What is Cotton & where does it come from?
Cotton needs no introduction. With more than 100 million (480 pound bales) in production all over the world, it is easily one of the most popular dressmaking fabric around the world.
Man has been making fabric from cotton fibers for a long long time. I remember reading that from the prehistoric times man used clothes made from cotton fibers. People in Indus Valley civilization used cotton clothes and that was 3300 BC. Today India is the biggest producer of cotton followed by China
Cotton is ever popular as the best (debatable of course) fabric for clothing. Millions choose it out of necessity (because it is inexpensive) many choose it out of preference (as a summer-friendly fabric) Many choose it for its beauty (think crepe, damask) many for its comfort (your comfy terry towels and sheeting) Many choose it as an eco-friendly choice (because it is made from a plant) and as a fashion statement (your denim jeans). Whatever is your excuse, you come upon cotton many times in your daily lives.
How is cotton made?
The cotton plant is a shrub that is planted in spring and it is ready for harvest within 2 to 3 months. Harvesting is done when the flower of the shrub splits open to reveal the ball of cotton.
Hand labor or a machine can harvest the cotton and, when collected, make them into bales. These bales are cleaned and washed, separating the dirt and lint that comes with the fibres.
The bales then go into the spinning process, where the fibers are twisted to make thread or yarn. These threads are then processed in specialized looms, where they are woven into fabric.
You can learn more about how cotton is made – in the post ” Making of cotton fabric.
Table of Contents
Properties of cotton fiber
Cotton Fabric is universally acclaimed for a lot of qualities which makes it the number one choice for sewing, be it clothing or home decor or accessories.
- Absorbs water ( Many times its weight)
- Colour retention ( mostly)
- Moisture absorption
- Comfortable to wear
- Eco friendly
- can be blended with other fibers for more qualities
Some properties of cotton are not so rosy as the ones written above. Cotton shrinks and sewing clothes with cotton fabric before prewashing it is akin to a sewing disaster. Mostly it will be reduced to a size smaller after the first wash.
Some bright colored cotton will bleed. It is not a very beautiful sight to see red and green mixed together in your dress after spending two hours of concentrated effort in sewing it.
Another disadvantage is that cotton fabric wrinkles a lot. When cotton is blended with other fibers like polyester and silk, many of these disadvantageous properties are taken care of.
Cotton fabric – Different names and different types
You go to buy cotton and come away dazed at the different types of cotton before you. It has happened to me. There are a hundred types of cotton . The main ones are as follows: I have taken them from this post on different types of fabric
A loosely woven cotton fabric, which is very lightweight, that is used to make shirts and underwear. It is a trademarked name.
Absorbant cotton batting
Cotton wadding or batting made of cotton without any natural oils. This is highly absorbent and is used in cleaning purposes in medical field and cosmetic field
Algodon pais is a variety of native cotton growing in Peru.
A cotton fabric with jacquard or dobby weave giving the look of a raised pattern. Earlier this fabric had a pattern of chain mail/chain armour woven as part of the design.
Cheap coarse cotton fabric.
Slightly textured, Rugged looking 100% cotton fabric ( So named because it resembles the original bark cloth made from the bark of trees), used for unlined jackets and skirts.
Basket weave cotton
This cotton fabric has a checkerboard pattern in its weave. Usually used to make men’s shirts
This is a cotton fabric with beautiful eyelets all over. Also called eyelet cotton
Cotton fabric that is brushed on the surface to remove extra lint and fibers, making it extra soft and smooth. Flannel is a brushed cotton fabric.
A woven fabric with criss-cross ribs resembling grossgrain.
A very thin and soft lightweight cotton fabric. Used to make summer clothes and handkerchiefs. It is semi-sheer fabric so it will need lining when used for dressmaking.
A strong ribbed fabric that looks like corduroy. Usually used for bedsheets. More on the fabrics used to make bed sheets here.
A type of cotton treated by an enzyme that removes the roughness on the surface.
This is a very soft, light weight, and absorbent cotton fabric.
A clothing fabric that is tightly woven in a plain weave with a crosswise rib. Similar to poplin, but finer. Earlier broadcloth used to be made of wool but nowadays it is made of cotton or cotton/polyester blends. It is lustrous and soft and smooth to touch but with a good texture. Best quality broadcloth made of Egyptian or combed pima doesnot wrinkle much and is very durable.
Cotton brocade has a cotton base with the designs woven with silk or rayon yarns.
This is a cheap, low-textured, loose weave fabric used in hat making, bookbinding and as lining. It is very heavily sized and stiff.
Originally made from linen this is now made in cotton fibers. It is a very durable fabric that can easily be maintained.
A plain weave cloth coarser than muslin made from unbleached and not fully processed cotton. Made in India this cotton is one of the oldest cotton made by man. It usually comes with a lot of sizing to maintain stiffness. It can become limp when sizing is washed out.
