Magical Natural Fabrics – All About Cotton
Monday, 30 July 2018 | Kate
The fashion world uses more cotton than any other fibre, and that includes us. Many of our beautiful, unusual clothes are made from fresh, crisp cotton, an exceptional fabric from an extraordinary plant that humans have harvested and valued for millennia. Here's what you need to know about one of the planet's most amazing and generous plants.
Cotton – it's amazing!
Cotton is the soft, fluffy fibrous material that surrounds the seeds of the cotton plant and protects them from harm. What a lovely thought, since cotton also protects our skin from the elements. It's a nice parallel.
The cotton plant belongs to the genus Gossypium, a shrub from the mallow family, and its fibres are made from more or less 100% cellulose, a remarkable substance. Cellulose itself is the stuff that the cell walls of green plants are made from, and it's the most abundant organic polymer on the planet, also a major ingredient of wood.
The cotton plant is native to tropical and subtropical regions in North and South America, Africa, Australia, Egypt and India, thanks to being domesticated by humans numerous times throughout history. There are more different types of cotton in Mexico than anywhere else.
Once you've spun cotton into a yarn or thread, you can weave it into a soft, breathable fabric. Humans have been doing exactly that since prehistoric times, and archaeologists have discovered tiny scraps of the stuff dating back to 5000 BC. Woven by the sophisticated Indus Valley Civilization, cotton was a big favourite with the ancient Bronze Age people who lived cross the north west of South Asia, north east Afghanistan, Pakistan and north west India.
The cotton 'gin', short for 'engine' and invented by American Ely Witney, changed the manufacture of the fabric profoundly. It lowered the production cost so much, and speeded the process up so much, that it fast became the most widely used natural fibre used to make cloth.
These days the world produces an awe-inspiring 25 million tonnes of cotton every year. The crop covers two and a half percent of the planet's farmland and China makes more of it than anyone, which they mostly use themselves. The USA exports more cotton than any other nation.
The best things about cotton?
Cotton controls moisture, insulates beautifully, is breathable and hypoallergenic, weatherproof and very hard-wearing. It takes dye with ease, keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Interesting facts about cotton
- American paper money contains 75% cotton
- Thomas Edison's first ever light bulb was made with cotton filaments
- While the ancient Egyptians grew cotton, High Priests were the only people allowed to wear the fabric
- Every American baseball contains about 150 yards of cotton
- There are around 43 species of cotton, but just four are cultivated on an industrial scale
- Cotton seed is used to make an oil eaten by humans, and for animal feed. The stalks are ploughed back into the earth to act as fertiliser for the next crop
- Egyptian, Pima and Sea Island cotton have the longest fibres, as much as 1.7 inches long. It make the finest, softest and most costly cotton fabric
How sustainable is cotton?
Synthetic fabrics like rayon and polyester have to undergo a long, complicated manufacturing process. Cotton's is much simpler. It's harvested, separated from the seed, cleaned and whitened, and that's it.
Cotton plants have an 8-9 month renewable life cycle. The crop uses up just 3% of the water used by the world’s farmers. 64% of the cotton grown in the USA is nurtured by natural rainfall. The crop has a neutral Carbon footprint. In fact it actually removes as much CO2 from the atmosphere as 7 million cars emit. And cotton fabric is compostable – it bio-degrades in about a month.
Be light on the planet
When you wear our gorgeous, stylish cotton clothing you're light on the planet, and that's what we like. Stay cool, stay natural, stay colourful!