Saturday, November 20, 2010

Spinning on a charkha

For my birthday this year, I told Bruce that I wanted a charkha.  He said "A what?"  I explained that a book charkha is what is used to spin cotton in India, and that it was developed for Mahatma Gandhi.

This description of the charkha is from Mark Shepard's website:

"Charkha, literally meaning “wheel,” is India’s generic term for any spinning wheel or hand-cranked spinning machine. The type of charkha available in the U.S. is more strictly identified as the box charkha. The various models of box charkha have been designed and then manufactured by Gandhi’s co-workers and followers as part of his “khadi movement,” to promote self-sufficiency in cloth-making. The double-wheel drive, which allows greater speed and control as well as portability, is Gandhi’s own innovation.
The box charkha is commonly available in two sizes: “briefcase” and “book.” The smaller book charkha is more portable but tricker to adjust and use, so the briefcase charkha is usually the best first choice."

I did find the book charkha a bit difficult to set up, even though I had guidance from Eileen Hallman's DVD Spinning Cotton on the Charkha.  However, I am getting the hang of it. 

Here is a closeup of the charkha in action.  As you can see, it has two drive wheels.  I think this is what gives it such a high ratio.

And here I am spinning. 
Notice the orange furry object behind me?  That's Daphne.  She has always seemed to respect my spinning and weaving as important work.  She just settles down nearby.  She does not feel the same about knitting (maybe because I am sitting on the couch).

You turn the handle very slowly as you are drafting the fibre.  Ms. Hallman suggests holding the fibre as though it was a baby bird that you wanted to contain but not crush.  That is really loose!  The whole process seems like magic, even to an experienced spinner like me.

Then you pinch off the drafted fibre and turn the wheel faster (about 1.5 turns) to add twist before backing off slightly and winding on.

I went all out and also purchased a shuttle that will hold the spindle so that I can weave with the singles.  I got all this from Knotty By Nature in Victoria  I think her name is Stephanie, but I am awful at remembering names.  She was most helpful and included lots of organic coloured cotton roving to my stash.  She also mentioned that she had used commercial bamboo (2/8) for the warp in the scarf she had woven with her charkha spun singles.  It looked great, so I got some of that too. (It was my birthday, after all.  Birthdays are not as welcome as they used to be, but at least they are a good excuse to buy some more fibery stuff.)

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