How Is Cotton Fabric Made?
The process of making cotton fabric has become a highly industrialized one, especially in developed countries. The harvesting of cotton plants has become largely mechanized in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, but there are numerous cotton-producing nations around the world. After harvesting, raw cotton goes through a cleaning and refining process before it is spun into thread and woven into cotton fabric on looms. While synthetic fibers have seen increased use in recent years, cotton fabric alone still accounts for at least half of all clothing textiles in the world.
Cotton is typically planted in spring, again by machines, which can plant 12 rows of cotton seeds at a time. Under good conditions, the plants generally are visible above the ground within a week. The seedlings mature for about a month and a half, and then begin to flower. Flowering is very brief, and in just a few days after the flower appears, it is gone, and in its place remains the part of the plant that ripens into a pod called a boll. Over two to three months, the boll matures and the cotton fibers in it grow to their full length.
Cotton fibers actually lend themselves very well to being spun into yarn. Once the fibers are aligned in a process called carding, they naturally interlock as they are twisted and flattened forspinning. Specialized mechanical looms weave the yarn into cotton fabric in much the same way as was done by hand in prior centuries. These looms work at high speeds to interlace the yarns into a woven fabric known as “gray goods.” Cotton fabric in this state must still be bleached and otherwise pre-treated before it can be made into household products and clothing.
There are many benefits to cotton clothing, but some of the most commonly cited are the material’s hypoallergenic nature and its moisture-wicking properties. Fabrics made of cotton are naturally resistant to dust and dust mites, and are also non-irritating — which means that they won’t aggravate dry skin or cause allergic reactions, even in people who are prone to skin problems like rashes or eczema. They tend to naturally repel water and sweat, and as a result they tend to be very breathable. The fabric can tolerate very hot water so it’s easy to sterilize, and it can be used for almost any sort of clothing. It’s biodegradable and doesn’t usually take many resources to process, and in most cases is fairly affordable, too.