Stages of the Cotton Manufacturing Process

by John Willis; Updated September 26, 2017

The first stage of cotton manufacturing is to farm cotton. Next, raw cotton fiber is removed from its pod. There are a number of methods, including manual picking, but the process, however it's done, is called "ginning." The fiber is prepared for spinning. Processes vary because there are so many different finished products made from cotton -- most requiring slightly different procedures. Once cotton is spun, it gets woven in one of a variety of methods. The weave will most likely be manufactured into a finished garment.


Growing cotton is a multistep manufacturing process in itself, the end result being cotton fiber ready for harvesting. This stage requires agricultural know-how similar to that of other valuable cash crops. The soil must be managed for sustained farming, so it is often rotated with crops that have a complementary effect on the soil. The trend in cotton growing is toward organic farming, which avoids the use of potentially harmful pesticides and inorganic fertilizers.


Separating cotton fiber from the rest of the plant's parts is the next stage. Prior to Eli Whitney's cotton gin, cotton was extracted from pods by hand or relatively crude tools. The cotton gin revolutionized cotton production by simplifying the extraction process: cotton fiber could be removed efficiently and its seeds could be separated with relative ease. The process has come to be known as "ginning" because of Whitney's inventions, and modern equipment, conceptually, owes a debt to the original gin.


Before it's spun, cotton is carded -- a process that combs the fibers, removing the shortest ones and aligning the longer ones. Combing further cleans the cotton fiber as well. The long carded fibers are formed into a loose rope called a sliver. Slivers are fed into commercial spinning machines that spin them into weave-ready fibers. A variety of sizes and characteristics can be created based on the intended application.


Whether it's done with a commercial textile machine or a hand loom, the cotton fibers are then woven into fabrics. There are even more varieties of weaves than yarns. Bulk fabrics are usually made for a specific type of garment. Once woven, it undergoes finishing. Finishing usually involves bleaching, dying, printing and/or coating with a special finish. Organic finishes use only organic acids and natural dyes.

About the Author

John Willis founded a publishing company in 1993, co-writing and publishing guidebooks in Portland, OR. His articles have appeared in national publications, including the "Wall Street Journal." With expertise in marketing, publishing, advertising and public relations, John has founded four writing-related ventures. He studied economics, art and writing at Portland State University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

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