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The Colored Yarn prototype

The Colored Yarn prototype

In an attempt to give an innovative twist to the age-old spinning wheel (charkha), students at the MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop have created a prototype that can color the yarn on the fly!

The project, Colored Yarn, has been created to provide technology advantage to the weaver community of India.

The Spinning Wheel

Charkha is one of the oldest known forms of the spinning wheel. It works with a drive wheel being turned by hand, while the yarn is spun off the tip of the spindle. It is a small, portable, hand-cranked wheel that is ideal for spinning cotton and other fine fibers. Mostly, the charkha is used for spinning cotton and the hand spun cloth is called Khadi in the Indian peninsula.

According to the Handloom Census of India 2009-10, India has about 29 lakh handloom workforce working on 23.77 lakh looms across household and non-household handloom units. About seven percent of the 20.91 lakh working household looms continue to use the hand spun yarn, supporting the Khadi programme. The most extensive use has been observed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where 30.1 percent and 24.4 percent looms operate with hand spun yarn, respectively.

It is for the community of weavers who provide hand spun yarn for the looms that the young innovators wanted to change the traditional way the charkha works.

The Colored Yarn

Team 2GB students Monica and Lavanya with Mentor Artem Dementyev

Team 2GB students Monica and Lavanya with Mentor Artem Dementyev

Attendra Sharma (20) of the Institute of Hotel Management, Gandhinagar along with Monica J. (21) of PESIT University, Bangalore, and Lavanya Gupta (20) of Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar, have developed an innovative prototype of the charkha that allows for the yarn to be colored on the fly.

The trio developed the project as part of the ‘Sensors Across Scale’ track at the 2015 MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop that was held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, in January. While the track focused on building new sensor systems working across scales, it also encouraged innovations that “affect human relationships and social problems”.

The 2GB team (two girls and a boy), as they called it, focused on innovating with the spinning wheel not with the sensors but by using basic components such as the box charkha, a pulley, a coloring unit, and a spool.

The team used a briefcase charkha that weighs just about 1.4 kilograms. Here’s how it works:

  • A tightly rolled tube of cotton, called pooni, is one of the ways to fine and even spinning. Weavers can make poonis from pre-carded cotton by laying a thin layer of cotton on a flat surface and rolling it around a thin stick and compressing it with hands.
  • For proper tension, the spindle support post must be positioned far enough so that the spindle drive cord holds it vertical. Also, the post base should be angled so that, when the spindle is spinning freely, its pulley rotates midway between the post arms, not touching either one.
  • For the first time, a leader is added to each spindle to help start the spinning process. The drive wheels turn together smoothly and the tension of the thread gets adjusted by moving the small wheel.
  • A spinner begins on this apparatus by drawing out the yarn to arm’s length with one hand while turning the big wheel clockwise with the other hand. The trick is to coordinate the speed of the draw with the speed of wheel turning, so that the yarn holds together but not too much twist travels up into the cotton in one’s hand. (Source: http://www.markshep.com/peace/Charkha.html.)

The 2GB team introduced a coloring unit as an attachment to the briefcase charkha. As a spinner spins, the plain thread passes through the unit where color is dropped on the thread through a funnel, producing a clean, dry, dyed hand spun yarn.

“This is a new and unique use of technology on a traditional product. The process of spinning the yarn and then dyeing it in a color of choice is a five-day process. Our prototype not only allows the weavers to color the yarn within a few seconds, but also provides them the freedom to experiment with different colors of their choice for the hand spun fabric, without much dependency on the dyeing process. By making minimal changes in the charkha, we have tried to retain the authenticity of the product and yet modernize it enough to save the art,” said Lavanya and Attendra who conceptualized and engineered the prototype.

The team plans to improve upon the design and function of the coloring unit to create a final product.

To know more about the Colored Yarn prototype, write to lavanya181194@gmail.com or attendra.ihma@gmail.com.

(This article is part of a series on innovations presented at the 2015 MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop.)


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