Spinning on a charkha or "point spinner"
Charkhas are also referred to as "point spinners" because the fiber twists from the point of the spindle, without a flyer unit. Spinning on a charkha spinning wheel is not like spinning on a traditional American spinning wheel. (View an American spinning wheel at The American Textile History Museum ). A charkha is a very simple tool that is used around the world for spinning cotton. It can also be used for short-staple or fine fibers such as silk and Merino wool. It has a high twist ratio, meaning, each turn of the wheel puts more twist into the yarn or thread than a spinning wheel with a low twist ratio. Cotton and other short-staple fibers need this in order to be a strong yarn or thread.
Below is a photo of a charkha from Kathmandu, Nepal. It is hand-carved of teak and has an 11 inch spindle. With it is pictured a bowl holding cotton bolls. On the right of the photo is the large wheel that turns the spindle, which is pictured on the left. Basically, all charkhas are the same simple design, a wheel that turns a spindle, with a drive belt directly between them. The exception would be a charkha that has an accelerator wheel in addition to the larger wheel.
The overall length of the Nepalese charkha is 23 inches and it is 15 inches wide (including the handle in place) and 11 inches tall. The spindle on this charkha is longer and heavier than on a book charkha, making it easier to spin larger quantities of thread or yarn.
Above is a photo of the charkha with cotton - they also can spin wool although care has to be taken not to overspin the fiber with wool. Below is a photo of the spindle with some Gotland sheep wool being spun. Gotland is a long-staple fiber, and well, doesn't really belong on a charkha, but I was able to spin it very quickly. The shorter-length wool fibers such as Merino are more suited to the twist ratio of a charkha.
The Indian book charkha, shown below, is also made of teak, and has the additional second, smaller, accelerator wheel. The drive belt runs from the large wheel to the small wheel, and then a second drive belt runs from the smaller wheel to the spindle. The "improvement" of the accelerator wheel on the book charkha is credited to Mahatma Ghandi, who wanted all Indians to spin cotton for national unity. The accelerator wheel increases the twist ratio of the finished thread or yarn. The book charkha is smaller than the Nepalese charkha. This book charkha is 6-1/2 inches wide and 20 inches long when opened, and only 10 inches long when closed, making it a very portable book-sized spinning wheel. The spindles are smaller also though ( 6-1/2 inches long each ) , which means that less yarn or thread can be stored on each one. The book charkha also has a skein winder that sets up on the smaller wheel.
Above, as I had stated, is the book charkha when opened. The spindle sits in a "mousetrap" shown in the lower left of the photo. The drive belts can be seen with one between the wheels, and one between the accelerator wheel and the spindle. Two spare spindles are in the top left photo, as are the arms for the skein winder. The light square of wood is the skein winder base and the brown extension handle on the lower right is for stabilizing the charkha when spinning. All of this either folds up or tucks in when you are not spinning, to the compact book shape shown below.
Charkhas have few working parts are are relatively easy to use. Simply, holding fiber to the point of the spindle and turning the handle of the wheel while drafting with the other hand, twists the fiber into yarn. Spinning fine cotton thread may be the most common universal use for a charkha but I make heavier yarns on them also.
The same methods for drafting that are shown on the "Spinning Cotton With A Hand Spindle" page may be used with a charkha. There are some differences in how the fiber is held perhaps, but basically the right hand is used to spin the wheel and the left to draft the fiber. This is assuming the spinner is right-handed.
Charkhas are very simply, fun to use. They are also fairly affordable, particularly the smaller book charkas from India. Especially well-suited for spinning cotton, they are similar to the drop spindle, with a long history in many different cultures.
A very interesting page is The History of The Charka, which briefly describes Indian women and the role the charkha plays in their lives.
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