The History of Cotton and How it is Processed

Cotton, an invaluable natural resource and a vital pillar of the textile industry, has maintained its significance over centuries and continues to play a pivotal role in our world today. Its utilization by humans traces back to the earliest civilizations, but it was during the era of exploration and maritime trade that Europeans began to recognize its immense value. As early as 4500 BC, ancient civilizations in South America engaged in the cultivation of cotton. In Mexico, archaeological excavations have unearthed fragments that date back centuries, providing evidence of widespread use of cotton fabrics, particularly in minions along the humid coastlines. The conquest of cotton-growing areas by the Aztecs elevated this material to the status of a luxury product, conferring prestige upon those who adorned themselves with it and becoming an integral part of Mesoamerican culture.


The origin of the word "cotton" can be traced back to the Arabic term "question." Cotton production has its earliest roots in India, where evidence of its existence dates back to the fifth millennium B.C. It was in India during the thirteenth century that the first cotton gin was invented—a revolutionary tool that efficiently separates the cotton fibers from the plant seeds. This invention greatly facilitated and accelerated cotton production, leading to its widespread use as a textile material. The Industrial Revolution marked a significant turning point for cotton production, as new technologies emerged. Among these inventions were the spinning jenny, spinning frame, and spinning mule, which played pivotal roles in the advancement of the cotton industry. With the aid of these spinning machines, Britain emerged as a prominent producer of cotton during that era. Manufacturers were able to spin cotton at significantly increased rates, driving the expansion and popularity of this versatile fiber as a textile.


Many years ago on the European continent, the desire for imperial expansion fueled extensive explorations and ventures into uncharted territories. Among these endeavors, the Spanish Conquistadors discovered South America, uncovering cotton as a valuable resource for sheets. Initially, this revelation had little impact on the invaders, who favored garments made from other materials, leaving the Mexicans to adapt to the situation. However, by 1580, wool and silk had become widely produced in the region. Despite the challenges in commercializing cotton, it wasn't until the seventeenth century that it was truly embraced as a raw material for the textile industry's exportation. However, British ambitions for empire-building gave rise to the establishment of the East India Company, a joint-stock enterprise facilitating maritime trade in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. This company took charge of approximately half of the world's trade in essential commodities, including silk, spices, tea, opium, and, notably, cotton. The introduction of cotton as a raw material in Britain sparked a surge in demand, causing its value and production to soar.


During the sixteenth century, Britain witnessed the initial importation of a fabric blend comprising linen or yarn. However, by 1750, cotton textiles started to emerge, and the importation of raw cotton from regions like the West Indies experienced significant growth. Britain's imperial trade connections played a crucial role in establishing cotton as a fabric that exerted a dominant influence on culture, fashion, and style. As the eighteenth century unfolded, the middle classes began to seek a fabric that could satisfy their requirements for both durability and ease of maintenance, while also offering a vibrant range of colors. Cotton perfectly matched these criteria and quickly gained popularity among this social stratum.


During the peak of its popularity, the East India Company capitalized on the rising demand for calico, affordable cotton fabric from India. This surge in imports catered to the growing needs of the impoverished population in Britain and positioned calico as a prevalent commodity in the mass market. However, the local manufacturers in Britain suffered adverse consequences as a result. The situation became so dire that in 1721, Parliament passed the Calico Act, imposing a complete prohibition on the use of calicoes in clothing or for domestic purposes. Nevertheless, two decades later, the ban was lifted as the industrial revolution sparked a remarkable wave of engineering marvels and inventions. This transformative period enabled Britain to establish its competitive edge in the global textile market.


The textile industry in Britain underwent a revolutionary transformation with the advent of groundbreaking inventions that not only aided manufacturing but also had a profound cultural and social impact on people's lives. Two significant inventions, namely the spinning jenny by James Hargreaves and the water frame by Richard Arkwright, enabled large-scale production and propelled the industry forward. These engineering marvels became the backbone of the British Midlands, establishing manufacturing as a dominant force in the region. By the late 1700s, thanks to the spinning jenny and water frame, cotton products accounted for approximately 16% of Britain's exports. Within a few years, in the early 1800s, this figure multiplied to around 42%, solidifying Britain's dominance in the global market. The versatility and dexterity of cotton as a raw material proved increasingly valuable, leading to the development of new production techniques and the creation of luxurious velvet. Unlike silk, velvet could be produced more affordably, and its printing process was much easier than that of wool. Consequently, cotton began to dominate fashion and style, granting more people access to this once-precious and ancient commodity.


