Cotton Harvest to Clothes
As winter approaches, everyone begins to bundle up and add more layers. Scarves, hats, gloves, long-sleeves, jackets, and thick coats are essential during this frigid time of year - and they’re almost always made of cotton! Cotton is one of the world’s most popular and versatile crops that is used in a variety of products, but most popularly in clothing!
Globally, around 27 million tons of cotton are produced a year with around 4.1 million of that grown in the United States. Cotton takes approximately 160 days to fully grow and mature until it’s ready for harvest. The time of year that cotton is harvested depends on how far south the farm is, but it typically ranges between mid-July and early September. A machine called cotton pickers are used for harvest. The cotton picker removes the bolls of cotton from the stalk. The cotton is then removed from open bolls and the bur is left on the plant. Cotton strippers are a similar machine that strips the plant of both open and unopened bolls, then the unwanted material is removed by special devices at the gin.
Once harvested, the crop is dried out and the fiber is separated from the seeds through use of a cotton gin machine. After all of the cotton is stripped from the seeds and debris, it’s pressed into tightly packed bales that weigh 225 kg, or 496 pounds. They’re then sent to a textile mill to begin the process of turning cotton to clothing. At the mill, the first step is for individual cotton fiber strands, or slivers, to be twisted tightly together. This creates a thick cotton yarn or thread. Next, the fresh yarn is woven by interlacing strands on a loom. Cotton warp yarn and cotton weft yarn are used for this process. The more warp and weft means the tighter the weave of the cloth. Cotton can be knitted by hand, as well, but the process is much slower than the use of machines! After being woven, the cotton has turned into fabric! It can now be dyed into different colors, cut, and sewed to make various pieces of clothing. This is often done at a different factory that specializes in making clothing products.
Once the clothing products are made, they’re shipped off to various stores so that customers can buy them! While it may not seem like it during your shopping spree, that t-shirt took hours of labor from farmers, agriculture workers, factory workers, and truckers. Next time you’re throwing on another layer or out buying a new fashion piece, think about just how far that piece of fabric has gone!