09 May, 2009

Charkha Lesson from Jonathan Bosworth



Jonathan Bosworth, of Journey Wheel in Acton, MA, gave me a lesson on using one of his charkha wheels at Maryland Sheep and Wool.

“The idea of spinning, in general,” he says, “is taking a bunch of fibres which have been combed parallel by hand or by machine. What a spinner does is decide how big a yarn they want to make and then control the amount of twist that goes in.”

In the first photo you can see him demonstrate the correct angle to draw out the cotton in a long draw.

I was interested to note that you pinch the end of the strand, after drawing it out, and you hold it there “for a good two turns of the wheel,” he says, to let twist build up before winding on.

I was also surprised how little of a wheel revolution it takes to wind on.

I tried my hand with it using cotton top. The charkha suits short, fine staples such as cotton and some animal fibres, including qiviut. Bosworth regrets he is not rich enough to demonstrate his charkhas with qiviut fibre.

Bosworth’s Attaché Case and Book-Size charkhas are small and light for portability. He says one available style of charkha spindles has been rejected by airport security officials and another style has been accepted. The difference is in the tips. Forewarned is forearmed. Or unarmed, rather.


His charkhas attract a good amount of attention from people who have never spun before and are curious to know how it works or what advantage a charkha has over the highly popularized Saxony style.

The charkha's advantages would be portability, suitability to fine short fibres, an unusual attractive design, and historical significance. The charkha design came out of a contest occasioned by Gandhi's struggle for India's independence. He aimed to get everyone in India spinning for themselves a little each day, increase home production of cotton textiles, and boycott British textile manufacture to alter the economy.

The charkha is useful for showing non-spinners how twist enters spun fibre to form yarn, as the mechanics of its spindle are easier to see and understand than that of a Saxony's spindle shaft and orifice arrangement.

Bosworth asked if the name of my blog, The Sojourning Spinner, meant I intended to travel around to various countries and spin.* He said one of his customers reported traveling with her Journey Wheel charkha to the white cliffs of Dover, England and spinning at the top of the cliffs, “quite an experience for her.”


*It doesn’t, it means I am a stranger in a strange land right now, here. You’ll be amused to know that I hit the festival’s Justamere Tree Farm maple syrup booth to show allegiance to my roots.
One interesting thing about Justamere Farm's maple syrup: Marian Welch says not only is their syrup certified organic but vegan and dairy-free too (although they don't advertise it). During evaporation, to cut foaming, they use an additive that is not based on cream.

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