A very fine fabric, without any weaving faults. It is made of cotton.
An extremely durable fabric made of cotton or linen. Canvas comes in two types – plain and duck.
This is a type of muslin cotton fabric used as a base for candlewick embroidery.
This is an absorbent cotton fabric – which also very warm and strong. It is also heavy when compared to other cotton fabrics.
A lightweight, woven fabric made of wool, cotton, or rayon, either in a single colour or in small prints. Its slightly brushed surface creates a silky finish that can easily be dyed and is usually machine washable.
Chambray / Chambric
A fine, lightweight cloth (usually cotton) in a plain weave with colored, lengthwise threads and a white fill.
It is a plain weave cotton fabric that is napped, sheared, and dyed to look like chamois leather.
This is a fine, firmly knit fabric with a short soft nap.
A soft, lightweight fabric woven with a satin weave. It is a silk, cotton, or man-made fabric with a smooth, semi-lustrous satin finish and a dull matte backing. It is a very drapable material and shiny silk and soft, so very popular to make dresses.
Fabric made with an Incredibly soft, fuzzy cotton yarn with protruding pile; It is popularly used in upholstery or for making pillows, blankets
This is a very loosely woven gauze-like fabric which is used in the preparation of cheese and for covering food. More on cheese cloth here.
A durable cotton fabric made of a twill, which has a sheen. It was originally used in England for military uniforms. Washes and wears extremely well with a minimum of care
A usually glazed printed cotton fabric with bright figures, large flower designs, birds and other designs. It also comes in plain colors. It is named after the Indian word “Chint” meaning “broad, gaudily printed fabric”. Used widely in upholstery fabric.
A lightweight cotton fabric woven with two colored yarns.
Cotton backed Satin
A very high luster satin with a rayon face and a cotton back.
Lightweight and somewhat sheer fabric, it is perfect for draping.
Cotton Lawn is similar to cotton voile, but crisper.
A fabric used as stiffening for dresses. It was popular in the bygone days as the stiff fabric made of cotton or linen make the underskirt for gowns. Today it is used under dresses/gowns to make them look fuller.
Colored cotton that is native to Guatemala; it is naturally brown in color.
A fine lightweight semi-sheer cloth used in heirloom sewing.
Refers to cotton with the highest thread count with the highest quality. When cotton is “combed,” the shortest, additional fibers of a batch are removed. This process produces high-quality yarns with excellent strength and softness. Combed cotton is finer, softer, stronger and more compact.
A medium- to heavyweight thick and ribbed fabric (usually cotton), often used for clothing. A distinct pattern of vertical ribs, tufted “cords” is formed by twisted fibers that lie parallel to one another with channels in between the cords. A durable cloth, it is used to make jackets, trousers etc.
An extremely soft and environmentally sound material made from a combination of Angora rabbit hair and organic cotton.
A puckered looking cotton fabric ; It is very popular for making gowns.
A beautiful patterned cotton fabric made on a jacquard loom. A rich, glossy reversible fabric of silk, wool, linen, cotton, or synthetic fibers usually woven with a variety of elaborate patterns that are flat. It is used for table covers, napkins, curtains, upholstery cloth, etc . They can be reversible or one-sided only. Designs floral or geometrical.
Denim / dungaree / jeans fabric
A sturdy warp faced heavy-weighted rugged coarse durable twill-weave cotton fabric; It is usually of colour blue and is used to make work clothes and prominently used to make jeans and casual wear.It does not stretch or drape well. More on denim and its different types here.
This a reversible cloth that is made by binding two different fabrics with yarn.
Double knit fabric
A cotton knit fabric with both side the same.
A fabric (usually cotton or linen) with a twill dobby or plain weave; very absorbent.
A sheer, thin, white or printed fabric with lengthwise cords, stripes or checks – in a raised pattern; used for bedcovers and curtains.
Medium weight Cotton twill fabric used in men’s and women’s slacks. When dyed a khaki color, drill is also called “khaki”.
A plain woven cotton fabric medium-weight cloth (usually cotton) that is soft, breathable and durable. Tightly woven and retains color beautifully.It is commonly called canvas. It is a sturdy utility cloth used in home décor projects.
This is a Plain weave cotton semi sheer crisp fabric with swivel, lappet or flocked (multicolored or single colored) dots all over the surface.
This is a plain weave soft flannel fabric with more nap than on flanellette.
Egyptian cotton is a finely woven, high-quality cotton from Egypt. This high grade of cotton boasts the longest and strongest fibers.It is known for its softness.
Fabric made of threads knotted to form a mesh. English Net is usually heavier than nylon net. Usually made from cotton or polyester, it is much softer and used as a base on which to applique motifs.
A soft medium weight cotton fabric with a napped finish. The nap may be present on one side or both sides. It is popular in making baby clothes and blankets.
Fleece may sometimes be made of cotton. More on fleece fabric here.