The impact of these advancements extended beyond the realm of manufacturing and commerce. The textile industry's growth and accessibility of cotton products resulted in significant cultural shifts and social changes throughout Britain. The availability of affordable textiles revolutionized clothing and fashion trends, democratizing access to stylish garments. People from all walks of life could now enjoy the comfort, durability, and aesthetic appeal of cotton, symbolizing a more egalitarian society. The British Empire recognized the immense value of cotton and took significant measures to ensure its competitive advantage over other nations. To achieve this, the empire made substantial investments in cutting-edge technology, aiming to streamline production processes and achieve large-scale output. Additionally, to safeguard its dominance and counter potential rivals such as India, Britain implemented protectionist policies to restrict imports while simultaneously pressuring the Indian market to open up to British goods. By establishing colonial rule over India, Britain solidified its monopoly in the cotton production market, which played a pivotal role in the ongoing commercial prosperity of the empire.


The cotton industry in Britain thrived primarily in the Midlands, specifically Nottingham, and expanded further north to Manchester, 'Cottonopolis'. During the late 1700s, the concentration of production and manufacturing shifted to Lancashire, leading to the emergence of mills in towns like Oldham and Bolton. This transition had a profound impact on the local population, as they increasingly relied on the mills for employment, and northern society underwent significant changes as it adapted to the rapid growth of industrial production.


Where Does Cotton Grow?

Cotton is a versatile and widely used natural fiber that plays a significant role in various industries around the world. From Sheets and textiles to medical supplies and home furnishings, cotton is an indispensable resource. Have you ever wondered where cotton grows and how it reaches your everyday life? In this article, we will explore the geographical regions where cotton cultivation thrives, highlighting the major players in global cotton production.


The History of Cotton in America


The prolonged perception of cotton as a luxury item can be attributed to the labor-intensive nature of its production. However, this perception underwent a gradual transformation when cotton cultivation reached the southern colonies of America in the mid-1700s. The advantageous climatic conditions in the South, coupled with the unfortunate exploitation of slave labor, led to a rapid expansion of the American cotton industry between 1750 and 1790. Nevertheless, a significant milestone towards the affordable mass production of cotton was only achieved in 1789. It was during this year that Samuel Slater, a British engineer, arrived in the newly founded United States and initiated the construction of the first water-powered textile mill in Massachusetts. This groundbreaking development marked the initial stride towards the cost-effective mass production of cotton.


The cotton industry's true profitability only emerged after the invention of the cotton gin, or "cotton engine," by Eli Whitney in 1793. Before this innovation, hand sorting yielded a mere 2-3 kilograms of cotton per day, but with the gin, half a tonne could be processed daily for the market. This transformative technology, coupled with Slater's textile mills, catalyzed the American textile industry. By the 1860s, the United States accounted for two-thirds of the world's cotton production, justifying the famous saying "Cotton is King" that described the remarkable growth of the American economy in the 1830s and 1840s. However, the rise of "King Cotton" came at a steep cost: the widespread use of slave labor. The suffering endured by enslaved individuals persists to this day, as evidenced by the unfair working conditions and child labor prevalent in many cotton plantations. Despite this dark legacy, the United States remains a prominent exporter of cotton in the modern era.


The History of Cotton from India to Europe


The farming of cotton as a crop in India holds a rich heritage spanning thousands of years. However, it was the arrival of Alexander the Great's invasion in 327 BC that elevated cotton to the status of a coveted luxury item. Greek and Roman merchants initiated the trade of cotton with India, and subsequently, Arab traders joined in during the 1st century AD. While cotton remained exclusive to the nobility in Greek and Roman societies, the Arab regions embraced cotton as a practical fabric for everyday clothing, thus transforming it from a luxury good into a staple textile and working the same thing out for sheets too.


