Tag Archives: Cotton

Green Quilting

In honor of Spring, and to celebrate five years since Jim and I opened our first WordPress account (Our View From Iowa,) I am recycling a previous post. (Recycling, get it?) All the links work but I haven’t reviewed them for relevance, nor updated the data in my writing. The original post was published 8/3/16.  


Over the years Jim and I have changed our living style to reduce our ecological footprint. We’ve made small changes over time, incrementally improving as we learn how to do things better. It’s meant buying less, recycling more, and upgrading to lower-energy lights and appliances, among other things.

Aside from basic daily living, my biggest environmental impact may be created by my quilting. Quilting has a cozy, natural image that belies the modern truth. From cotton production and fabric distribution, to all the steps we consumers take to complete a quilt, we make our mark when we quilt.

Cotton production uses enormous quantities of highly toxic chemicals, vast areas of land with undiversified agriculture, and fuel-guzzling machinery to plant and harvest. Post-harvest, only about 20% of US-grown cotton is processed by US textile mills. About 65% of US cotton is shipped overseas to be processed and made into something like clothing, bedding, or quilting fabric. One cargo ship, fully loaded, can carry about a million bales of cotton. The equivalent of about 11 fully loaded cargo ships will cross the seas with cotton from the US every year, one way. Much of that will be shipped back as finished products. A loaded cargo ship uses 86,000 gallons or more of highly-polluting fuel per day at sea. Then the cotton goes through incredibly toxic processing, sometimes in countries that have minimal worker-safety standards and poverty-level wages. Then it gets shipped back to me.

See my previous posts about cotton fabric production.
Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Frankly, this is very disheartening to know. I have long realized that my need to quilt is a luxury that the world might not be able to afford. For now I will continue. But I will choose to find ways to reduce my footprint on the consumer end.

Here are some tips on reducing your carbon footprint of quilting.

Fabric acquisition and use:
* Use stash you already have before heading to the store or ordering online — save on delivery costs of fuel, road and vehicle use, gasoline, etc. If you need help with that, unsubscribe to all the ad emails you get. If you want something, you know where to find it anyway, right?
* Trade yardage and scraps with friends or guild members.
* Consider acquiring fabric in the form of used clothing, rather than as new yardage.
* Use your scraps in projects. More variety lends more richness and interest, anyway. Consider piecing same-fabric scraps together if you need somewhat bigger pieces. I’ve done this in a number of projects and believe me, it’s not like anyone will ever see the seams.
* Save selvage edges to use as you would heavy string or twine. I give mine to my husband, and he uses them in the garden to tie plants up.
* Consider buying American-made quilting fabric (assuming you are in the US.) There are only two brands that pop out. One is American Made Brand fabric, in 75 solids. One is Made In America cotton from JoAnn Fabrics. For all I know, they may be the same company.
* Consider buying fabric made from organically-grown cotton. These will have lower environmental impact because of less pesticide and herbicide use on the crop. In addition, other parts of fabric production have strict standards for impact. See this article on sewmamasew for more details.
* Use your own tote bags for shopping; decline plastic bags, or any bags, at the quilt shop or the chain fabric/craft store.

Books, magazines, paper patterns, and other stuff:
* Buy new (to you) books and stuff thoughtfully. Is it something you already have but can’t find? Is there a different solution than buying new? Most of my book purchases the last few years have been used ones. Can you borrow the specialty tool from a friend?
* Subscribe to digital editions of magazines.
* Unsubscribe from paper catalogs; ask all the junk mailers to take you off their lists.
* Download patterns when you have a choice. Store the pdf on your computer or a back-up drive rather than printing out.
* Recycle quilty stuff by first seeing if others will use them — donations, free table at guild meeting, friends and those in your small group, free-cycle, craigslist, paperback exchange, consignment stores, used book stores, your library. Only then recycle by putting in the bin. Last resort is to throw these items in the trash.

In your studio:
* Unplug your iron so it doesn’t continue to draw current while you’re out of the room.
* Turn off lights and TVs and audiobooks and other electrical devices when you walk away.
* Switch to LEDs. An LED lightbulb will last about 20 times as long as an incandescent and about three times as long as a CFL. They also are less expensive to operate, meaning their energy use (and your cost for it) is much lower. See the interesting chart on this page to compare. I’ve added LED lighting in my studio and am so glad I did. I have an enormous amount of light at a bare increase in energy used.
* Put your computer to sleep when you walk away for awhile. Power usage drops to about a third while in stand-by or sleep mode.
*Prewashing fabrics? I can’t tell you the impact there. I prewash, not post, so I am not washing and drying batting. On the other hand, I do iron my fabrics before use. My habits on this won’t change, regardless. I prewash partly because the sizing and other chemicals in new fabric bother me.

