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The Story of Cotton

Today, the world uses more cotton than any other fibre. Cotton comes from cultivated plants from the genus Gossypium. They have been cultivated since ancient times for their fibres which are used as textiles. Cotton is a part of our daily lives from the time we dry our faces on a soft cotton towel in the morning until we slide between fresh cotton sheets at night. It has hundreds of uses, from blue jeans to shoe strings. Clothing and household items are the largest uses, but industrial products account from many thousands of bales. Cotton has other, more surprising uses too from medicines and mattresses to seed oil and even sausage skins. Click to download information leaflet Farm to Fabric

what is cottonWhat is the history of Cotton?
The oldest cotton fibres and boll fragments, dated from around 5000 B.C., were discovered in Mexico. Cotton has been worn in Egypt and India for over 5,000 years. Native Americans grew cotton as early as 1500. It was in the late 1700’s that Samuel Slater, an Englishman, built the first American cotton mill. These mills converted cotton fibres into yarn and cloth. In 1793, Eli Whitney developed the cotton gin, which mechanically separates the seed from the lint fibre. Whitney named his machine a “gin,” short for the word “engine” that could do the work 10 times faster than by hand. Technology has improved over the past centuries making cotton growth and production much more efficient.

Where is cotton grown in the world?
Cotton is grown in several countries including USA, China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Greece, Australia and many other countries.

How does cotton grow?
Cotton grows best on fertile, well drained soils. There are many species of cotton, but the most popular ones are Upland Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) followed by Pima Cotton (Gossypium barbadense). In Southeast Asia, the Asiatic Cotton (Gossypium herbaceum and Gossypium arboreum) is grown in some regions.

cotton-seeds-packetCotton is planted in Spring when temperatures are above 16 degrees Celsius. The cotton seeds germinate is 7-10 days. The bud, also known as a “square,” appears about 5-7 weeks after planting which forms flowers. The white blossoms become pollinated, turn pink and then wither producing green bolls. The green bolls mature into cotton bolls with the white fluffy fibres. Plants are irrigated, fertilised and weeded, as needed, during the growing cycle.

Cotton is defoliated, a process in which the leaves are removed and then cotton harvested and compressed into truckload sized “modules” and sent to the cotton gin. The gin separates the cotton fibres from the seeds. Saw gin is mainly used to process Upland cotton and roller gin is used for Pima cotton. Gins separate the seed and the lint is packed into 500 pound (227 kg) bales are sent out to textile mills to make yarn. A standard bale of cotton is 55″ tall, 28″ wide and 21″ thick. The cotton is carded or combed, making all of the fibres run parallel, and then spun into thread. The cottonseed at the gin is used as animal feed and garden fertilizer; while the oil extracted from cottonseed is used in firearm and pharmaceutical industries.

What is cotton used for?
Like lumber, cotton comes in many varieties and qualities, each suitable for different purposes. The long lint fibres are used for many things, most of which begin with a thread, yarn or cotton fabric. Clothing and bedding items are common products. The smaller cotton fibres, known as linters, are removed from the seed and are used as stuffing for furniture and components of linoleum, plastics and insulation. Cotton seed oil is used in foods and cosmetics. Cotton seed hulls are eaten by cattle.

What can one bale of cotton make?
215 Jeans
249 Bed Sheets
690 Terry Bath Towels
765 Men’s Dress Shirts
1,217 Men’s T-Shirts
1,256 Pillowcases
3,085 Diapers
4,321 Mid-Calf Socks
21,960 Women’s Handkerchiefs