During the early Middle Ages, the Italians made significant strides in their cotton industry through trade with Arab nations. Particularly in northern Italy, complete hubs dedicated to cotton fiber production emerged between 1000 and 1300 AD. Remarkably, even during this era, the Italians were renowned for their fashion expertise. They skillfully combined cotton with other materials like wool and flax to create a diverse range of fabrics. One notable creation was a blended fabric known as Fustian, which blended linen and cotton. This innovative fabric provided durability and versatility at a comparatively affordable price, unlike the luxurious pure cotton fabric. While cotton production gradually spread across Europe from 1300 onwards, it remained primarily accessible to the aristocracy and kings for an extended period.


The History of Cotton in Great Britain


In 1615, the British East India Company initiated the importation of printed cotton fabrics to Great Britain. However, during that period, cotton faced fierce competition from the British wool industry, to the extent that using printed textiles was deemed illegal until the late 1700s. Meanwhile, other nations established their own trading companies with India, such as the French East India Company and the Dutch East India Company. The European market witnessed a significant influx of affordably priced, printed cotton fabrics imported from India, which quickly gained immense popularity and were highly traded. It's no surprise considering that these textiles boasted a level of vibrancy never before seen in Europe. Ironically, these very printed cotton were predominantly utilized as inexpensive workwear in Persia and Turkey at that time.


During the late 16th century, chintz, a type of printed cotton fabric, gained widespread availability throughout Europe, catering to varying levels of quality. The most extravagant designs emerged from a labor-intensive dyeing and hand-painting technique, giving rise to intricate floral patterns. These luxurious chintz fabrics were fashioned into stylish dressing gowns for men and day dresses for women. Simultaneously, more affordable options emerged through the utilization of roller blocks, creating simpler and more repetitive designs. As a result, cotton gradually transcended its association with royalty and the upper class, becoming accessible to people across all social strata.




Asia, particularly India, and China, dominates global cotton production. India is the world's largest cotton producer and exporter. States like Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh are key cotton-growing regions in India. China, on the other hand, has a vast cotton industry concentrated in the Xinjiang region. Xinjiang's arid climate and access to irrigation systems make it ideal for cotton cultivation. Uzbekistan, another prominent cotton-growing nation in Asia, primarily supplies cotton to the textile industry. Other Asian countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Vietnam, also contribute significantly to the global cotton market, albeit with varying production volumes.




Australia is known for its diverse agricultural landscape and is a notable player in cotton production. The cotton-growing regions in Australia, such as New South Wales and Queensland, benefit from a subtropical climate and access to irrigation systems. The country's advanced farming techniques and sustainable practices have made Australian cotton highly sought after worldwide. Australian cotton is known for its high quality and environmental sustainability, as farmers have adopted efficient water management systems and reduced pesticide usage.




It may seem obvious, but it is important to clarify that Egyptian Cotton indeed originates from Egypt. Surprisingly, there is a common misconception that cotton grown outside of Egypt can still be labeled as Egyptian Cotton. However, this belief is entirely false. To be precise, authentic Egyptian Cotton is exclusively cultivated within the Nile Delta region. This area, situated along the renowned River Nile, is renowned for its remarkably fertile soil. In stark contrast to the desert regions of Egypt, the River Nile's waters have fostered the development of lush green valleys that have been utilized for agriculture since ancient times. For countless years, this land has been equipped with an intricate irrigation system, ensuring a consistent and abundant supply of nutrients for crops such as cotton.


Furthermore, apart from its exceptionally fertile soil, Egypt benefits from a moderate climate that is exceptionally conducive to cultivating extra-long staple cotton. The key to achieving the utmost quality cotton lies in stable weather conditions characterized by abundant sunshine, humidity, and rainfall. Fortunately, Egypt enjoys consistently warm weather throughout July and August, which provides ample time for the cotton to reach full maturity before the harvest season in September and October. In contrast to other types of cotton, Egyptian Cotton stands out with its exceptionally long fibers. When it comes to cotton, even millimeters make a difference. The extended length of Egyptian Cotton fibers translates into enhanced strength since there are fewer interconnections between them. These connections are typically the vulnerable points in the final fabric, where signs of wear and tear tend to emerge first. Moreover, the extra length of Egyptian Cotton fibers also results in a slightly thinner texture. Consequently, a greater number of fibers can be tightly woven within a square inch, leading to a higher overall thread count. Egyptian Cotton can achieve an impressive thread count of up to 1000.


