How’s cotton fabric made?

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Cotton is harvested with machines and goes through a cleaning process before being spun and woven into fabric. Cotton is still the most widely used clothing fabric. The fibers are aligned through carding and then woven into fabric on power looms.

The cotton fabric manufacturing process has become highly industrialized, especially in developed countries. Cotton plant harvesting has become largely mechanized in the United States, Europe, and Australia, but there are numerous cotton-producing nations around the world. After harvesting, the raw cotton goes through a cleaning and refining process before being spun 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 fabrics in the world.

Cotton is typically planted in spring, again with machines, which can plant 12 rows of cotton seeds at a time. Under good conditions, plants are usually visible from the ground within a week. The seedlings ripen for about a month and a half, and then begin to bloom. The flowering is very short, and within a few days after the appearance of the flower, it is gone, and in its place remains the part of the plant that matures in a pod called a capsule. In two to three months, the boll matures and the cotton fibers it contains grow to their full length.

Harvesting occurs once the boll has opened, revealing the cotton, and the fibers have had time to dry in the sun. The leaves of the cotton plant usually need to be chemically removed before harvest, but in some areas, freezing temperatures will cause the plant to shed leaves naturally. This defoliation allows the cotton to be harvested by machine. Most picking machines in the United States blow high-velocity air at the plants to remove the cotton from the boll and harvest it.

Once the harvest is complete, the cotton is made into bales to be stored until it is ready to be ginned. At Gin, the bales are all cleaned to separate the cotton fibers from the dirt, lint, and small sticky seeds that grow as part of the ball of cotton fibers. The seeded and cleaned cotton is then baled again for shipment. At this point, the cotton is still raw, as it hasn’t been spun or spun.

Cotton fibers actually lend themselves very well to being spun. Once the fibers are aligned in a process called carding, they naturally intertwine as they are twisted and flattened for spinning. Specialized power looms weave yarn into cotton fabric in much the same way as it was done by hand in previous centuries. These looms work at high speeds to weave threads into a fabric known as “grey goods.” Cotton fabric in this state still needs to be bleached and otherwise pre-treated before it can be made into household products and clothing.

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