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Heritage Harvest Festival 2017The Heritage Harvest Festival is coming up September 8 and 9. It is a huge deal held at Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, near Charlottesville, VA. This event is sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Seed Savers Exchange. It celebrates food, sustainable agriculture, and the preservation of heritage plants.

Saturday, September 9 is the main event. Up on the mountain there will be booths with vendors, demonstrations on all sorts of stuff, and tents where talks will be held. For one admission price of $28 (children 5-11 $9, under 5 FREE) you have access to all the speakers that day. In years past, some of the talks were premium talks that required signing up ahead and paying a separate fee. Many of the premium talks were held at the visitor center. This year on Saturday there will be no talks at the visitor center.

flax to linen--retted sraw-strick-spun

Homegrown Flax–retted straw, processed fiber, spun flax (now called linen)

There will be premium talks at the visitor center on Friday, September 8 and that is where you will find me.  This is the 11th year for the festival and the 10th year that I will be speaking there. The Heritage Harvest Festival celebrates local food and gardening and usually my talks reflect that. I have given talks on cover crops, growing sustainable diets, garden planning, seed libraries, and how to transition from a home gardener to a market gardener. This year my talk is From Seed to Garment: Cotton and Flax/Linen in Your Garden. I am looking forward to sharing my work with fiber. Monticello is working on a textile exhibit that will open in 2018 to showcase the spinning and weaving that was done at the plantation, primarily to clothe the slaves. I am happy to bring a bit of textile production to the place ahead of that.

homegrwon handspun cotton shirt 2016

Homegrown, handspun, naturally colored cotton shirt.

I will still be around on Saturday and you will find me in the Homeplace Earth booth, #RR7 on Retailer Row. If you can’t make it to the talk on Friday and really want to take a closer look at my homegrown clothes, come and find me Saturday. I will have them in the booth, along with my DVDs and books that I have for sale. I won’t be selling any homegrown clothes, though.

This is a unique event. You get to hang around Thomas Jefferson’s backyard and enjoy so many things besides the great view. My friends Kim and Jimbo Cary will be playing music under the trees. They will have some gourds, washboards, and tamborines for you to use if you want to join in. They are great with the kids. When you are not taking in a lecture you can stop by the Seed Tent and do some seed swapping. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will have their tomato tasting, as always. You can wander through their tent and try varieties of tomatoes that you probably never knew existed. I’m sure Thomas Jefferson is in his glory, having all of this at his home. He so much enjoyed experimenting with new crops at Monticello. When I am there I take the time to stop, look around, and marvel at what is going on. All of this celebration of agriculture and food in this particular place! Fantastic!

The Heritage Harvest Festival will expose you to many new and not-so-new projects around the region that promote sustainable agriculture. A word of warning to those like me who carry a pocket knife–this year they will be screening for things like that, so leave your knife in the car. Come for a day on the mountain, make new friends, and be sure to come by and see me!homeplace earth logo

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have completed another garment with my homegrown cotton! You may recall that I made a vest from my homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton in 2015. For the vest I used my green cotton. I had grown green and brown in separate gardens, but they crossed. There was some brown and a bit of white (although I wasn’t growing any white) mixed in with the green and I spun it all together. It was easier that way since I was spinning it off the seed.

book-charkha-cotton-seeds-mat-blog

Indian book charkha

This time I carefully separated out the colors and took the seeds out by hand before spinning. Examining the seed and noticing the feel of the fiber helped with identification, since sometimes the colors are so faint at harvest that it is hard to tell them apart. Once the fiber is spun and boiled to set the twist, the color pops. As for feel, the green feels a bit silky compared to the brown. The green fiber is also a little longer than the brown. The Nankeen brown seed I was working with is naked seed with no lint on it. Everything else had fuzzy seeds. I spun all the cotton for the shirt on my Indian book charkha that I bought from Eileen Hallman at New World Textiles.  I plied the singles on my Louet10 wheel. I had Nankeen Brown, Erlene’s Green, and light brown. When I got right down to it, I didn’t have enough green and brown fiber for my project, so I used the white cotton I had grown in the late 1990s. I didn’t know how to spin then and had put it away in a box, seeds and all. That first homegrown cotton is now in my new shirt.

loom-with-fabric-for-shirt-blog

My loom with fabric for the shirt on it.

