homegrown Handspun Cotton Vest,” Homeplace Earth.
  2. Cindy Conner, Homegrown Flax and Cotton (Guilford,CT: Stackpole Books, 2023), 65.
  3. Cotton Clouds,

Cindy Conner lives with her husband near Ashland, Virginia, and grows cotton in her garden. Her book Homegrown Flax and Cotton: DIY Guide to Growing, Processing, Spinning & Weaving Fiber to Cloth was published by Stackpole Books in 2023 and includes a chapter on The Cotton Project. Seeds for Spinner’s Ivory, a variety that came out of that project, are available for the first time this year through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Find Cindy at