And what about batting?
Wow, this is a tough one, too. Polyester has the benefit of not being cotton; instead it is made from petroleum. Cotton has the benefit of not being polyester… Wool requires sheep, at about one sheep per twin-bed batt, depending on breed. And sheep require acreage, too, up to a half acre each. Compare that to cotton output of about 249 sheets per bale of cotton, and depending on location, about one bale per acre. So the number of cotton battings per acre must be many times the number of wool battings per acre, though otherwise the environmental damage is different, as well.

We also have other options. Bamboo is environmentally friendly and can grow prolifically without fertilizers or pesticides. Quilters Dream Green batting is made from recycled plastic bottles.

Without being able to do a more granular analysis, I’m not able to tell you what kind is a winner. I haven’t tried Quilters Dream Green, but it sounds like it’s worth trying. Other than that, I’ll probably continue to choose batting for each project based on that project’s needs and what I have easily available.

Do you have tips or ideas for green quilting? Please share in comments.  

Green Quilting

Over the years Jim and I have changed our living style to reduce our ecological footprint. We’ve made small changes over time, incrementally improving as we learn how to do things better. It’s meant buying less, recycling more, and upgrading to lower-energy lights and appliances, among other things.

Aside from basic daily living, my biggest environmental impact may be created by my quilting. Quilting has a cozy, natural image that belies the modern truth. From cotton production and fabric distribution, to all the steps we consumers take to complete a quilt, we make our mark when we quilt.

Cotton production uses enormous quantities of highly toxic chemicals, vast areas of land with undiversified agriculture, and fuel-guzzling machinery to plant and harvest. Post-harvest, only about 20% of US-grown cotton is processed by US textile mills. About 65% of US cotton is shipped overseas to be processed and made into something like clothing, bedding, or quilting fabric. One cargo ship, fully loaded, can carry about a million bales of cotton. The equivalent of about 11 fully loaded cargo ships will cross the seas with cotton from the US every year, one way. Much of that will be shipped back as finished products. A loaded cargo ship uses 86,000 gallons or more of highly-polluting fuel per day at sea. Then the cotton goes through incredibly toxic processing, sometimes in countries that have minimal worker-safety standards and poverty-level wages. Then it gets shipped back to me.

See my previous posts about cotton fabric production.
Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Frankly, this is very disheartening to know. I have long realized that my need to quilt is a luxury that the world might not be able to afford. For now I will continue. But I will choose to find ways to reduce my footprint on the consumer end.

Here are some tips on reducing your carbon footprint of quilting.

Fabric acquisition and use:
* Use stash you already have before heading to the store or ordering online — save on delivery costs of fuel, road and vehicle use, gasoline, etc. If you need help with that, unsubscribe to all the ad emails you get. If you want something, you know where to find it anyway, right?
* Trade yardage and scraps with friends or guild members.
* Consider acquiring fabric in the form of used clothing, rather than as new yardage.
* Use your scraps in projects. More variety lends more richness and interest, anyway. Consider piecing same-fabric scraps together if you need somewhat bigger pieces. I’ve done this in a number of projects and believe me, it’s not like anyone will ever see the seams.
* Save selvage edges to use as you would heavy string or twine. I give mine to my husband, and he uses them in the garden to tie plants up.
* Consider buying American-made quilting fabric (assuming you are in the US.) There are only two brands that pop out. One is American Made Brand fabric, in 75 solids. One is Made In America cotton from JoAnn Fabrics. For all I know, they may be the same company.
* Consider buying fabric made from organically-grown cotton. These will have lower environmental impact because of less pesticide and herbicide use on the crop. In addition, other parts of fabric production have strict standards for impact. See this article on sewmamasew for more details.
* Use your own tote bags for shopping; decline plastic bags, or any bags, at the quilt shop or the chain fabric/craft store.

Books, magazines, paper patterns, and other stuff:
* Buy new (to you) books and stuff thoughtfully. Is it something you already have but can’t find? Is there a different solution than buying new? Most of my book purchases the last few years have been used ones. Can you borrow the specialty tool from a friend?
* Subscribe to digital editions of magazines.
* Unsubscribe from paper catalogs; ask all the junk mailers to take you off their lists.
* Download patterns when you have a choice. Store the pdf on your computer or a back-up drive rather than printing out.
* Recycle quilty stuff by first seeing if others will use them — donations, free table at guild meeting, friends and those in your small group, free-cycle, craigslist, paperback exchange, consignment stores, used book stores, your library. Only then recycle by putting in the bin. Last resort is to throw these items in the trash.

