Cotton to Yarn : Art of spinning on a Charkha as a meditation

Hand spinning on a charkha (symbol of Indian Independence movement) is a wonderful process to instil patience, stability and peace in an individual.

Today ‘sustainability’, eco-friendly clothing and circular economy are words we hear often. But the magic of hand woven fabric is an age old practice. The Charkha wheel and revival of hand spun cotton clothing became a symbol of the Indian Independence movement. It represented Swadeshi, self-sufficiency, and at the same time interdependence, because the wheel was at the center of a network of cotton growers, weavers, distributors, and users. It kindled the philosophy of sarvodaya which meant, ‘reawakening of the spirit’ in harmony with nature and environment and for all forms of life. As more people are drawn to the rhythm of the wheel or spindle and handwoven clothing, the therapeutic value of spinning as an art cannot be undermined. 

‘True beauty lies beneath the surface’, and this stands true when one witnesses and experiences the magic of a hand spun yarn and fabric. What is it about spinning a yarn that makes it a meditative tool once you get truly involved into the whole process? Why are some fascinated and drawn to the rhythm of the wheel or spindle?  

“Take to spinning [to find peace of mind]. The music of the wheel will be as balm to your soul. I believe that the yarn we spin is capable of mending the broken warp and weft of our life…” – Mahatma Gandhi

A recent encounter with Karunakaran Gandhi from Chennai who is an advocate of Khadi – hand spun clothing was a reminder of all this and more. What came out as a result, was not just a hands-on experience of the process of turning cotton to yarn, it also gave an insight into spinning as a meditative tool. When we met him the first time, he was sitting in one of the corners of a big room, quietly absorbed in his Charkha, spinning on his portable hand-cranked wheel.

Out of curiosity we approached him to know what he was doing, but in turn he ensured that we experienced the magic of hand spinning. To our surprise, this turned out to be an engaging way to tune the mind to be in the ‘now’ moment. We also realized that the whole process is a wonderful tool for us, to become one with the activity we are involved in. Here is a short photo journey of the process. This might help many of us to gain an insight into what all goes into a hand spun cloth.

The art that is in the machine-made article appeals only to the eye; the art in Khadi appeals first to the heart and then to the eye. -Mahatma Gandhi

Procuring raw cotton

Identifying and procuring pure cotton is a challenge these days as the market is dominated with other synthetic blends in the name of cotton. It is best to procure it from any local Khadi gramodyog in India or directly from charkha weavers. Here we can see raw cotton slivers rolled into small sizes called ‘Pooni’ that are easy to handle while spinning.

Drawing the thread from the pooni

One needs a gentle touch to draw the pooni onto the spindle and let go of the thread very slowly with utmost carefulness . When we tried this part, we lost our patience at some point, which almost led to giving up altogether on this entire process.

The ‘khadi spirit’ means illimitable patience. For those who know anything about the production of khadi know how patiently the spinners and the weavers have to toil at their trade, and even so must we have patience while spinning.  – Mahatma Gandhi

Raw cotton slivers (Pooni) rolled into cylindrical shape
Few strands of cotton are manually twisted and wrapped around the spindle so one can start the spinning process.
yarn process on charkha
Drawing the thread from the Pooni and spinning simultaneously. 
portable charkha spinning experience
Hands-on experience of the spinning process

How can a simple spinning process instil patience, stability and peace?

Karunakaran Anna as we call him, never gave up on us.  After 3-4 tries of drawing the thread, it finally began to flow. This suddenly struck us as a complete spiritual practice (sadhana), a process that can help one to be more gentle, attentive and letting go of things which can stop one from flowing with the natural process of life in itself. No wonder, Gandhiji introduced Charkha spinning as something that would induce peace in human beings. Whilst we wouldn’t go into the details of the entire spinning process, we can surely tell that Karunakaran anna was indeed an embodiment of peace. 

Once the cotton is twisted and pulled into a yarn, it is then wound over a winder placed on the accelerator wheel. This is wrapped or coiled around the vertical metal limb of the winder to form a hank of yarn which will be used for warp and weft. A hank of yarn is usually a bundle of 1000m of yarn.

The winder placed on the accelerator wheel to wrap the yarn to form a hank
Winding the finished Handspun Yarn
The hank formed by wrapping the yarn
      Before and After : Cotton Sliver to the final yarn
Cotton garlands given as gifts to the guests as a symbol of honour and gratitude.

Spinning as an art as we know needs patience, attention to detail tunes the mind to focus and concentrate. Spinning on the charkha can build up physical resilience as well since one is required to sit in a cross legged posture for long duration. When we started the process we were hesitant ! We wondered how one could multitask; spin the yarn using one hand and turn the wheel using the other simultaneously. It almost seemed impossible. Like doing a difficult asana or sitting in a cross legged posture for a long duration, sticking to the process finally worked. In a candid conversation with a few elderly people,  we came to know that spinning was part of their school curriculum in earlier days. Whilst teaching them an art, this was expected to bring discipline and stability into young children.  With the dedication of people like Karunakaran anna, few schools and organisations are reviving charkha spinning these days.

Art of Spinning detailed process by Madhav Sahasrabudhe

While all of us may not be able to incorporate spinning in our life, it is important that we know who made our clothes. It adds dignity to the resources and labor that has gone into making a piece of clothing. We can also look at how we can become more vocal for handwoven clothing, support our small-scale industries and sustainable clothing brands to uphold this long tradition of handwoven clothing.

Story of a weave is the story of a region, its people and culture, all these stories combined, is the story of a nation.

Have you tried your hand at a spinning wheel or a spindle? What has been your experience? Or would you like to get a hands-on experience of spinning on a portable Charkha? Write to us at connect@adishakti.com

Until then let the charkha spin!!

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