I spun the brown, green, and white separately, then plied brown and green together and brown and white together. I used the same 12″ table loom as I used for my vest, resulting in 9½” wide panels of fabric to work with. There are 2 panels on each front and back and ½ panel on each side. Each sleeve is made from 2½ panels. I wanted to conserve as much of the fabric as I could, cutting only the lengths apart. The only shaping was for the neck. The color of the cotton that had crossed expressed itself as light brown, whether it was in the brown bed or the green bed. I used the light brown for my warp. My loom has 8 spaces per inch on the beater bar and enough string heddles for 8 ends per inch (epi). I could have made more heddles and doubled up the warp ends through the beater bar, but I didn’t. The 8 epi made for a weft faced fabric like my vest. I used my homegrown 2-ply cotton throughout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wove four full length (30½”) panels for the front and back. The change of color from brown/white to brown/green is woven in, not pieced. The side panel was woven at 22” long. The sleeve panels were woven at 14” (10½” brown/white ply and 3½” brown/green). The hem is 1” plus an additional ⅜” turned in from there. I had to make sure to allow for shrinkage when I determined my measurements for weaving. Shrinkage in the length amounted to about 8%.

Most of the seams were ¼”. I made facing for the neckline from cotton fabric that had been dyed with black walnuts. There is a ⅜” seam at the shoulders. I designed this pattern myself and made a shirt from pieces of denim saved from old jeans to try it out before cutting my homegrown cotton. The shirt fit beautifully. To make more room in my hips, especially when putting my hands in my pockets, I did not bring the seams where the front and back panels connect to the side panels down all the way to the hem, leaving a few inches open. Those edges were faced with the walnut dyed cotton.

yarn-for-shirt-blog

Cotton used in my shirt. I didn’t need the green/white ball.

The hardest part of this project was estimating how much fiber I needed. I had the calculations of how much 2-ply yarn it took to make my vest, but now I was using a charkha to spin. That, combined with having more spinning experience, my yarn was finer, requiring more yards per woven inch. I needed to calculate carefully because I had a limited amount of fiber. By keeping careful records and weaving a sample, I estimated that I needed 43.65 yards of raw singles for each 1” of weaving. This cotton would get boiled twice—once after spinning into singles and again after plying. I estimated about 12.5% total shrinkage for that. Once everything was plied, I needed a figure for how much 2-ply yarn necessary to finish my project. I estimated 22.2 yards of 2-ply yarn for each inch of weaving. My calculations from actual weaving were 18.1-22.2 yards of 2-ply for each inch of weaving. Thinking back to the 43.65 yards of raw singles, taking out 12.5% for shrinkage and dividing it by 2 to make the 2-ply yarn, I would end up with 19 yards of 2-ply per inch of weaving. There are many ways to calculate and I wanted to use generous estimates to make sure I had enough fiber. Periodically I checked my 2-ply yarn for wraps per inch (wpi) and found it to vary from 29-35 wpi.

I loved doing this project, although, at times I thought I would go crazy doing the calculations. I wanted something appropriate to wear it with, so I made a pair of jeans from naturally brown denim I bought from Sally Fox at Vreseis.com. I’m wearing those jeans in the top photo.

I am enjoying wearing this shirt everywhere I can. It is so comfortable! The design allows freedom of movement and that contributes to the comfort, but I think all the good energy it embodies contributes even more. Knowing I grew it from saved seeds, spun, wove, and sewed it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction. I want to encourage other spinners out there to do the same. This shirt weighs 14 ounces. To give you an idea of how much space you would need to grow that much, in my Grow and Spin Cotton post I gave yields of 12-16 ounces per 100 sq. ft. Your yield could be higher or lower, depending on where you live. I hope you give it a try!homeplace earth

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Cindy in her homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Cindy in her homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

My new vest is finished! In the photo I am wearing my new homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton vest. It has been a long time in coming. Growing the cotton and sewing the vest are skills and knowledge I already had. The spinning and weaving were things I needed to learn.

Homegrown cotton and takli spindle.

Homegrown cotton and takli spindle.

In February 2013 I wrote of my cotton spinning journey in my blog post Grow and Spin Cotton. I’ll repeat the photo here of my Nankeen Brown cotton, Erlene’s Green cotton, and takli spindle. All the fiber for the vest was spun on that spindle. Since cotton has such a short fiber length, it is helpful to use a support spindle, which is what a takli is. A small bowl supports the bottom of the spindle while it spins. Once the cotton was spun into singles I plied two singles into 2-ply yarn, which is what I used to weave with. The plying was done on a drop spindle that I made from a dowel and a small wooden wheel.

Small table loom with fabric for homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Small table loom with fabric for homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Joining Clothos Handspinners has been an important part of this fiber adventure. I learn so much from attending the meetings and interacting with the members. Every two years the group holds a swap meet which is an opportunity for members to sell extra equipment, fiber, and books and for others (like me) to acquire it. Some of that trading also goes on informally at the regular meetings. The swap meet was where I bought my loom. Then I had to learn to use it. This vest has not been an easy project. The loom is 12” wide, but my resulting fabric was only 9½” wide. I made a pattern from the quilted vest I wear, and from that, designed a pattern that used 9½” wide fabric. Since 9½” is not wide enough for a full front or back panel, there are side panels that make up the difference.