In your studio:
* Unplug your iron so it doesn’t continue to draw current while you’re out of the room.
* Turn off lights and TVs and audiobooks and other electrical devices when you walk away.
* Switch to LEDs. An LED lightbulb will last about 20 times as long as an incandescent and about three times as long as a CFL. They also are less expensive to operate, meaning their energy use (and your cost for it) is much lower. See the interesting chart on this page to compare. I’ve added LED lighting in my studio and am so glad I did. I have an enormous amount of light at a bare increase in energy used.
* Put your computer to sleep when you walk away for awhile. Power usage drops to about a third while in stand-by or sleep mode.
*Prewashing fabrics? I can’t tell you the impact there. I prewash, not post, so I am not washing and drying batting. On the other hand, I do iron my fabrics before use. My habits on this won’t change, regardless. I prewash partly because the sizing and other chemicals in new fabric bother me.

And what about batting?
Wow, this is a tough one, too. Polyester has the benefit of not being cotton; instead it is made from petroleum. Cotton has the benefit of not being polyester… Wool requires sheep, at about one sheep per twin-bed batt, depending on breed. And sheep require acreage, too, up to a half acre each. Compare that to cotton output of about 249 sheets per bale of cotton, and depending on location, about one bale per acre. So the number of cotton battings per acre must be many times the number of wool battings per acre, though otherwise the environmental damage is different, as well.

We also have other options. Bamboo is environmentally friendly and can grow prolifically without fertilizers or pesticides. Quilters Dream Green batting is made from recycled plastic bottles.

Without being able to do a more granular analysis, I’m not able to tell you what kind is a winner. I haven’t tried Quilters Dream Green, but it sounds like it’s worth trying. Other than that, I’ll probably continue to choose batting for each project based on that project’s needs and what I have easily available.

Do you have tips or ideas for green quilting? Please share in comments.  

Cotton — Weaving Fabric

Earlier this month I began a series of posts on where our quilting fabric comes from. There are so many steps in the process, from growing the cotton, cleaning and spinning it, weaving it, and then making it beautiful. Agricultural workers, biologists, engineers, designers, textile laborers, and more, all contribute to creating the raw materials of our craft. When I consider all the moving parts, I give thanks to all those who help make my projects possible.

The first post looked primarily at planting and harvesting cotton. Next came cleaning and spinning the cotton into yarn. Now we’ll look at weaving.

After creating yarn (threads,) the yarn is woven into fabric. In the most basic weaving process, there are warp yarns, which run lengthwise away from the front of the loom. These are the yarns that are pre-strung. Weft yarns (or filling yarns) are interlaced at a right angle through them using a shuttle or other mechanism such as a rapier.

From the National Cotton Council of America:

Traditionally, cloth was woven by a wooden shuttle that moved horizontally back and forth across the loom, interlacing the filling yarn with the horizontally, lengthwise warp yarn. Modern mills use high-speed shuttleless weaving machines that perform at incredible rates and produce an endless variety of fabrics. Some carry the filling yarns across the loom at rates in excess of 2,000 meters per minute.

The rapier-type weaving machines have metal arms or rapiers that pick up the filling thread and carry it halfway across the loom where another rapier picks it up and pulls it the rest of the way. Other types employ small projectiles that pick up the filling thread and carry it all the way across the loom. Still other types employ compressed air to insert the filling yarn across the warp. In addition to speed and versatility, another advantage of these modern weaving machines is their relatively quiet operation.

Though the speed has changed, the mechanics of weaving are much as they’ve been for thousands of years. This video shows the high speed process.

When the weaving of fabric is done, the product of the loom is called “greige” goods. This is pronounced as “grey.”

The weight of quilting fabric (not including batiks) is approximately 4 ounces per yard. If you check Spoonflower, a service that allows you to custom print various weaves of fabric, their basic combed cotton is 3.2 oz per square yard and has a thread count of 78×76. The Kona cotton is 4.5 oz per square yard, with a thread count of 60×60.

The unprinted, unbleached greige fabric then goes through a design phase. It may be simply dyed, or it may be elaborately printed or batiked. I’ll cover those processes next.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?

Before 2012, I didn’t think very much about where our quilting fabric comes from, or about the history of cotton as a textile. That changed when Jim and I visited the Lowell (MA) National Historical Park. The park museum includes of one of the original textile mill buildings, built in the early 1800s by Francis Cabot Lowell and a group of investors. The industry created in the area signified the birth of the Industrial Revolution in America. Ginning, spinning, weaving, and printing, the textile mills did everything to process cotton after harvest. The museum at Lowell does a wonderful job of telling the story, including the dark side of cotton’s involvement in the growth of slavery.

Since visiting, I’ve tried to be more appreciative of textile history in the United States, and its connection to the riches of goods we enjoy today. I’ll have more to say about the history of the industry another time. This post will focus on contemporary processing.

