How to Spin Homegrown Cotton

Dig deeper into the origins of your yarn by growing cotton plants and processing them into yarn for crafts at home.

Photo by Flickr/Rachel Zack

I started growing cotton six years ago. I’d just begun spinning wool and was looking for fibers that I could grow and harvest myself. I was especially interested in a fiber that wouldn’t require purchasing several expensive tools at the outset, before I knew whether or not I wanted to continue to work with that particular fiber. I discovered naturally colored cotton in a seed magazine, and I wondered if the hot summers in Kansas would be enough to sustain a plant I’d always thought preferred more southern climates. I planted the cotton seeds after the last frost in spring, and the plants grew rapidly, taking advantage of the summer heat with only minimal watering once they were established. By fall, I had dozens of bolls developing, and many opened and dried on the plants before our first freeze. I’d successfully grown cotton!

When to Pick

Once the cotton bolls open and dry on the plant, the fiber should be cloud-like and “blooming” from the dried bolls. Some bolls will even open after the plant has succumbed to winter freezes, and as long as the sections of fiber are fluffy, the fiber will still be viable for spinning. Depending on the cultivar, each boll has four or five sections filled with cotton fiber surrounding the seeds. To gather and store the cotton for later use, I snap the dried bolls off the plants and remove the fiber immediately, discarding the empty bolls into the compost. The fiber may be a little damp right out of the boll, so I lay it out on a towel or cookie sheet indoors for a few days to dry before storing. Separating the fiber from the bolls keeps crushed boll debris from mixing in with the cotton fiber, and thus the fiber requires minimal preparation and cleaning before spinning.

Photo by UN Photo/Mark Garten

Prepare to Spin

You can spin cotton fiber as is, right out of the boll, without removing the seeds first. Cotton doesn’t require any washing, and can be spun right off the plant. I prefer to remove the seeds first, so I can seamlessly spin through my pile of fiber. Some spinners prefer to combine seed collecting and spinning into one activity, as the fiber will pull right off the seeds during spinning. Regardless of the method you choose, save your seeds! The initial cost of cotton seeds from a seed catalog may seem a little pricey for the number in a package, but be assured that once you have a few bolls develop and open, you’ll have more than enough seeds for the following year.

If you end up wanting to produce lots of cotton yarn, investing in a charkha wheel may be a good idea. Photo by Adobe Stock/amlanmathur



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