Tag Archives: Quilting industry

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

Are You a Dedicated Quilter? | Survey Results

The Quilting Party, Artist Unknown, c. 1840-1850.

Last week key findings of the 2014 quilters’ survey were released. The survey is conducted every four years. Results were presented by F+W, A Content + eCommerce Company, and Quilts, Inc., producers of International Quilt Market and International Quilt Festival.

The survey is conducted in two phases. First, households are questioned about their quilting activities to get a sense of the scope of the quilting industry in the U.S. Next, “Dedicated Quilters” are surveyed to understand their buying habits, and how they use and contribute to the industry. According to the summary linked above,

Each Dedicated Quilter is defined as one who spends more than $500 a year on quilting-related purchases, which include sewing machines, fabric, notions, tools, patterns, books, computer programs, batting, and thread. In fact, the Dedicated Quilter actually spent an average of $3,296 per year on quilting.

Demographics of the Dedicated Quilter indicate she is female; about 64; is well-educated (79% attended college); has a household income in excess of $100,000; and has been quilting an average of 20.3 years. Among Dedicated Quilters, 81% are traditionalists, while 38% embrace art quilting, and 35% enjoy modern quilting styles. Some enjoy multiple types of quilting.

The Dedicated Quilter owns, on average, almost $13,000 worth of tools and supplies and has a stash of fabric worth nearly $6,000, which the majority (88%) store in a studio or room dedicated solely to sewing and quilting activities.

Altogether, we Dedicated Quilters in the U.S. spend about $2.27 billion a year on quilting, out of an industry total of about $3.76 billion.

My first instinct when reading numbers like this are that I don’t spend that much. Surely I’m not a “Dedicated Quilter,” using the definition of $500 in purchases a year. I’ve never added up my fabric purchases in either yards or dollars, but I don’t spend that much. However, I buy at least one roll of batting per year. Even on sale, that’s at least $120. My new iron was another $25. Thread, books, and needles add up. We could add in shipping, when I send quilts to loved ones far from here. It doesn’t take much fabric to put me over the top.

Do you fit the definition of a Dedicated Quilter, spending more than $500 a year on your quilting habit? Do you own almost $13,000 of tools and supplies, and another $6,000 in stash? In today’s pricing, $6,000 is 500 to 600 yards. And while that might sound (to a non-quilter) like an obscene amount, even my smallish stash probably comes close to that.

Take a look at the survey summary. It’s an interesting view of quilters in America.