Tag Archives: textiles

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

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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

Kona Cotton Solids

I’m working on a small quilt made of solid fabrics — no prints. I don’t mind mixing prints and solids, but this one is intended to have an old-fashioned Amish feel. Some of the fabrics were purchased at JoAnn’s, and some were from local quilt shops.

JoAnn’s sells solids under two or three different labels. One label (brand) is Kona Cotton Solids. The question comes up regularly about the maker of JoAnn’s Kona solids. If you buy something called “Kona” at the quilt shop, it also will show the maker as Robert Kaufman. JoAnn’s doesn’t say that.

Who makes JoAnn’s Kona solids? Are they made by Robert Kaufman or some other manufacturer? Are they Robert Kaufman second-quality goods?

This morning in the Stashbusters Yahoo site (group forum), someone posted a link to Bonnie Hunter’s Quiltville blog. Bonnie and Robert Kaufman answered this question definitively. I encourage you to read the whole answer provided by Robert Kaufman. However, I’ll summarize here:

  1. Robert Kaufman makes ALL Kona Cotton Solids, regardless of retailer.
  2. ALL Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton fabrics distributed are first quality. Seconds are destroyed.
  3. If you find fabric labeled as Kona Cotton Solids that appears to be of lower quality, the company would like you to mail them a sample.

Where should you buy your Kona Cotton Solids? Many of us like to patronize our local quilt shops, ensuring their success to keep them in our communities. Many of us like the coupons and sales offered by JoAnn Fabrics. Hobby Lobby also has carried Kona solids, but I don’t shop there anymore. So as with most of the rest of my fabric purchases, I will continue to buy at JoAnn’s and make sure I support my local shops, as well.

A Little Redecorating and a New Class

Now that this house is a whole year old, I’ve decided to rearrange the furniture a little. Okay, it’s not startling. I didn’t change the color of the paint. But I did add a page tab for classes and presentations I teach. At the same time I changed the order of the other page tabs.

I’ll be teaching a new class in the fall, designed for beginning quilters. It will be a real-world class, not online. The class will be held at Inspirations in Hills, IA. Beginning on Thursday, October 16 for five classes, students will learn some basic medallion techniques.

You’ll learn to make puss-in-the-corner, snowball, half-square triangles, flying geese, and variable stars. We’ll cover multiple methods for half-square triangles and flying geese, so you can use what works best for you. You’ll improve your seam allowance, getting those corners to match and points to show. You’ll chain piece, press, and assemble all of those elements to make a medallion quilt top, ready to finish. (The class will not include quilting and binding the top.)

Use your choice of fabrics, in as few as six colors/patterns. Pattern information with yardage and supply list will be available prior to the class.

This class is for beginning quilters but should NOT be your first quilt. You should know your machine, be able to sew a decent ¼” seam most of the time, and be familiar with rotary cutter techniques.

Here is my sample of the class project:

I’m excited about the new class, and excited to offer new quilters a different vehicle for learning than the standard sampler.

If you know any quilters who would like to join me, feel free to forward this information to them. I’d love to have them join the fun!

You can also find me on Facebook at Catbird Quilt Studio!