How to Process Cotton, From Plant to Cloth

People have been producing cotton fabric from cotton plants for thousands of years. Cotton fabric is appreciated because it is lightweight and breathable. During the Industrial Revolution in 1796, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which allowed cotton to be processed more quickly. Today, Extra Long Staple (ELS) cotton is produced in a number of countries, including the U.S. and Egypt. This high-quality cotton is called Pima cotton in the United States and is the most widely used quality for cloth because of its strength.

The process of producing fabric from cotton plants is complicated.

Step 1

Move cotton grown in warm areas such as Florida, Alabama and Georgia from the field to the cotton gin. The cotton gin will separate the fibers from the seeds and remove any burs, stems, leaves or other undesirable elements.

Step 2

Condense the fiber into bales, which can weigh up to 500 pounds. Cotton bales are valued according to the attributes of the cotton fiber, such as its length, color and strength.

Step 3

Clean the bales at a textile mill and put the longest fibers into a carding machine. Fibers are about 1 to 2 inches long.Comb the cotton fibers so that they lie side by side and form a soft rope called a sliver.

Step 4

Twist the fibers in the sliver with a spinning device that turns fibers into yarn. Weave the yarn into cotton fabric on looms. The fabric produced at this stage is called gray goods.

Step 5

Bleach, shrink, dye and print the gray goods at a finishing plant. Use a sewing machine to make cotton clothing, sheets or other products.