Fabrics and Material Used in Boys' Clothing: Cotton


Figure 1.--Here we see two boys with cotton bales. I'm guessing that they are sons of a cotton farmer, but not share cropers. This looks to be the place where cotton bales were delivered for sale. All we know is that it was located in Texas. The photograph is undated, but we would guess was taken about 1920.

Cotton is the most widely used natural fiber in the manufacture of clothing. It has a number of qualities making it ideal for making textiles and clothing. It is a natural vegetable fiber--the most important texttile raw material. As it is a plant it can be cultured in much larger quantity and at much less cost than producing animal fibers as in raising sheep for wool. The extensive use of cotton around the world as a textile fabric owes primarily to the fact that individual cotton fibers have a natural spiral twist, giving it a strength and reiliancy unmatched by other palnt fibers. This allows te spinning of extremely fine yards. Cotton is a soft, white, downy substance consisting of hairs or fibers attached tonthe seeds of plants belonging to the genus Gossypium of the mallow family. Cotton is used in making fabrics, thread, wadding, etc. A large number of fabrics are made from cotton, including corderoy, denim, drill, madras, searsucker, and many others. Cotton fabric has been used since ancient times and the development of cotton agriculture was an important step in the advance of civilization among ancient civilizations. Cotton also played a major role in the Industrial Revolution that has so changed modern life. American slavery was decling in importance. Many though that in the South it would eventually disappear as it was in the North. The Industrial Revolution, however, led to Ely Whitney's cotton gin. The resulting efficiences changed the economies of cotton cultivation. New plantations were founded on King Cotton as Southern planters moved west into Alabama and Mississpi and eventually Texas. The revitalization of the South's slave-based economy began a process that was to laed inexorably to Civil War. Cotton today continues to be the most important natural textile, still widely used in the production of clothing.

Botony

Cotton is a soft, white, downy substance consisting of hairs or fibers attached to the seeds of plants belonging to the genus Gossypium of the mallow family. Rge imature flower buds of the cotton plant, called a square, ripen into a oval boll which splits open when it reaches maturity to reveal a large number of seeds embedded in mass of long white seed hairs referred to as lint. Shorter hairs growing from the seeds are described as fuzz. The attachment of the cotton hairs or fibers to the seeds required the laborious process of separating the two which until the Industrial Revolution was done by hand, greatly adding to the cost of producing raw cotton. Each cotton hair is in fact a tubular cell with a characteristic spiral twist. These hair is less than a thousandth of an inch in diameter and the length varies from 0.5-2.5 inches (in). Different species of cotton tend to have hairs of varying length. There are many different species of cotton, including tree cotton (G. arboreum) grown in Asia. About 10 of the many different species of cotton are grown commercially. Some of the most important species are American upland (G. hirsutum, Sea Island (G. barbadense), and Pima cotton are grown in the United States. Sea Island and Pima cotton are especially valued because of the long fibers or staples, ranging 1.5-2.5 inches. Most other varities have staples only about 0.75-1.50 in long. The other important species is Egyptian which has been derived from Sea Island cotton or a Braziliam species (G. braziliense). Pima cotton is related to Egyptian cottons.

Geography

The cultivation of cotton requires a relatively long growing season, abundant sun and water during the growing cycle, and dry weather during the harvest season. These conditions are found in many subtropical and tropical areas of the northern and southern hemisheres. Important cotton growing countries include: China, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and the United States. China and the United States aare the two leading producing countries. The American "cotton belt" extends from northern Florida accross the county to California. Traditionally it was the southeastern states of the Old Confederacy that were known for cotton cultivation on large plantations using slave labor. Cotton, while still important in the South, no longer has the commanding position in the economy that it occupied until after Wprld War I (1914-18). After World War I, American production totaled as much as two-thirds of world's cotton harvest. The United States continues to be a major producer, but today only represents a small fraction of the world harvest.

Natural Fiber

Cotton is the most widely used natural fiber in the manufacture of clothing. It is almost purecellulose. It has a number of qualities making it ideal for making textiles and clothing. It is a natural vegetable fiber--the most important texttile raw material.

Economics

As it is a plant it can be cultured in much larger quantity and at much less cost than producing animal fibers as in raising sheep for wool. The cost of producing cotton, although less than animal fibers, was for millenia relatively high vecause of the laborious process required to separate the fibers from the seeds in cotton bolls. Until the Industrial Revolution separating the fibers from the seeds was done by hand, greatly adding to the cost of producing raw cotton.

Cotton Gin

Cotton was a crop grown in southern American colonies during the 17th and 18 centuries, but it was of relatively minor importance compared to tobacco. One of the reasons that the slave issue was not addressed more forcefully at the American Constitutional Convention in 1787 was that it was not proving to be an economically efficent system in the south. Many believed that it wouls eventually disappear as it was in the north. This calculation was fundamentally altered as was the economics of southern agriculture by Eli Whitney. He invented a cotton gin in 1793 that efficently seaparated the cotton hairs or fibers from the seeds. Previously this had been a tedious, labor intensive process that made cotton a crop with limired profit potential. Cotton fed into Whitney's gin, the teeth of a large comb caught the fibers, pulling them through the comb and leaving the seeds behind. Subsequently a roller gin was developed that would not damage the prized longer staple cotton fibers.

