cotton fabrics, woven fabrics, yarn dyed fabrics

Cotton fabrics for Dummies: Fabrics 101

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“They grew there [India] a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the ends of its branches. These branches were so liable that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when are hungry”. This is a short description from writing from 1350 Europe about cotton.

In the early days, Cotton was considered as a ‘tree’ that produced wool. Many thought that these plants were an alternate creation of sheep. In this article, we will look into matters revolving cotton and learn how significant this commodity it to the human and the world.


What is cotton?

Cotton is a natural cellulose produced on cotton plants. It comes from a shrub genus called the Gossypium in the mallow family Malvaceae.

This wool-like cellulose is often spun into yarns and further used for making fabrics. It is recorded that cotton fabrics were in use as early as 5000 BC. During man’s search for ancient civilizations, he discovered cotton among other things in the lost civilizations like the Indus Valley civilization.

Cotton is a tropical plant that is found throughout the world. It is a fact that the greatest diversity of wild cotton species is found in Mexico.

India can take pride as the largest cotton producer in the world. It is estimated that 25 million tonnes of cotton are produced in the world annually. Accounting for 2.5% of the world’s arable land.

Types of cotton

Cotton is categorized into major three categories based on the length, strength, and structure of its fiber.

  1. Long-staple cotton:
  • Highly-priced
  • Length varies from 24 to 27 mm
  • Long fiber
  • Highly in production


  1. Medium staple cotton:
  • The length is between 20 and 24 mm
  • Second largest cultivated type of cotton


  1. Short staple cotton:
  • Less than 20 mm
  • Cheap among three
  • Least cultivated
  • Used for manufacturing inferior cloth


How cotton is grown?

The cotton cycle is different according to the region. The stages of cotton cultivation include soil preparation, planting, growing season, and harvesting. I have illustrated a generic cotton calendar below.


Soil preparation

Planting Growing season Harvesting
July – September October – November November – March

March – June


Cotton is a tropical plant. Throughout its cultivation, it requires a temperature between 21 – 30 degrees Celcius. The plant is against cold and frosty climatic regions. It is estimated that around 210 frost-free days are required for cotton cultivation.

Cotton is considered a Kharif crop, a monsoon crop. It requires 6 to 8 months to mature. Its sowing and harvesting depend on the climatic condition of the region.

In Punjab & Haryana cotton is sown between April and May and it is harvested between December and January.

In the peninsular region in India, it is sown up to October and harvested between January and May.

In the Tamil Nadu region, cotton is sown in October during the rainfall.

Cotton plants are highly dependent on fertile soil. Deep black soil and alluvial soils are closely related to cotton cultivation. It depletes the fertility of soil very quickly. Hence, continuous fertilization is required.


How cotton is made into fabric?

Cotton is harvested and made into fabrics or wearable in 8 steps. Here we will discuss in short sentences.

  1. Harvesting: The fibers are separated from the cotton plants using mechanized equipment.
  2. Ginning: The cotton is dried out and then the fiber is separated from the seed using a cotton gin. (Cotton gin is cotton separating machine or engine)
  3. Fiber bales: The cotton fiber is compressed into bales weighing approximately 225 kilograms each before being delivered to a textile mill.
  4. Spinning: Individual strands of cotton fiber called silvers are tightly twisted together to create a thicker cotton yarn.
  5. Weaving or Knitting: This interlacing process is used for converting the cotton yarn into fabrics.
  6. Dyeing: The fabric is given color as per desire.
  7. Cutting & sewing: The lengthy fabric is cut and stitched together to create clothing
  8. Shipment: The final product is then shipped to the customer.


How much cotton can be grown per acre?

According to the data available on wikifarmer, one can expect around 1.6 tons of cotton per acre. (1600 kilograms). But the separating process like ginning can significantly decrease the amount of end result cotton. It is estimated that the end result after all the processes, an acre of land can produce somewhere between 589 lbs to 1187 lbs of cotton.


Is cotton sustainable?

Cotton cultivation has created a lot of problems in the past decade. Even though the plant is natural and bio-degradable, the environmental impacts it creates is much higher.

In the previous sections, we discussed how much cotton can be produced per acre. It uses a lot of water, electricity, land, cheap labor (forced labor) and chemical fertilizers for its products.

The compounded effect of the past years of cotton cultivation has led to some disastrous effects.

Lands have dried and unfertile, crops have become mutated and not yielding.

Mostly we consider conventional cotton as unsustainable.

Today, organic cotton and other alternative cotton are regarded as sustainable and environmentally friendly. Read more about sustainable fabrics here.


Where cotton is grown in India?

A graph showing the cotton cultivating areas in India. The top 10 cotton-producing states in India are:

  1. Gujarat
  2. Maharashtra
  3. Andhra Pradesh
  4. Haryana
  5. Karnataka
  6. Madhya Pradesh
  7. Rajasthan
  8. Punjab
  9. Tamilnadu
  10. Orissa


How much cotton is needed to make a shirt?

Here is a list of the estimated amount of cotton required for making various apparel.

  1. Man’s shirt : 0.2
  2. T-shirt : 0.2
  3. Skirt : 0.4
  4. Bath towel: 0.2
  5. Dress: 0.5
  6. Blouse : 0.2


What do cotton blends mean?

Cotton blends fabrics are that materials that has other natural or synthetic fibers mixed in them. Popular blends are:

  1. Cotton Polyester blends
  2. Cotton Hemp blends
  3. Cotton Linen blends
  4. Cotton Viscose blends
  5. More cotton blends fabrics



How many cotton mills are there in India?

According to Wikipedia, there are 1900 cotton textile mills in India. This is outdated data from September 2013. Out of these, 18% are private and the rest are public and cooperative sectors.


What is the Future of Cotton farming and textile?

The future is bright for cotton farming and textiles in India and around the world. Cotton production is expected to grow in double digits. In 2020, the cotton market was at the US $38.54 Billion. It is expected to reach US $46.56 Billion by 2027 with a CAGR of 2.74%


Cotton is an ideal commodity for business. It has been a part of human evolution since the time in memorial. It is truly a gift to have such material for use. Did you find the article informative? Please comment your thoughts below.

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