Cotton is the most important natural fibre known to us today. It has been around for centuries and empires have been built on its merits. It fuelled the colonial movements and subsequently became one of the causes for freedom struggles around the world, even as it became the chosen fibre for comfortable clothing. This great fibre was and continues to be so precious to us that the name "white gold" given to it does not seem like an exaggeration. It is grown in more than 50 countries around the world and is consumed by many more nations. It traces its background to one of the earliest civilisations - the Indus Valley Civilisation and has only continued to grow in importance with time.
We have the first evidence of cultivated cotton coming from India and Pakistan- nearly seven thousand years ago. The clothes of those times were crude and not of the quality we see them today. Most of the western world had not been introduced to it until the times of Alexander the Great. The real spread of cotton came after colonisation. British traders imported it from India and then slowly began cultivating it in other parts of the world. Soon America became an important region for cultivation, as the quality of cotton produced in the US was more suitable for industrial production. Now China, India, US, Pakistan and Uzbekistan are leading producers of the crop.
The journey of this crop can be summarised into the following steps:
c. Preparing yarn
d. Spinning and
The time period required for growth depends on the climate, the area and the type of cotton. It takes around 25 weeks for the seed to grow to a stage where it can be harvested. It is grown in places with low humidity and dry summers. After harvest, it is sent to other places for being converted into fibre and then yarn.
To prepare the yarn, bales of the crop are first opened and then cleaned. The fibres are separated using a process called carding. After this most manufacturers comb the fibres and then the fibres are straightened by the process called drawing. The fibres now go into the spinning machines where they get twisted together into bobbins. The final stage before they become clothes is called weaving by which the threads get woven together to become a stretch of cloth. After this comes the finishing stages like bleaching and dyeing and then the cloth becomes a garment- it can become anything from a sarong to a night suit now.
Cotton is used in many kinds of products. Denim, terrycloth and canvas all make use of it. It is also used to make synthetic fibres like polyester. It is blended with some other fibres like rayon. It is used largely for clothing but its seeds and leaves are used for other purposes too. A whole range of clothes and cloth products we see today like pants, shirts, t-shirts, skirts, frocks, scarves, sarongs, kaftans, canvas bags, shoes etc use cotton in them.