Steamboats

The citton gin did not byitself resolve the cotton problem. Cotton growers faced the same problem as grain gowers west of the Applchans. How to get the crop to maket. The grain growes solved the ptoblem by converting grain to more easily transported whiskey which significantly reduced the volume and thus the transportation costs. But there was no way to do this with cotton. Roads were pimive and even if better roads existed, land transport would have been too expensive over long distnces. America is criss crossed with rivers. And they proved useful transporting valuavle products like frs. They were not at first, however, particlarly useful in transporting relatively low-value (per unit of weight) raw materials. And there was the problem of getting back up river after floating down. At the time the southern states beyond the Apalachens were being settled, there were not yet any railroads. The sollution of course was the steamboat. [Sale] The steamboat was invented in Britain. Robert Fulton brought the invention to America. He built and operated a steamboat between New York City and Albany on the Hudson River as a joint venture with Robrt Livingston (1807). Backed by a monopoly he made it a commercial success. Soon steamships began appearing on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The first was the "New Orleans" built at Pittsburgh and designed by Fulton. Again Fulton and Livingston financed the construction. Fulton an Edward Livingston began regular freofgt and passange service on the lower Mississippi (1814). Henry Miller Shreve launched a competive service that operated from New Orleans as far up river as Louisville, Kentucky. Fulton tried to exert a monopoly, but the Masrshal Court in a landmark decesion struck it down. Steampships quickly roliferated as did technical advances that increased capacity and speed. There were 20 steamships in 1814, but this increased to 1,200 ny 1834. The boats transported a range of cargoes, but none were more important than cotton. Railroads began to appear in the ante-bellum South, but did not begin to replace the steamboats until after the Civil War.

Synthetic Fibers

The development of synthetic fibers have affected the world demand for cotton. Peak production in the United States occurred in 1937 when nearly 19 million bales were ginned. Since World War II, production has fallen below 9 million bales.

Mercerization

There are some problems associated with cotton, especially 100 percent cotton garments. Cotton fabric is subject to fading which can dull the color. Also after repeated washes little bits of fabric which might be called "fuzzies" appear on the surface of the garments. Mercerization is a process dessigned to deal with these problems. Manufactures use both single and double Mercerization processes. The Single Mercerization process in a heat treatment of the cotton yarn used to make fabric. The process involved running cotton yarn very rapidly through a flame. The yarn passes through at such a high speed that the yarn doesn't burn or scorch. There is, however, a microsopic affect. Although not vissilble to the naked eye, cotton yarn includes millions of fuzzies and slubs many of which are burned off in the process. The relatively large surface area of these tiny bits make them highly vuknerable to fire. This essentially cleans the yarn of these bits and makes it stronger. After Mercerization, cotton yard hold together netter and is less subject to unraveling. Another advantages of Mercerization is that processed yarn is less subject to shrinkage. The mercerization process in effect pre-shrinks the yarn. In addition, the mercerization imroves the yarns afinity for dye. Mercerized yarn more readily accepts dye. Manipulating cotton yarn, such as the knitting process to make fabric ievitanly causes breaking in fibers and some fuzzies will reappear. This manufactures employ a second mercerization process. Double Mercerization is a chemical process which treats cotton fabric rather than the yarn. Knitted cotton fabric is submerged in a chemical bath of caustic soda to remove fuzzies or slubs whih developed in the knitting prcess. After the chemical bath the fabric is washed clean and dries. This not only elimiates the fuzzies, but it makes the fabric stronger as well as giving it a pleasing luster and sheen.

Byproducts

About two-thirds the weight of cotton bolls is the seeds. Until the mid-19th century the seeds were discarded or burned. It was known, however, that the seeds contained an oil. Buy the time of the Americanm Civil War, presses were developed for extracting the oil. The cottonseed oil has become today a valuable commodity in its own right. The short fuzzy fibers and the waste from industrial production are used in a variety of ways: quality paper, furniture stuffing, and absorbent cotton. The fuzz and cotton wastes being almost pure cellulose are used in the manufacture of many celluose products (rayon, plastics, smoleless powder, and lacquers).

Utility

Cotton fiber is used in making fabrics, thread, wadding, etc.The extensive use of cotton around the world as a textile fabric owes primarily to the fact that individual cotton fibers have a natural spiral twist, giving it a strength and reiliancy unmatched by other palnt fibers. This allows the spinning of extremely fine yards. In use since ancient times, cotton today continues to be the most important natural textile, still widely used in the production of clothing.

Fabrics

A large number of fabrics and textiles are made from cotton, including corderoy, denim, drill, madras, searsucker, and many others.

History

Given the economic and social importance of cotton as a raw material, it is not surprising that cotton has played an important role in history in both the ancient and modern worlds. Cotton fabric has been used since ancient times and the development of cotton agriculture was an important step in the advance of civilization among ancient civilizations. It did not play a major role in European history until the technical developments which led to the industrial revolution, a critical development in the making of the modern world and the rise of the West. Cotton also played a central role in the economic development of the United States, leading to both the expansion of slavery and financing the industrialization of the United States.

Sources

Ashworth, William. A Short Histiory of the International Economy Since 1850 (Longman Paperback: London, 1977), 318p.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Fire of His Genius: Robert Fulton & TheAmerican Dream (2006).

Yafa, Stephen. Big Cotton.






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Created: November 8, 2002
Last updated: 6:34 AM 10/1/2006