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Unearthing Fabrics : Cotton

Posted On : November 28, 2018

Linda Wairegi


Unearthing Fabrics is a new series that looks at the history of your favourite fabrics before you started wearing them on your backs.

Of course, cotton t-shirts always feel airy & comfortable when you wear them.

Discovery of cotton?

Pieces of a 4000-year-cloth of have been found in Pakistan & Peru. Also, Ancient mummies were once wrapped in cotton in Peru. Egypt & Mexico also have old samples of cotton.

Indeed, Gossypium herbaceum and Gossypium arboretum  are two species of cotton that originated in India and Africa.


Growing Cotton?

Cotton plants are found in hot countries like Kenya because they need need heat & water.

Puffy, cotton fluff of seed pods grow on members of the mallow family.

The seed is planted. Two months,  the plant is about a foot high, flowers develop from buds called “squares.” The flowers are initially white but turn red on the second day.  Petals fall off on the third day & leave behind undeveloped, flattened green pods called boll.

This boll needs 45 to 60 days to mature into an egg-shaped pod. It’ll be about an inch in diameter and an inch and a half long. ‘Locks’ are three to five cotton-filled compartments that live inside mature pods. Moreover, seven to ten seeds can be found inside a pod. Each with thousands of fluffy white cotton fibers are attached.

Months later, fluffy cotton balls form on full-grown plants.  It can be harvested either by hand or by machine. The cotton fibers are separated from the cotton seeds. Cotton fabric is made from cotton fibers. The seeds can be replanted or used to make cottonseed oil.


Processing Cotton?

Certainly, cotton fibers are developed through a few processes including spinning, plying, combing & carding.

Firstly, cotton needs to be spun into yarn first. A machine is used to spin the fibers together called a spinning mill. At this point, synthetic fibers made through chemical processes can be added. Alternatively, purely cotton can be spun.

Secondly, “plying” happens and two single threads are twisted together. Twisting determines the structure of the yarn & how the finished product will look.

Thirdly, combing or carding can be used to prepare the cotton. 

During combing, cotton fibers are placed through a series of straight metal teeth. To ensure that all fibers are parallel to each other. Hence, it’s expensive but the fabric has a softer, smoother finish.

Meanwhile, carding is where two hands or two machine cards with numerous teeth are used. They separate fibers and remove broken fibers or impurities without making them parallel. In short, carded cotton feels fluffier and rougher to the touch.

Next weaving happens and this usually done on a loom. They work quickly by interlacing lengthwise yarn (warp) and crosswise yarn (filling). Consequently, a woven fabric called grey goods is created.

The basic fabric can be dyed, another layer can be added or designs can be printed on it. In addition, one dying technique is having the fabric turning in a tumbler with the colour dye.

Finally, the fabric is chosen and sown into a t-shirt. This can either be done by hand or in a big factory.


Facts About Cotton

Cotton has several uses from t-shirts, underwear to towels, shoe strings & jeans.

Cottonseed is crushed to separate three main things: cottonseed oil, meal and hulls. For example, cottonseed oil is used to cook food & can be added to cosmetics. 

Similar, meal and hulls can as a fertilizer for fish feed, livestock & poultry. Lastly, stalks and plants are planted so they can enrich the soil.


Why Love Cotton?

Cotton is super breathable and it easily absorbs moisture and allows it to evaporate. This is a pro for underwear, sleepwear & exercise clothes.

It’s soft. It stays cool in the summer & insulates you well in the winter. Being a natural fibre, its hypoallergenic just like silk. Perfect for babies. It’s strong, super versatile & easy to dye.

Alternatively, Cotton shrinks and wrinkles easily. It can easily damage and fade because of the sun. Dye can easily run from cotton garments and stain other clothes.


Looking After Cotton

Cotton should be washed in cold water that isn’t more than 30°C . Gently stretch them after you’re done washing so they return to their original shape. Always hang your clothes outside in the sun. Always to refer to the care label whenever you want to iron your clothes. Cotton irons well when its slightly damp or when using a steam iron.


Different Types Of Cotton

Cotton is used to make other fabrics that people love. The list includes denim, corduroy, lace, flannel, fleece, mesh, velour and velvet.


Linda Wairegi

Creative writer interested in life & being happy 😉

Linda Wairegi

Creative writer interested in life & being happy ;)


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