- Cotton Staples
From cotton boll to cotton fiber
Cotton is considered to be the most important and widely used fiber in our society. Covering a massive amount of uses, from clothing to salad dressing, cotton is used in the production of many products for both human and animal consumption. Cotton has been farmed and cultivated for centuries. Currently, there are five prominent types of cotton being grown commercially around the world. They are: Egyptian, Sea Island, American Pima, Asiatic and Upland. The largest producers of cotton are the China, India, United States, Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia. One of the most luxuries cotton crops is grown in Egypt. However, Egypt only produces a single percentage in comparison to these other countries.
The strength and quality of cotton thread is often measured by the length of the staple. A staple is the individual fiber from a cotton boll, usually measuring between 1" - 2" long depending on the specific cotton crop.
From planting to maturity, it takes 140 days to produce a cotton crop. As the plant matures, the fibers within the cotton boll grow and thicken with their primary growth substance, cellulose. An average boll is about two inches in diameter and contains 500,000 fibers of cotton. Each plant may bear up to 100 bolls.
During cotton processing, the cotton staples are separated from the cotton seed. The staples are dried to reduce moisture and improve the staple quality. It is then cleaned to remove bits of leaf, sticks and other foreign matter. The raw fiber, called lint, is then compressed into bales, sampled for classification, wrapped and shipped to textile mills. The mills produce cotton yarn and cloth by first carding the cotton. Carding is the process of pulling the fibers into parallel alignment to form a thin web. The web is then combed, which removes impurities and makes the fibers smoother. The final step is spinning the fibers to make long, uniform strands.
Further processing may done on spun cotton yarn that is going to be woven into fabric or twisted into thread. Three different processes are mercerizing, glazing, and gassing. Mercerizing is a process of treating cotton thread with an alkali solution, causing the fibers to swell. This process allows the dye to better penetrate the fibers, thereby increasing the luster. Mercerizing increases the strength of the thread and reduces the amount of lint.
Glazing involves heating the thread and then coating it with waxes, starches, and other resin-type chemicals. The thread is then polished to a high luster. Glazing results in a glossy thread with a hard finish. Glazed thread is often stiffer than unglazed thread. Glazed cotton thread is intended for hand stitching only. We do not recommend using glazed cotton thread in a machine, as the wax coating can rub off and gum up within your machine.
Gassing refers to passing a cotton thread at high speed through a flame, burning off the excess fuzz in order to create a beautiful high sheen and reduce lint.
To learn more about cotton threads, please view our cotton threads infographic.