From field to fabric: How cotton fabric is made?

How cotton fabric is made?

The cotton fabric is derived from the fluffy white outgrowth referred to as a boll. The boll encases small cotton seeds and to develop a wearable fabric out of it; the boll needs to be separated from the seed. In 1794, the cotton gin was invented by American entrepreneur, Eli Whitney. The separation process was mechanised and hence, sped up significantly.

Nowadays, the entire process is automated in developed countries where machines are used to pluck the bolls from the cotton fields and separate the seeds. The cotton seeds are planted in a row of ten or more in the early months of spring. The seeds sprout in no more than seven days, and the bolls are ready within eighty days.

Cotton Making Process

Cotton Fabric is Made with Lots of Manual Process

The defoliation of a cotton plant, however, is still done manually. A machine could work for fifty people at once, removing the seed, contaminants or weeds from the plant. Once clean cotton fibres are gathered in considerable quantity, they are transferred to a textile factory. The raw cotton is processed in a textile production unit to form long strands where it is later spun and yarned.

It is the process of creating cotton fibres from the plant. However, to make it usable for the final product such as a bedsheet, t-shirt, kurtas, jeans or curtains, it needs to be treated and chemically processed.

Cotton fabric has several uses:

  • For clothing: T-shirt, skirts, shirts, shorts, tops, tank tops, vests, lingerie, boxers, kurta, bottom wear, formal wear, casual wear, business wear
  • As bed linen: Quilts, duvets, bedsheets, pillow covers, blankets,
  • As bath linen: Bath towels, bath mats, towels, face towel, hand towel
  • As kitchen linen: Kitchen aprons, kitchen towels, fridge covers
  • In medical supply: Bandages, gauze and as medical cotton
  • Home linen: Curtains, sofa upholstery, cushion covers, table-cover, wall hanging, and table runner
  • Industrial supply: Tarps, industrial threads
Cotton Fabric Weaving Machine

Cotton is mainly used in tropical or at a hot and humid place with a temperate climate. It is versatile and can be blended to form another fabric or churn out a different product. On average, more than seventy-five per cent of clothing in the world use cotton in one way or another. Your classic blue jeans are also 100 per cent cotton, and so is your lounge t-shirt!

Producers of cotton fabric in the world

India is the largest producer of cotton fabric in the world, along with China, closely followed by the U.S. India and China remain in the close competition each year. Brazil, Pakistan and Australia are also the major contributors and produce more than one million metric tons of cotton every year.

Which cotton is used for making clothes?

Cotton is the least expensive fabric there is. However, its price mostly varies with its smoothness, quality of the weave and the variety of the fabric. Organic cotton will cost you more to cover the margins for its sustainable practice.

The long-staple cotton fabric is relatively more expensive, and extra-long-staple cotton fibres such as Egyptian or Pima cotton mean even more money. The manufacturers spend more efforts and time in growing these cotton types and hence, the end costs are more.

Cotton fabrics are made using three types of weaves- satin, plain and twill. If you are using cotton to create outfits, go with lightly-woven and light-weight cotton fabric. Chintz, for instance, is a preferred fabric for dresses, frocks and evening gowns.

Chambray is used to make shirts. Polycotton is another popular blended fabric which isn’t as comfortable and skin-friendly as cotton but takes away the wrinkling of pure cotton fabric and gives it an iridescent hue. Quilting cotton is used to make mattresses; muslin is a preferred choice to make petticoats, lining and slips.

Environmental impact of growing cotton

While it is comfy, skin-friendly, cool and breezy to wear, its production has been under the scanner of several environmental organisations. Cotton has a blood diamond story of its own. Cotton is a water-thirsty crop, and growing it can be damaging for the environment. As per an estimate, more than 20,000 litres of water is needed to produce just one kilogram of cotton.

A human being would drink this much water in their life span of three years! While it is grown on only 2.5 per cent of the world’s available agricultural land, it contributes to the use of sixteen per cent and almost seven per cent use of insecticide and herbicide respectively.

Besides, it is pretty susceptible to pests and requires the use of agrochemicals during the cultivation. Growing cotton requires nutrient-rich soil, and each harvest leaves soil depleted of them. As per the research by EJF, Uzbekistan deploys one of the worst cotton-producing practices.

From human right abuses to forced child labour, you can’t think of one thing that could be right with their cotton produce. As if it weren’t enough, some researchers have also found that Uzbekistan cotton has reduced the capacity of the Aral Sea and its adjoining marshes and wetland to ten per cent of its previous volume.

And Uzbekistan isn’t alone in forcing its children under the age of seven to pluck cotton. From Asia to Africa, millions of children are exploited and forced to work in the cotton industry, much like Pakistan’s football industry. It is an irony that the journey of cotton starts with nimble fingers of children, and ends on the fingers of a handloom weaver.

However, people are becoming responsible consumers and looking for fair-trade alternatives such as Better Cotton initiatives to encourage the use of sustainable cotton fabrics that use less water, pesticides and fertilisers. Farmers have embraced and adopted modern techniques that have enabled almost thirty per cent reduction in land use and seventy per cent decrease in soil erosion.

The scientists have also reported nearly thirty per cent reduction in energy usage in over a decade. The advancement in farming has also allowed farmers to rely less on pesticides. Most of the farmers spray once or twice in a year, especially once the plant is young and susceptible to pests and diseases.

Moreover, now farmers and cotton industry has devised the use of the entire cotton plant. The seeds are highly-nutritious cattle feed or can be used to make refined oil for cooking, in soaps or cosmetics. The hull or leaves of the plant is used for eco-friendly packaging.

The produce should have minimal impact on the environment to certify as an organic crop. Pesticide or fertilisers shouldn’t be used at any stage. It should embrace sustainable practice of cultivation and not involving in any sort of exploitative practices including compensating fairly to the labourers, and not using child labour while ensuring environmental well-being.

We, at Bharatsthali, ensure fair-trade market of organic and natural wholesale cotton fabric at best prices! So, don’t worry and shop away! If you need any assistance with your order or want to know more about wholesale India cotton fabric, you can email us.