Cotton fiber

The most important and widespread vegetable textile fiber in the world


Cotton comes from the Arabic word Katun or "land of conquest". It was present before the second millennium BC in India and also in Peru and was first introduced by the Saracens in Sicily in the ninth century and then throughout Europe around 1300. Cotton remained for a long time a luxury fabric like silk , as difficult to spin and weave. It is difficult, however, to establish the place and especially to date the origin of the cotton. Some passages in the Bible contemplate that the Jews used this fiber for the creation of textiles. Classical Greece discovered it thanks to the conquests of Alexander the Great in Asia and in North Africa and we read that during the conquest of America, Hernen Cortes, found cotton fields in the Gossypium Hirsutum species, in Mexico, but the area where this cultivation had its expansion was in the south of the United States, thanks to the labor of black slaves.

Cotton plant

Native to tropical countries, the cotton plant is grown in a vast area of ​​the globe: from 45th of latitude north to the 45th of south latitude. It is a vegetable fiber obtained from the mature capsules of the cotton plant. The plant is formed by a shrub, about 40cm tall, with red or yellow leaves and flowers. When the flower is fertilized, it loses its petals and in 25 days a capsule grows surrounded by a leaf called a bract. The capsule is supported by a glass and has a rounded shape at the lower end. Within the capsule there are 5 to 8 seeds on which the fiber develops. When the capsule is ripe it opens into 4 parts showing the cotton ball. The first operation after harvesting is ginning, which allows the fibers to be detached from the seeds. Then the cotton is carded and combed to eliminate all impurities. The length of the cotton fibers is very important commercially, because you get the finest yarns the longer the fiber is long.

Cotton's properties

Cotton is composed of 95% cellulose, it is light, soft and absorbent. The cotton fiber, less sturdy than linen, does not wear out but tears; it is not very elastic and therefore becomes creased. The cotton can be washed by hand or in the washing machine without any particular problems as in the wet state it improves its resistance; however it is necessary to avoid drying in direct sunlight because it weakens yellowing the fiber.


Cotton was the most important natural fiber of the twentieth century. Today the textile industry uses artificial fibers for 58% of production while 38% is firmly covered by cotton; other fibers such as wool, linen, silk and hemp have a marginal use that covers the remaining 4%. Today, cotton is grown in more than 100 countries, its cultivation, harvesting and production represent a source of income for at least 300 million people. Cotton therefore plays an essential role in world social and economic development.

Types and characteristics of the main fibers

Sea Island Cotton: (West Indies) from silky fiber is considered the highest quality cotton and is used for the finest work. The length of the fiber varies from cm. 3.8 to 6.3. The fineness is 11-13 microns and the color is white. The West Indian Sea Island cotton, known as "gossypium barbadense" or "black seed", is one of the oldest and most precious varieties in the world, this type was discovered in the early eighteenth century in the West Indies. Its production is mainly concentrated on the island of Barbados and Jamaica, both areas that guarantee a particularly perfect climate for the growth and maturation of the plant. The harvesting process takes place completely by hand and the product is processed in order to avoid any damage to the fiber, this procedure is controlled by the Wisica association (West Indian Sea Island Cotton Association).

Egyptian Cotton "Makò": known under the name of Jumel or Maho which we call Mako '; it is characterized by a pinkish color; the length of the fiber varies from 3.1 to 3.8 cm; the fineness is 12-14 microns. The type of long staple cotton is made up of the Giza 86, Giza 89, Giza 90 variants, this good cotton fiber can allow the creation of low titration yarns. In addition to the long staple type there is the superior quality extra long staple, (over 33 mm) and includes the varieties Giza 45, Giza 70, Giza 87 and Giza 88, this quality is intended in most cases to produce fine titles. In particular, the Giza 45 has unique characteristics of excellence, with a unique extraordinarily soft and silky hand for the creation of unique garments.

American Cotton “Upland”: (Gossypium Hyrsutum) is a short fiber (1.9 to 2.5 cm) and takes its denomination according to the origin (Texas, Mississippi, Georgia North Carolina from the East Coast to the West Coast) this vast area of territory is called Cotton Belt ; the fineness ranges from 13 to 17 microns and is characterized by its cream color. The cotton of the Upland family accounts for about 97% of the cotton harvested in the United States. About 30% of the Upland crop is produced in the southeastern region and includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The Central-South area that includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee accounts for about 26% of the total production of Upland. The central-southern area, which includes Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, covers about 37% of the entire Upland crop. The states of Arizona, California and New Mexico included in the western region, contribute to 7% of all Upland production.

Pima Cotton “Gossypium barbadense” and (SUPIMA, denomination of PIMA cotton that has been grown exclusively in the United States of America). This type of fiber is classified as ELS (extra long stape) has a very high fiber length (35mm) thanks to the ideal conditions of cultivation, these characteristics make it highly appreciated for its extraordinary softness, intense shine and its formidable resistance to wear and pilling. Pima is grown in the southern United States of America (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California), Peru and Australia. The characteristics of Pima cotton (or Supima) are controlled and guaranteed by the homonymous Supima Association which checks all levels of the production process. Supima covers the remaining 3% of cotton cultivation in the U.S.A.

Indian Cottons: (Madras, Surat) from the name of the center of Surat, on the west coast of the Indian Union, north of Bombay, they have even shorter fibers (from 0.6 to 2 cm) and are generally of inferior quality, the fineness ranges from 14 to 22 microns, except for the best types, used for thick yarns; this type of fiber is very similar to the Pakistani one. These areas are characterized by a tendentially arid climate, with some similarities to the Mediterranean climate, very distinct from the ideal monsoon tropical climate for cultivation; in summer it rains very little, at least on most of the areas, the winter rains are more relevant. India produces about 2,300,000 tons of seeds and about 830,000 tons of cotton fiber every year and is the third largest cotton producer in the world only after China and the United States.