The last post looked primarily at planting and harvesting cotton. After creating all that fluffy white goodness, what comes next?

From the field, the cotton goes to the gin. The “gin” is the engine or the machinery that separates the harvested cotton into usable parts. The cotton fiber is used for textiles and other cotton goods, while seeds are used for cotton seed (to plant,) for animal feed, and to press cottonseed oil, used in many human foods.

From the National Cotton Council of America,

Today, nearly all cotton is stored in modules, which look like giant loaves of bread. Modules allow the cotton to be Cotton Module stored without loosing yield or quality prior to ginning. Specially designed trucks pick up modules of seed cotton from the field and move them to the gin. Modern gins place modules in front of machines called module feeders. Some module feeders have stationary heads, in which case, giant conveyors move the modules into the module feeder. Other module feeders are self-propelled and move down a track that along side the modules. The module feeders literally break the modules apart and “feed” the seed cotton into the gin. Other gins use powerful pipes to suck the cotton into the gin ginning cottonbuilding. Once in the cotton gin, the seed cotton moves through dryers and through cleaning machines that remove the gin waste such as burs, dirt, stems and leaf material from the cotton. Then it goes to the gin stand where circular saws with small, sharp teeth pluck the fiber from the seed.

From the gin, fiber and seed go different ways. The ginned fiber, now called lint, is pressed together and Cotton Balesmade into dense bales weighting about 500 pounds. To determine the value of cotton, samples are taken from each bale and classed according to fiber length (staple), strength, micronaire, color and cleanness. Producers usually sell their cotton to a local buyer or merchant who, in turn, sells it to a textile mill either in the United States or a foreign country.

The seed usually is sold by the producer to the gin. The ginner either sells for feed or to an oil mill where the linters (downy fuzz) are removed in an operation very much like ginning. Linters are baled and sold to the paper, batting and plastics industries, while the seed is processed into cottonseed oil, meal and hulls.

After separating the fibers from the seed, the fibers are spun into yarn. This video from the series How It’s Made shows the process of cleaning the fibers and spinning it into yarn.

Only after creating yarn (threads,) the yarn is woven into fabric. We’ll look at that process next.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?

That’s a silly question, huh? Fabric comes from the store, either online or bricks-and-mortar. Or it comes from your stash or that of a friend or relative. Or perhaps it comes from an auction or estate sale.

Just like canned tomatoes come from the grocery.

In fact there is a large story of where cotton — and your cotton quilting fabric — comes from. This is the first in a series of posts to explore that.

Cotton has a long history as a cultivated crop for textiles. Archeological evidence shows it in Central America at least 7,000 years ago. Besides the Americas, it’s been found in the Middle East from at least 3,000 years ago, and Europe more than a thousand years ago.

Currently it is one of the most important crops grown in the United States. It is used in the textile industry, the livestock industry, and in processed foods for humans. From the National Cotton Council of America, a little introduction. Emphasis added by me.

Cotton continues to be the basic resource for thousands of useful products manufactured in the U.S. and undefinedoverseas. U.S. textile manufacturers use an annual average of 7.6 million bales of cotton. A bale is about 500 pounds of cotton. More than half of this quantity (57%) goes into apparel, 36% into home furnishings and 7% into industrial products. If all the cotton produced annually in the U.S. were used in making a single product, such as blue jeans or men’s dress shirts, it would make more than 3 billion pairs of jeans and more than 13 billion men’s dress shirts.

An often-overlooked component of the crop is the vast amount of cottonseed that is produced along with the fiber. Annual cottonseed production is about 6.5 billion tons, of which about two-thirds is fed whole to livestock. The remaining seed is crushed, producing a high-grade salad oil and a high protein meal for livestock, dairy and poultry feed. More than 154 million gallons of cottonseed oil are used for food products ranging from margarine and cooking oils to salad dressing.

The average U.S. crop moving from the field through cotton gins, warehouses, oilseed mills and textile mills to the consumer, accounts for more than $35 billion in products and services. This injection of spending is a vital element in the health of rural economies in the 17 major cotton-producing states from Virginia to California.

Besides the 7.6 million bales of cotton used in the U.S. annually, we also export over 10.5 million bales to the rest of the world.

Where does cotton come from? Cotton grows as a crop in the southern U.S. and in countries around the world. In 2013 the U.S. was the leading exporter of cotton, followed by India. This chart shows the detail.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.45.58 AM

A video from University of Tennessee shows how all that cotton is cultivated and baled. Please note, I know there is no mention or recognition of slave labor in the early years of the U.S. industry. Though the video mentions the history of cotton cultivation in the U.S., the intention is to show contemporary methods.

At the end of the video above, you get a taste of the ginning and baling process. Next time I’ll show more of what happens after harvest.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary