Growing and Spinning Florida Native Cotton

By Caroline Tacker

Caroline Tacker lives in St. Petersburg FL, is a member of the Pinellas Weavers Guild, and
Florida Tropical Weavers.

I grow and spin Florida native cotton, which at its best has a three-quarter inch staple. I
currently use and Ashford Kiwi and Traditional for my spinning, but I can also use a Tahkli
spindle. This cotton was grown in my front yard. Florida native cotton is part of the Hibiscus
family as are all cottons. It is an endangered plant in Florida.
Florida native cotton grows much like our hibiscus: if left unattended it gets gangly and out of
control. I do prune my plant back, to try and make it aesthetically pleasing and also to make it
look like it belongs in the yard/garden. It is not cold tolerant it prefers to grow below the
subtropical line of Florida.
My start down the fiber path started over 17 years ago, when I attended a Florida native plant
sale in St. Petersburg, FL. There I found Florida native cotton seedlings which they were selling
at three pots for one dollar. I thought if they live great, if they don’t I’m only out one dollar. I was
told that cotton liked full sun and carbon monoxide so I planted my seedlings in the easement
of my front yard next to the road. As they grew over the next several months, they bloomed
and then I had this white beautiful fuzzy cotton. Now that I had this lovely fiber I had to figure
out how to process it.
I did several web searches – how to clean, gin, etc. and after a year of not finding much about
how to process cotton, other than commercially. I’d kind of given up. Then someone suggested
I go to Heritage Village. I contacted them and asked if they could teach me how to process my
cotton and in exchange I would become a volunteer. In March 2006, I met Wendy who taught
me how to gin my cotton by hand and spin it on a tahkli spindle. I had the process down in
about 45 minutes.
While volunteering at Heritage Village during their county Jubilee festival, I met Judy of the
Pinellas Weavers guild. She was spinning on a lovely spinning wheel. We talked for a while and
she invited me to come to a guild meeting. I did and joined the guild in December 2006. I have
loved being around other fiber minded people, I am currently still a member and have served at
various times as president, secretary and vice president.
So to sum it up almost 18 years ago I purchased three Florida native cotton plants for one
dollar I have since learned to spin on a spindle purchased two spinning wheels a drum Carter a
loom and other associated small equipment. I “play” with lots of different fibers, but I always
come back to cotton. I just love it