Cotton Processing Steps  Mechanical Cleaning and Cake Formation

The cotton production process typically begins with the mechanical cleaning stage, which involves the use of a machine called EVŌC (Enhanced Volume Output Cleaner). The purpose of this process is to separate the cottonseed from impurities and control the moisture content of the cotton. EVŌC employs a series of rollers and screens to achieve these objectives.

The primary function of EVŌC is to reduce the presence of impurities in the cotton fibers. Impurities can include various foreign materials such as dirt, leaves, stems, and other plant parts that may have become mixed with the cotton during harvesting and transportation. By removing these impurities, the cotton quality is improved, ensuring a more desirable end product.


Additionally, the EVŌC process helps in increasing the overall yield of cotton produced. As impurities are removed, the weight of the cleaned cotton increases relative to the total weight of the raw cotton. This increase in yield is due to the removal of non-cotton materials that do not contribute to the final product. Controlling the moisture content of cotton is another important aspect of the EVŌC process. Excessive moisture can lead to issues such as mold growth, decreased fiber quality, and difficulties in subsequent processing steps. EVŌC helps regulate and optimize the moisture level, ensuring that the cotton is suitable for further processing.




Scouring is an essential step in the production of cotton fabric. Cotton fibers have a natural wax coating called "pectin" that protects them from water and other elements. This coating, along with other impurities such as dirt, oil, and residual chemicals from the manufacturing process, needs to be removed to prepare the fabric for further processing. During the scouring process, the fabric is treated with a chemical solution, typically an alkaline substance like sodium hydroxide or a detergent. This solution helps to break down and dissolve the pectin, dirt, oil, and other contaminants present in the fabric. The fabric is usually soaked or agitated in the scouring solution to ensure thorough cleaning.


After the scouring treatment, the fabric is rinsed with water to remove any traces of the chemical solution and the loosened contaminants. This step is crucial to prevent any remaining chemicals from interfering with subsequent processing steps or affecting the quality of the final product. Once the fabric has been rinsed, it is typically dried, either through air drying or by using mechanical means such as heat or a drying machine. Drying ensures that the fabric is completely moisture-free and ready for further manufacturing processes like dyeing, printing, or finishing.




To purify cotton, the initial step is immersing the raw cotton in a mixture of warm water and detergent, followed by agitating it. This agitation plays a crucial role in separating the lint and other unwanted particles from the fibers. Additionally, the detergent aids in breaking down dirt particles. After the cotton has undergone the agitation process, it is thoroughly rinsed and subsequently dried.


Purifying cotton typically involves a multi-step process to remove impurities and prepare it for further processing. Here's a step-by-step breakdown of the process:

  1. Preparing the soaking solution: Fill a container with warm water and add a suitable detergent. The detergent helps to break down dirt, oils, and other contaminants present in the cotton fibers.
  2. Soaking the cotton: Place the raw cotton in the container with the soaking solution. Ensure that the cotton is fully submerged, allowing it to soak for a specified period. This soaking process helps to loosen and remove the impurities.
  3. Agitation: After the soaking period, gently agitate the cotton in the solution. Agitation can be done by stirring the cotton with a clean tool or using a washing machine on a gentle cycle. This process helps to dislodge and separate the lint, debris, and dirt particles from the cotton fibers.
  4. Rinsing: Once the agitation is complete, drain the soapy water and rinse the cotton thoroughly with clean water. Rinse multiple times to ensure that all detergent and loosened impurities are removed from the cotton.
  5. Drying: After rinsing, remove excess water from the cotton. You can gently squeeze or press the cotton to remove water, but avoid wringing it vigorously as it can damage the fibers. Spread the cotton out in a well-ventilated area or use a drying machine to dry it completely. Ensure that the cotton is completely dry before further processing or storage.


Fibre Finishing


Cotton fiber finishing is a post-spinning treatment that enhances and modifies the properties of the fibers. This process encompasses various techniques such as chemical application, heat treatment, and stretching. The objective of fiber finishing is to enhance the fabric's softness, durability, and dyeability. The initial step in fiber finishing involves pre-treating the fibers, which may include bleaching, scouring, and mercerizing. These procedures utilize chemicals to modify the surface of the fibers. Mercerizing, for instance, involves treating the fibers with an alkaline solution to increase their absorbency.


