Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 26 September 2011


In honour of the anniversary of Gandhi's birth, October 2, I've been playing with the Bosworth book charkha I bought from sheepless at Olds Fibre Week this summer.  I've used an Indian book charkha for years and loved it, but it's a quirky little machine that is worn out from hard use and our dry climate. 

The story goes that Gandhi promoted the book charkha as a means to make spinning available to everyone in India, including urban apartment dwellers who didn't have the space for large charkhas.  Charkhas are fast and efficient; their rhythm makes them conducive to meditation, which Gandhi considered essential to well-being.

Bosworth charkhas are rare things-there's a long waiting list-and expensive, so I leaped at the chance to get this one.  I wasn't disappointed.  These machines are masterfully engineered and beautifully finished.  Set up is easy and this charkha spins really well.  There is a learning curve with any new tool, so I started by spinning some cashmere and silk "waste," bits of top, tangled fibres, etc. cut from factory machines.  The fibres are soft and spin well with a bit of coaxing.  They're short, so they're excellent to use for the unsupported long draw required for the charkha, where one hand turns the drive wheel while the other drafts the fibres and feeds the yarn onto the spindle:

The open charkha, ready to go, showing the built-in lazy kate

My right hand turns the drive wheel

Note the light touch on the fibre supply

My left hand drafts the fibres back

Spinning occurs as I draft off the spindle tip

Winding on occurs when you hold the yarn perpendicular to the spindle shaft

With practice, it doesn't take long to establish a rhythm of cranking, drafting, adding twist and then winding on to the spindle.  Meant for fine yarns, the spindles hold plenty of highly twisted singles.  The charkha uses an accelerator wheel, so the ratio of spindle to drive wheel rotations is 70:1.  I measured my drafting length and counted my turns when adding extra twist; I'm adding about 12 to 13 twists per inch here.

Although the wheel can be used for plying, charkha plying is not the most relaxing activity on the planet.  (This part was not meditative.  There were many words chanted, none of them calming.  On the other hand, I was totally focused!)  Many authorities recommend winding off the spindles and using a traditional wheel or handspindle for plying, but I was determined to use the charkha to produce a plied skein.  For the first sample, I used the built-in lazy kate, with the rubber band tensioning recommended in my instructions:

It worked, but I discovered that if I stopped plying, everything tangled.  The spindles didn't wind off evenly, causing snarls and snaps (many of them coming from me).  I persisted and managed to ply a 20 metre sample skein, in all its uneven glory.

With my remaining singles, I wound a plying ball.  Plying from that ball was more successful and I think that's the way to go, if I don't want to move to using storage bobbins, etc.  I intend to take this wheel on the road with me and I want to keep extra equipment to a minimum.

The charkha folds up into a book size box when it's not in use:

The closed charkha, with the finished sample skein and a Tabachek mini niddy noddy

Here are the finished skeins, both washed in hot water and dish soap, lightly fulled, rinsed and dried flat:

If you get an opportunity to work with a charkha, give it a whirl, if only to appreciate the mastery of its design and efficiency.  Charkha spinning is lots of fun, too, and I'm sure the plying will be more enjoyable, once I get a feel for it.

Namaste and Happy Birthday to my sister, Liz!


  1. Ooh, can I try it sometime? I've been debating about sending a deposit and getting on the waiting list for a Bosworth charkha but I'm not sure my right shoulder will be happy about turning the wheel.

  2. Certainly. Let's arrange a test drive--pmail me!

  3. I am so confused by this... I don't know a lot about spinning, but this is the first time I've seen a charkha before! Very cool!