The final blog of our four-part series on “Know Your Fabric” will focus on cotton. You may be thinking everyone knows about cotton, right? But if you’re in the business of fashion, it's important to know the different types and features of cotton that has made it one of the most well-known fabrics.
Unlike the other fabrics we've discussed, cotton is a natural fiber. But the manufacturing process, from planting the seeds to being ready to be woven into your favorite top or dress, is quite unique.
First, fields of planted cotton are harvested from which seeds are sent to bins to be cleaned and separated. After a grinding process, the cotton is then compressed into bales and sent to a textile mill where it will be spun to create a thicker cotton yarn. That yarn will be woven into the pieces of fabric which make up the clothes you wear. This has been done for a really long time, with the earliest use of cotton dating back all the way to 3000 BC!
The earliest account of cotton is from the Indus Valley civilization spanning the Indian subcontinent from 3000 BC to 1300 BC. It wasn't until the Middle Ages that cotton made it's way to the European continent. Prior to that, Europeans thought cotton was a type of wool that grew on trees (lambs and sheep grew in trees?). But that was corrected during the Umayyad conquest of the Iberian Peninsula when cotton was introduced for the production of textiles. In Mesoamerica, widespread use of cotton most likely began around 4200 BC.
There are four main types of cotton: Upland cotton, Organic cotton, Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton.
Upland cotton is the most common type of cotton, which accounts for 95% of the cotton planted in American soil. Upland cotton is great for creating quality, everyday products. Acala cotton is a special variety of Upland cotton, but only produced in California. Due to irrigation requirements, Acala cotton tends to be more expensive than Upland cotton.
Organic cotton is grown from plants that are not genetically engineered and is exempt from any chemical processing. It's fibers are longer and stronger than other types of cotton, giving it the reputation of a high-end, luxurious fabric.
Egyptian cotton is grown in the hot dry climate of the Nile River Valley. It’s an extra-long staple cotton (ESL), meaning its long fibers make it extra strong and soft. True Egyptian cotton is extremely luxurious, but sadly many cottons sold as “Egyptian” cotton aren’t actually Egyptian cotton. Beware!
Pima Cotton is the most luxurious of them all and is manufactured in countries such as Peru, the southwestern region of the USA and Australia. Like Egyptian cotton, Pima cotton is an ESL cotton with a very smooth touch. It is also resistant to pilling, wrinkling, fraying, tearing and fading.
Cotton breathes easily and feels soft to the skin. While it is generally not scratchy, cotton can be made and processed to have many different types of textures. For example, the below top is made with 100% cotton but has the texture and feel of linen:
The world uses cotton more than any other natural fiber. The way cotton is manufactured can give it many advantages compared to its man-made counterparts. For example, it is commonly used in medical products since it is hypoallergenic and rarely irritates the skin. Cotton can also protect you from warm summers or from cold winters due to its ability to insulate and control moisture and absorbency. It is 30% percent stronger when wet and can withstand being washed in hot water temperatures. For these reasons cotton is king when it comes to natural fibers.
This concludes our blog series on “Do you know Your Fabric?” We hope it was helpful to learn more about the key characteristics of the common fabrics found in clothing today. As successful boutique owners, it is important to be able to share your knowledge and describe the features of the clothes you sell, especially with “live sales” trending for online boutiques. Knowing how to showcase and describe different features of fabric is key in the world of fashion.