Opening and Drying


The last step in the cotton production process is indeed Opening and Drying. Once the cotton bales are received at the manufacturing facility, they need to be opened and dried to prepare them for further processing. Opening the bales involves breaking apart the compressed cotton fibers to ensure uniformity and remove any clumps or impurities. This can be done using mechanical processes such as a cotton gin, which separates the fibers from seeds, stems, and other foreign materials.


After the cotton is opened, it goes through a drying process to reduce its moisture content. Reducing moisture is important because high moisture levels can promote the growth of bacteria and mold, which can damage the cotton fibers and affect the quality of the final product. Drying can be achieved through various methods, including air-drying and mechanical drying techniques. Air-drying involves spreading the cotton fibers in a well-ventilated area and allowing them to naturally dry under controlled conditions. Mechanical drying methods, such as using heated air or specialized dryers, can also be employed to expedite the drying process. Once the cotton reaches the desired moisture level, it is considered dry and ready for shipment to the manufacturing facility. At this stage, the cotton is typically packaged and transported to the next stage of the production process, where it will be transformed into various cotton-based products like textiles, clothing, or non-woven materials.


What Are the Characteristics of Cotton?

Cotton, the most widely used natural fiber globally, has adorned our lives for centuries. Its exceptional qualities and versatility have made it a staple in the textile industry. In this section, we delve into the remarkable characteristics of cotton, exploring the unique properties that make it an ideal choice for clothing, home textiles, and countless other applications.


Softness and Comfort


One of cotton's most sought-after characteristics is its unparalleled softness and comfort. Its natural fibers are inherently gentle against the skin, providing a soothing touch and minimizing irritation. This makes cotton sheets exceptionally comfortable, especially for those with sensitive skin or allergies. Furthermore, cotton has excellent breathability, allowing air circulation and heat dissipation, resulting in a cool and comfortable feel even in warm climates. Its ability to absorb moisture makes it a preferred choice for absorbing perspiration and keeping the body dry. Thus, cotton offers an unparalleled level of comfort that has made it a timeless favorite among individuals of all ages.


Durability and Longevity


Cotton is renowned for its durability, making it ideal for various applications. Its fibers possess remarkable strength and resilience, allowing cotton products to withstand frequent washing, stretching, and everyday wear. The inherent sturdiness of cotton enables it to retain its shape and color, ensuring that sheets and textiles made from cotton last longer. Furthermore, cotton's natural fibers are less prone to pilling, resulting in a smoother and more attractive appearance over time. The durability and longevity of cotton products not only make them cost-effective but also contribute to a more sustainable and eco-friendly approach to fashion and home textiles.


Versatility and Adaptability


Cotton's versatility is unmatched, making it a widely sought-after fiber in various industries. Its natural attributes allow it to be blended with other materials, such as polyester or wool, to enhance its properties and create innovative textiles. Cotton can be spun into a wide range of yarns, from fine and delicate to thick and sturdy, catering to diverse design requirements. Additionally, cotton readily absorbs dyes, resulting in vibrant and long-lasting colors, further expanding its versatility in fashion and home décor. Moreover, cotton's absorbency and breathability make it suitable for a range of climates, as it provides warmth in colder seasons and breathability in warmer months. This adaptability has positioned cotton as a versatile choice for garments, bed linens, towels, upholstery, and much more.




For people with sensitive skin or allergies, cotton offers a hypoallergenic and skin-friendly alternative. The absence of synthetic fibers or harsh chemicals in cotton makes it less likely to cause skin irritations or allergic reactions. Cotton's natural properties allow it to wick away moisture from the skin, reducing the risk of fungal or bacterial growth and promoting healthier skin. However, cotton is often recommended for infants and those with skin conditions, as it allows the skin to breathe and facilitates moisture regulation, minimizing discomfort. Its gentle and non-abrasive nature further contributes to its suitability for people with delicate skin, ensuring a comfortable and irritation-free experience.


The history of cotton is a tale of human ingenuity and the transformative power of a humble fiber. From its ancient origins to its modern-day processing, cotton has been an integral part of civilizations worldwide when it comes to bedding. The advancements in cotton processing techniques, from the invention of the cotton gin to the mechanization of textile production, have shaped economies, influenced social structures, and contributed to the evolution of the textile industry. As we continue to rely on cotton for its versatility and comfort, it is crucial to embrace sustainable practices in cotton farming and processing. Don't forget, cotton is one of the bedding materials that keeps the body cool and creates comfort.