cotton

the cotton plant

spun cotton yarn

child labour at the cotton mills in England

slave labour for growing cotton in the US

WHERE DOES COTTON GROW

The first country to cultivate cotton was India more than 6000 years ago. 

Cotton is native to tropical and sub-tropical regions, including the Indian sub-continent, sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas.

HOW DOES COTTON GROW

It grows very easily in warm climates that have both a rainy and dry season. Cotton is an annual plant and has a long growing season (it can be as long as seven months).

The cotton plant needs a great deal of water to grow successfully, and is liable to pests, so high maintenance and high costs to humans and the environment.  


HOW IS COTTON CLOTH MADE

The fibre is produced from cotton bolls, a fluffy substance that encloses the seeds of the cotton plant as they grow. These are picked off, either by hand or machine, without damaging the cotton plant and are harvested yearly. 

To make it into a strong yarn, it needs to be twisted or spun. It can then be woven into cotton cloth.

The woven fabric, called gray goods, is sent to a finishing plant where it is bleached, pre-shrunk, dyed, printed and given a special finish before being made into clothing or products for the home.

The yarn can also be knitted, which is then called jersey.  T-shirts and sweaters are made of cotton jersey. 

 

WHAT ELSE IS IT USED FOR

The cotton plant is a source for many important products other than fabric. Among the most important is cottonseed, which is pressed for cottonseed oil that is used in commercial products such as salad oils and snack foods, cosmetics, soap, candles, detergents, and paint. The hulls and meal are used for animal feed. Cotton is also a source for cellulose products, fertilizer, fuel, car tire cord, pressed paper and cardboard
 

A LITTLE HISTORY

We're talking around 1700. Most of the world knew cotton material. There was an increasing worldwide demand for it ; 'the white gold' 

British innovations in the late 1700s included water-powered spinning machinery, a monumental improvement over hand-spinning and the start of the industrial revolution. Cotton became one of the primary exports of this age.

An estimate states that the livelihood of approx 25% of the population was based on the cotton industry in England. But the lives of people working in the cotton mills was poor,  low wages, child labour, and 18-hour work days

In the US slaves were needed to work on the cotton plantations.

In the aftermath of the first world war the British cotton industry collapsed.

HOW GREEN IS COTTON

Traditional cotton cultivation is responsible for 16% of all insecticides worldwide. Unfortunately, cotton attracts many pests and is prone to a number of rots and spotting, and chemicals are often used to keep these under control.

There are concerns about wildlife poisoning and poisons that remain in the soil long after cotton is no longer grown.

If cotton is cultivated intensively, it requires large amounts of water for irrigation. This causes soil salinisation, particularly in dry areas and so causes a degradation of soil fertility.

Organic farming utilizes biological control to rid cotton of pests and alters planting patterns in specific ways to reduce fungicide use. While this method of cultivation is possible, an organically grown crop generally yields less usable cotton. 

THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF GROWING COTTON TODAY

Traditional cotton farming methods mean an increased resistance of some pests and the appearance of secondary pests.  Increased costs of farming means farmers are obliged to borrow from banks or cotton buyers. 

However, a farmer’s income from his cotton harvest is often lower than the cost of the inputs due to low crop yields and market prices, driving more and more farmers into debt. As cotton is a cash crop, cotton farmers are highly dependent on volatile world markets. Growing only cotton reduces families’ food security, particularly in regions with unstable climatic conditions, since in bad years they are unlikely to have enough money to buy food.

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