How is cotton made?

Cotton is a natural cellulose fibre from the seed boll of the cotton plant. The majority of cultivated cotton is grown in America, China and India, where the conditions are dry and warm. Once the cotton boll is ready it is picked, the seeds are removed and the soft white fibres are removed in a process called ginning. These are what make the cotton fabric; and when harvested they have to be untangled from each other and aligned as they are very fine and fluffy. This process is called combing or carding. At the spinning mill next, the cotton fibres are spun and twisted into cotton yarn which it then woven or knitted into a multitude of cotton fabrics.

Main Physical Properties of Cotton Fabric

  • Naturally Breathable
  • Non-Static because it always contains some moisture
  • Absorbs up to 65% of its own weight without dripping
  • Soft Handle, Good Drape, Dries Slowly
  • Good strength, abrasion resistance and durability
  • Poor Elasticity, so creases easily.
  • Biodegradable and Recyclable
  • Easy to wash and dye
  • Can be boiled and bleached
  • Can be Mercerised to create a higher lustre and strength
  • Can be treated with stain-resistant finishes using Teflon or silicone.

Different Types of Cotton Fabric

Denim– Denim is hard-wearing cotton fabric. It is manufactured using a twill weave, which is typically woven using a coloured warp (usually navy blue) and an un-dyed or white weft thread. It can be produced in a variety of weights. Many denim fabrics nowadays also contain Elastane to create ‘stretch denim’ making a more comfortable fit. Denim was originally used primarily for workwear but it is now more commonly used for leisurewear and can have a multitude of finishing processes applied at garment construction stages, such as stonewashing, bleaching or artificially distressing. Denim can be recognised by the diagonal lines in the fabric created by the twill weave and highlighting the use of two different colour of thread. Denim was originally known as ‘Serge de Nimes’ meaning a Serge fabric from the city of Nimes in southern France.

Corduroy – Corduroy is a tough, woven fabric, typically made from cotton. It is constructed with a cut-pile running in vertical ribs down the fabric. This is produced using an extra set of weft yarns. The ribs, which are usually velvety to the touch, are made of twisted yarns with exposed base fabric, or channels in between the ribs. These vary in size depending on the end fabric. Very thin ridges are known as ‘pincord’ or ‘needlecord.’ Medium thickness are ‘partridge cord’ and ‘constitution cord’ right up to the thick ‘elephant cord.’ Corduroy was originally named ‘Corde du Roi’ which translates to ‘Cord of the King’ and refers to how it was primarily used for Royalties garments. Corduroy is most commonly used for trousers often named ‘Corduroys’ or ‘Cords.

Poplin – Poplin is a strong, absorbent cotton fabric. It is closely woven using a rib weave, however it is manufactured using a thicker weft yarn than warp to produce a fine diagonal ribbed pattern. Poplin was originally made using cotton and silk but now it is more commonly made using Mercerised Cotton or blended with Synthetic yarns. It is widely used for dresses, and leisurewear. Often the thicker weft yarn is Worsted yarn which is a smooth, strong lustrous yarn spun from long staple wool yarns to create an ever greater contrast in weight between the warp and weft yarns.

Egyptian cotton – Egyptian Cotton is named so because of the fact it was originally produced in Egypt along the river Nile. It is characterised by its use of extra long staple fibres that create a fine, strong, lustrous cotton fabric. Egyptian cotton is thought to be very luxurious and it categorised by the ‘thread count.’ This number refers to the amount of the threads per square inch. The higher the tread count the more superior the fabric. The use of Egyptian cotton has become synonymous with interior fabrics such as bed linen.

Calico – Calico is a cotton fabric of ancient origin. It is constructed using a plain weave and hasn’t gone through any of the regular finishing processes. It still contains some of the starch from weaving and has a slightly stiff handle. It is an inexpensive fabric and can be made in many different weights and widths, making it very suitable for experimental textiles work. Calico is often used for prototype garments or toile’s before the final garment is made using the actual fabric. It can also be used as an interlining is structured or tailored garments.