Erlene's green and Nankeen brown cotton spun and woven.

Erlene’s green and Nankeen brown cotton spun and woven.

I used brown for the warp and green for the weft. As you can see, the weft is dominant in the weaving. I grew both colors in the garden and, although they were a good distance apart, there was some crossing. I didn’t notice green in with the brown, but there would be some brown in with the green. Maybe brown is the dominant color when it comes to genetics. When I was spinning I didn’t separate the off-color fibers, so there was some brown spun with the green, just as it was harvested. The fiber from the green cotton plants also had bits of white. It made for a pleasant variation in color in the finished fabric. Although I did do some carding, mostly I spun the fiber right off the seed.

As noted in my 2013 blog post, my 2012 yield (fiber only, no seeds) was .75 lb (green) to 1 lb. (brown) fiber per 100 sq. ft. The weight of my vest is 11.5 oz. (.72 lb.) including lining and buttons. Frequently people assume I would have had to grow cotton on a larger scale to produce an item of clothing, but this can be done in a garden. I used cotton osnaburg fabric for the lining—a piece I had left from a previous project. Osnaburg has an earthy appearance and seemed right for the vest. Besides, I already had it.

Button made from a shell on the homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Button made from a shell on the homegrown, handspun cotton vest.

Although I usually don’t button my vests closed, I wanted to have buttons and I wanted them to be special. My first thought was to make wooden buttons, but then I remembered the jar of shells our children picked up at the beach many years ago. I used small vice grips to nip the edges of a shell off—going round and round until it was the size I wanted for a button. Then I drilled two ⅟₁₆” holes in each button. I didn’t want to put buttonholes in my new fabric so I made loops by braiding my brown cotton yarn to close the vest, if I should want to. This was my first time making buttons from shells and I am pleased with the results. In the photo you can see a bit of the osnaburg lining.

Now that I know how to spin and weave, the possibilities for unique yarns and fabrics are endless. I will be learning about natural dyes and eventually learn to spin wool and to use a wheel. When I was at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC in April I bought a book charka from Eileen Hallman at New World Textiles, but I haven’t used it yet so as not to distract me from finishing the vest. Once I learn how to use it, the charka will speed up my cotton spinning. For this vest I wanted to use the least technology that I could, not only because it was the least expensive way to go (which was a consideration), but because I wanted to relate to how people down through the ages worked with fiber to clothe themselves. I’m sure in some places people still depend on these methods and, you can be sure, I kept them in my heart while I worked.

When I first grew cotton I had no idea what to do with it and put it away in a box for at least ten years. It has taken some effort to learn to spin and to get to the point of making a vest with my homegrown cotton. I might have finished the vest earlier if I wasn’t sidetracked writing two books during that time. You might not be into growing and spinning your own cotton, but there is probably some other adventure that has been rolling around in your head for awhile—maybe even ten years or more. I want to encourage you to go for it. If I can learn to do this, you can learn new tricks, too.

I’ll be wearing my new vest at upcoming events this year, which are listed here. First up is the Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, Vermont on June 3-5. See you there!

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green and brown cotton bolls with spindleI usually write about food crops and soil building, but today I’m talking about fiber. I have begun to grow cotton and have learned to spin it using a spindle. Growing and using cotton is more than just a new craft for me. It adds diversity to my garden, which is important in a permaculture garden, and it helps me connect with factors beyond the garden. Plants are grown around the world for more things than food. If our gardens are to provide for us and if we are ever going to be free from corporate domination, we need to consider everything. From our plants we can get food, fuel, medicine, fiber, dyes, and so on. The movement to make available food grown in a sustainable manner to everyone is gaining momentum. What about obtaining our other needs from sustainable sources?       

When India was a colony of Britain, Indian cotton was shipped to Britain and the Indians had to buy it back as fabric. Gandhi promoted spinning as an act of independence. If the Indians spun and used their own cotton, they would be free of British control of that resource. In fact, Gandhi had a contest to develop a small spinning wheel that was portable enough that people could easily spin in public and the box charka was born. What better act of nonviolent protest but to spin cotton into thread and yarn in public! Unfortunately, today Indian cotton farmers face another peril with the introduction of GMO cotton seeds. In 2000 I heard Vandana Shiva speak about the number of suicides among cotton farmers in India. They had been convinced to grow GMO cotton by Monsanto and things were not going well. The problems continue to this day. Please take the time to listen to her tell you about it here. Shiva’s organization Navdanya goes into these areas with open pollinated seeds to help the farm families recover.

