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Featured Artist: Cotton Spinning with Joan Ruane

by The SpinArtiste on September 8, 2011

Publisher’s Notes:  One of my special fascinations as it comes to spinnng is the spinning of cotton. As a beginning spinner, it wasn’t long before I was exposed to the impression that spinning cotton is difficult and I quickly got into wool and some other animal fibers and lived there. Along the way, I was introduced to the work of Joan Ruane and inspired to investigate working with cotton.

Joan is a master of her art and it is both an honor and a pleasure to feature her on Spin Artiste.

Spin Artiste (SA): Welcome, Joan! Let’s jump right in with how you first got into spinning cotton.

Joan Ruane (JR): Since I lived in Arizona and Florida most of my adult life, cotton was much more practical then wool clothing. Persis Grayson was my first formal instructor and she had us spinning all kinds of fibers and when I got to cotton fiber, I just knew that was the fiber for me.

At that point I asked who was the best cotton spinning teacher? And of course I was directed to Harry and Olive Linder. I came home and called them and found they were traveling East that summer and had an opening the 4th of July weekend and asked if I would consider having them give Tallahassee, Florida area a workshop. So with the help of my friend Judy Kates we quickly organized a 3 day Cotton Spinning Workshop. That had to be about 1975. Since then I have been spinning cotton more than any other fiber.

SA: Wow! Tell us more about “why cotton?”

JR: Why cotton? First off the climate that I live in and second is how wonderful it feels in your hands as you spin. Also it might have been the challenge that all the books said it was hard to spin. When Harry and Olive taught me the proper way to adjust my wheels, handle the fiber and proper spinning techniques for cotton, it became “Easy to Spin”. Then when Harry could no longer travel and teach, he and Olive turned the responsibility over to me to teach the spinning world that cotton was “Easy to Spin”. And so that is what I have been doing for the last 35 years.

SA: For people that usually spin animal fibers, what would they be surprised to learn about spinning cotton?

JR: Anyone who spins can learn to spin cotton as long as they keep in mind that it is a short fiber and they need to adjust their wheel and learn just a few basic cotton spinning techniques. The “surprise” would be that it really is “Easy to Spin” as long as they have good quality cotton and the proper equipment.

SA: And, your wonderful video is very helpful and encouraging as well! Many Spin Artiste readers like to make or use “art” or “textured” yarns – how does cotton fit into making and using these types of yarns?

JR: Cotton loves to be created into art and textured yarns. I teach designer yarns by blending dyed cotton lint to create heathered yarns. Texture can be put into the yarns easily especially if they use cotton lint but must remember the slubs must be small to keep the yarn stable.

SA: Tell us about your studio and equipment.

JR: My studio…actually the class room is my favorite studio. Teaching is what I like best and then making hand woven items for my friends and family out of my hand spun cotton is second. For that I have several looms, my most used loom is an 8 harness Baby Wolf and then I have a 4 harness 36” Schacht floor loom for larger pieces.

The Baby Wolf is in my “in house” studio that is my 4th bedroom that is set up with all my spinning and weaving equipment and books. It faces west toward the Mule Mountains where I view my 28 acres of desert and then a 120 acre field that the neighbor plants in grass or corn each year.

My second studio is a single wide trailer that sets back away from the house and there I have all my “Easy to Spin” cotton sliver that I have processed and sell to shops around the U.S. and Canada.

I do the shipping of cotton and supplies out of the trailer studio. Also I store some of my extra commercial yarns in there as well as some of my teaching supplies and references.

SA: How has your work changed over the years?

JR: My work has not changed a lot but I think I have become a better weaver and use my hand spun more for both warp and weft.

SA: You give a lecture called “Cotton is ‘King’” regarding cotton’s history and the influence it has had on the U.S. — please give us a taste of what is contained in that lecture.

JR: As far back as history goes, cotton has been a prized fiber and used at first only by royalty. It was cotton that played a major role in shaping the USA from the Civil War to today it playing a major role in export and economy.

SA: You teach classes on spinning bast fibers as well — what is magical to you about working with those fibers?

JR: Bast fibers are opposite from cotton. They are stiff and long stapled and I love the challenge of going from one to the other.

SA: You’ve done so many things in your career — what are you still working on learning?

JR: Whenever a new fiber comes out, I have to try it. But my biggest challenge right now is to finish revising Harry and Olive Linder’s book on Hand Spinning Cotton to update it with the changes that have come about with cotton in the past 20 years. Also new electronics is a challenge for me and I keep learning from the grand kids!

SA: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

JR: My greatest accomplishment is my three wonderful children and the grand kids that I have as a result. And second is the part I have played in the world of fiber arts from establishing a wonderful Fiber Arts Studio in Bisbee, Arizona to proving to thousands of spinners that cotton is Easy to Spin!!!!

SA: When you aren’t involved with fiber arts, how do you spend your time?

JR: If I am not spinning and weaving then I am swimming, horseback riding and tending to my garden or volunteering.

SA: Tell us something we would be surprised to know about you.

JR: Don’t tell anyone but I like flick carding & spinning raw wool in the grease!

SA: I won’t!  Thanks so much Joan for sharing with us.  Dear Readers, when you have a chance, there is a lot of wonderful information and helpful products on Joan’s website.  Also, Joan is very active as a teacher and frequently travels to teach so check out her class schedule as well if you are interested in an opportunity to learn from such a knowledgeable and experienced teacher.

As many of you know, the grand opening of Lexi Boeger’s Pluckyfluff studio was last weekend which was accompanied by a terrific fiber festival billed as “Yarnival”.  Yours truly was there and when I get back from being on the road, I have some exciting content to share with Spin Artiste readers.  It was a great event — I meant many people that I’d only known online before and spent time with both old and new friends.  I wish you were all there!

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