Gingham – Gingham is a plain woven fabric, usually produced using two different coloured yarns, one for the warp and one for the weft. The end result is usually small even checks but it can be striped, tartan or blocks of colour. Gingham can be used for a wide variety of garments and accessories such as dresses, blouses and handkerchiefs.

Drill – Drill fabric is constructed using twill weave and is very durable. It differs from denim in the fact that both the warp and the weft yarns are the same colour, and is typically of a higher quality. It is a medium or heavy weight fabric and is generally made from cotton or linen. It can be blended with synthetic fibres to create fabrics with different properties. Drill fabric is quite versatile and can be used for utility wear, uniforms, jackets and shirts.

Chino – Chino fabric is a sturdy, twill weave fabric. It is generally made form cotton or cotton blends and dyed khaki or tan colours. Chino fabric can be recognised by the subtle sheen it has. It is very hard-wearing and was traditionally used for military uniforms or work wear. It is now more commonly used for casual civilian clothing and sportswear, and can be dyed a multitude of colour to serve this purpose. The term ‘Chinos’ can also be used to describe a pair of trousers made from Chino fabric; which have become increasingly popular in casual fashion recently.

Coutil – Coutil is a fabric made from cotton. It is woven in a herringbone weave and is smooth, durable and closely woven. It is used mainly as an interlining in the corset making process, but it can also be used a lining or suit fabric. It has very good dimensional stability, making it resistant to the heavy stretching that corsets much endure. Its stiffness and close weave mean that it is very suitable for attaching the corset bones to and making sure they don’t pierce through it. Coutil is also lightweight without compromising it’s strength.

Cotton Twill – Cotton Twill is a fabric made from cotton and woven in a twill weave. It can be characterised by the diagonally running, parallel ribs, known as wales. It is a heavyweight fabric that is similar to canvas, yet softer to touch. Cotton twill wears well and it is often used for overalls and work wear. It is breathable and water resistant. Some common types of cotton twill are Chino, Denim, Tweed and Gabadine.

Cotton Shantung – Cotton Shantung is the term used to describe imitation shantung fabric. Originally Shantung was made from silk and was made in the Shantung province of China. Cotton Shantung has a slightly rough, uneven surface, which is caused by the use of slub yarns. These are yarns that vary in thickness down the length of them. They may also have knots or much thicker parts on them. The fabric has a cross rib created by using a simple weave with the slub yarns used as the warp yarns. Cotton Shantung is mainly used for garments such as dresses, blouses, suits and nightwear.

Cotton Lawn – Cotton Lawn is a lightweight plain woven fabric. Lawn fabric was formally made of linen but it is now made from fine, carded cotton. It originates from the Middle Ages and it can either be plain, dyed various colours or printed with a pattern. Cotton Lawn can also be finished in many different ways; calendaring to increase the smoothness and lustre of the fabric and by sizing, which is done to increase the crispness. It is generally used for blouses, dresses, nightwear, aprons, handkerchiefs and undergarments. Cotton Lawn is also sometimes used as a base fabric for certain kinds of embroidery. The name ‘Lawn’ was taken from the city of Laon in France where the fabric was once produced in large quantities.

Terry Towelling – Terry towelling is a soft absorbent fabric that is woven or knitted from cotton or linen yarns. Blended fibres can be used as well. The fabric has an uncut pile on one or both sides, which is created by slack tension weaving to create loops on the surface of the fabric. The higher the quality, the longer the loops and the closer the under weave as a general rule of thumb. Terry towelling is used for dressing gowns, beachwear, baby wear and towels.

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Written by Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell, extremely competent and reliable, she is currently in her third year at the University of Lincoln UK, studying Fashion. Kelly is responsible for the Fabrics, Fibers and Leathers sections of our Dictionary

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