In doing some research for this post I was heartened to find that there are projects underway to promote the sustainable growing of cotton around the world and in the U.S. You can find more about that at http://www.sustainablecottons.com/. Where is the fabric coming from for your cotton clothes? Begin looking for a Fairtrade label for cotton. Also, consider how the cotton you buy gets its color. Cotton grows naturally in more colors than white. Pakucho is the brand name of cotton from a project developed in Peru to revive the growing of colored cotton on small farms.

green cotton fiber and seeds--BLOG

1 ounce green cotton fiber/seeds

In 2004 I came across an article in Spin-Off magazine about a woman who had grown the cotton that she then spun (with a spindle) and wove into fabric for a shirt. You can read “My Cotton Shirt” here. At least I knew that my idea of growing cotton and making a shirt out of it wasn’t totally crazy. I did grow some cotton around that time, but I didn’t know anyone who was spinning cotton and I was busy with other things, so the harvest was stored away. The only spinners I knew worked with wool and said that, since cotton had such a short fiber, it was really hard to spin. I figured that if spinning cotton was all I knew, spinning cotton would be my normal and that wouldn’t be a problem. After all, people have spun cotton down through the ages so I should be able to learn this. For the past two summers I grew both Erlene’s Green and Nankeen Brown cotton. The seeds came from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange the first year and I saved them after that. There are a lot of seeds in cotton. In one ounce of green cotton that I weighed, 75% of that ounce was 185 seeds and 25% of that ounce was fiber.   

I turned to Joan Ruane to learn to spin the fiber into yarn, once I found her video Cotton Spinning With the Takli. A takli spindle is what is recommended for cotton and that’s what I’ve been using. My husband gave me her kit with fiber, spindle, and DVD as a gift and it was a great way to get started. It was very slow going at first, though. I had to remind myself of how it was when I taught myself to knit—only this seemed harder. Clothos Handspinners, a group of wonderful folks into handspinning, came to my rescue. At the first meeting I attended in November, 2011, Judith spent time teaching me some basics and I will be forever grateful. Most of the members show up with their spinning wheels, but there are some, like me, who are using a spindle. Most work in wool, but not exclusively. I am not interested in getting a wheel right now because I want to master the spindle. Besides, I want to see how much skill and knowledge I can gain with the least money spent. Another DVD that has helped me is Spinning Cotton by Stephanie Gaustad. If my garden DVDs have helped people as much as these cotton DVDs have helped me, I will be happy. My goal is to make a vest out of my homegrown, homespun cotton, so I’ll be learning to weave next. After that comes the shirt.

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds--plus spindle

seeds and green spun cotton from 1 ounce fiber/seeds–plus spindle

Cotton needs hot weather and a lot of sun. The varieties I grow take 130 days to mature, but it differs by variety. Sea Island White  requires 160 days. Start the seeds and set out transplants as you would tomatoes. I’ve heard of growing cotton in containers and bringing it inside when the weather turns cold if you live in a marginal climate. In my 2012 garden I harvested 2.5 pounds of green fiber and seed in an 80 ft.² bed. That works out to about .75 lb. fiber per 100 ft.² (and lots of seeds). The brown cotton harvest was equivalent to one pound fiber per 100 ft². I had 7-12 bolls on each plant. Now that I’m paying attention, I believe that I can better that harvest. The U.S. average is 1.7 pounds fiber per 100 ft². You could begin with just a few plants among your flowers.

knitted homegrown cotton sampleGrowing colored cotton has been really interesting. After cotton has been spun, it needs to be boiled to set the twist. When you do that, the color deepens. The green spun cotton shown with the spindle and seeds is the same cotton that is shown as fiber in the other photo with the seeds. In the sample that I’ve knitted, the deep green and brown colors are the natural colors after boiling the spun fiber. The white is what I grew years ago with only an inkling of an idea that I might want to do this sometime.

In 2007 a new charka was introduced in India. This e-charka allows the spinner to produce electricity while he/she spins. A battery stores the electricity to operate an LED light and a transistor radio. Spinning cotton by hand is still important in rural areas of India and elsewhere and this new charka will increase the quality of life for these spinners. Gandhi would be proud. For now, at least, I’ll stick with my spindle. Growing cotton and learning to spin it is a wonderful project. Doing it with children gives them a great glimpse into history. There are so many things you could talk about with them when you are working with the plants and fiber. As you spin your own homegrown fiber, keep in mind all those farmers who are keeping the old skills and seeds alive. Every good thought we have goes out as a ripple that eventually connects us all.Homeplace Earth

For more thoughts on growing and spinning cotton see http://www.motherearthnews.com/permaculture/grow-spin-cotton.aspx#axzz2LRWabZ00

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