Craft:Cotton making

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DM Tips:Crafts - Cotton and Linen making

Cotton is a swamp plant that grows in warm areas, notably northern Aduria and the eastern coast of the Khinasi lands. Cotton has a short staple (thread length) making it easy to card (align the individual threads in the same direction prior to spinning), but hard to turn into thread by spinning. Cotton makes a cooler cloth than wool and does not absorb water as well making it more popular with labourers in hot lands and sailors of all seas. Before being carded the cotton must be willowed ? beaten with willow to make it fluff up and to clean it. Cotton must be spun quickly and under tension or it will kink making it difficult to then weave into cloth.
Linen is obtained from the flax seed, which also produces linseed oil and its crushed seeds are used to flavour some cakes. Flax grows well in good soil where the weather is cool and damp throughout the summer, although ideally dry during the harvest. About 90 lbs of seed must be sown per acre in late march/early april. The flax plant grows 3-4 feet high, has pale blue flowers and is ready for harvesting (for use in cloth) in late july, slightly later if the intent is to harvest the oil.
Unlike cotton with its seed surrounded by a fluffy ball of fibre, to obtain linen the entire plant must be uprooted. The seed bolls are then removed by rippling, i.e. pulling the plants through a large metal comb (the bolls are then generally used as cattle feed). The rippled stems are then retted, to break down the gum holding the fibres together and rot away the unwanted inner core. Retting is done by laying the stems out on the ground to let the dew and sun work on them for 2-5 weeks, or by submerging them in a pond for 8-14 days. Retting is something of an art, and the quality of the final cloth is heavily dependent on the degree of retting done ? the aim is for the stems to just begin to crack and open when they are removed and dried.
Once retted, the stalks must be washed clean in water, and then dried. The line, or true linen fibres, are then removed from the stalk by scutching and hackling. Scutching is where the stalk is beaten and dragged over a battern the break and crush the woody pith in the fibres that it can be removed. Hackling is where the line resulting from scutching is drawn over a bed of nails or comb to remove fibres that are too short, these short fibres, or tow, are used for stuffing mattresses, caulking desks, etc.
Once scutched and hackled the line must be dressed for spinning. Taking as much fibre as can be clasped in one hand the dresses ties the bundle to their waist hanging down on one side. The dresses then takes a pinch of fibre and separates it from the mass placing it on the other side. They repeat taking pinches until the entire mass of fibre is fanned out over their legs, often in several layers although the fibres remain distinct. A distaff (a short stick with rippled edges) is then laid alongside the threads, which are then wound around it, tightly at the top but loosely at the bottom. A ribbon is then wrapped around the distaff at which point it is ready for spinning. The amount of time spent by women on the preparation and spinning is noted in the application of the name distaff to the female side of a family.

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