Spinning is something that any Fulani woman over fifty here is familiar with. Before the markets became mile high with European cast-offs and cheap synthetics, clothes were spun and woven by hand using locally grown cotton.
Times have changed and there are few ladies who still practise the skill. But in a wuro (a family’s yard) near where I live in Burkina Faso, the women have kept the tradition going. Why? Because it’s tradition (‘fina tawa’), they say – it’s what they know. I guess it’s like those old ladies back home who knit booties until their last breath and could virtually cast off with their hands tied behind their back.
These Fulani women buy a sack of cotton for 3000 cfa (about £4) off a local farmer, spin it then give it to a local weaver to make into 10cm wide bands. A roll of that (about 14 metres long) is then taken to market for a small profit. It takes about 3 months to spin a whole bag. Sometimes they use the bands to make clothes for themselves or the family but they admit they are a little hot to wear outside of Winter. SAHEL Design have incorporated similar hand-spun bands into beautiful rustic cushion covers and blankets which are perfect for European climes.
So how hard can it be to turn cotton into yarn by hand? Harder than patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time? There was only one way to find out, so I asked for an impromptu lesson and made a video at the same time.