Tag Archives: Harvest

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.

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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