This is a plain or twill weave fabric that has a nap on one or both sides.
A heavy soft cotton fabric imitating flannel with a napped surface. It has a nap only on one side. The fabric is used to make clothes and accessories for cold climate as it is warmth giving.
This is a looped cotton fabric which is very absorbent. The wrong side of this fabric will be flat and is popular in making sportswear.
A term given to the class of cotton fabrics which includes corduroys, moleskins, constitution cords, cords, heavy Bedford cords, etc., used for clothing purposes.fabric with a slight nap.
A sheer lightweight cotton fabric with a very loose weave. Usually found as a bandage dressing but also used to make clothes.
A firm, tough tightly woven fabric with a subtle, diagonal line of twill and sometimes a high sheen. Used to make suits, overcoats, trousers, uniforms, windbreakers, and other garments; traditionally worsted wool, but may also be cotton, texturized polyester, or a blend.
A middle-weight, plain woven cotton fabric typically striped or checked in white and a bold colour or plaid using two or more colors with a plain weave made of cotton or cotton-blend yarn. It derives from Malay word gingang which means striped. The pattern of coloured squares in a gingham cloth is very attractive.
This is a rugged rough textured fabric made with irregular slightly twisted uneven yarns. It used to be hand loomed with undyed yarn.
A very durable rough textured fabric made of coarse yarn. It is quite bulky and is used to make coats and home furnishing.
Fine linen or cotton shirting also made in Ireland. It was originally a fabric constructed with silk warp and wool filling in plain weave with fine rib.
Naturally Beige colored cotton native to Guatemala.
A fine, sheer plain-weave cotton fabric.
A knit fabric that is made of cotton fibers that can look very much like woven fabric. Soft and breathable, with extra “give” or stretch for comfort. On the right side, it has lengthwise ribs (wales) and on the wrongside, it has crosswise ribs (courses) It is a light to medium weight fabric which is very popular in making dresses, and tops.
Fabric made of cotton ( can be of linen, wool, worsted, or manmade fibers and blends also); The name means earth color and is derived from Indian word; this fabric is a Tan or dusty colored warp face twill.
Naturally Brown colored wild cotton found in Mexico; it is used in hand weaving cotton textiles
A finely-woven, semi-crisp fabric woven in cotton (or linen). It is very lightweight, breathable and has a smooth texture. It is primarily used in heirloom dresses, blouses, collars, and cuffs. It also makes great underlining.
Cotton or linen fabric with the nap raised on one side; used to dress wounds
Linen cotton mix
The blend of linen and cotton fibers to make a fabric that has all the look and feel of linen with less of its propensity to wrinkle.
A fabric woven with lisle thread (a type of cotton).
A luxurious cotton jersey designed with an ultra-smooth and slinky finish.
A lightweight, breathable cotton with a typical patterned texture, often in brightly colored plaid patterns, used primarily for warm-weather clothing.
A corded fabric (usually silk, but maybe cotton, wool or rayon) having a wavy, watermarked pattern on the surface.
A heavy cotton fustian cloth with a great number of picks raised before dyeing, resulting in a brushed surface. Feels almost like felt. Used for workmen’s clothing where very hard wear is required. It is used to make sportswear.
A heavy and rough cotton fabric used in dressmaking to make jackets and coats and for home furnishing and for embroidery work.
A plain soft fine sheer fabric of cotton, silk, or rayon. The cloth is bleached and soft finished.
A medium-weight, woven fabric of cotton or cotton/polyester blends of plain weave. Used in a wide variety of sheers and sheeting. It is bleached and undyed. It is very economical and comes in a good range of weights and fineness. More details on Muslin here.
A kind of pale yellowish cotton cloth.
Fine, soft and lightweight cotton fabric without any body, in soft colours.
A fine thin, light, and transparent cotton fabric with a stiff, crisp finish. It is the sheerest finest cotton cloth.
Cotton that is grown on fields where the soil is free of all artificial pesticides or insecticides. More on organic cotton and other ecofriendly fabrics here.
A soft, thick and durable, cotton or synthetic blend with a plain or basket weave that boasts a silk-like, lustrous finish. It is usually used to make shirts; It is characterized with narrow stripes and can be woven in plain or basket weave.
A closely woven plain-weave fabric that’s smooth, firm, medium weight and fine. Usually made of cotton from a minimum of 180 threads per square inch.
This is a cotton fabric that looks like seersucker – with a crinkled surface. The crepe-like surface is made by treating the fabric with a caustic soda solution which shrinks parts of the fabric either all over or in stripes giving a blistered effect.
One of the best grades of cotton in the world with long, luxurious fibers.This luxurious high-quality long-staple cotton resists pilling.
A type of weave with two-over, one-under stitching. More durable than most weaves but less soft than sateen. This soft and lustrous oxford cotton has an ultra-fine basket weave.
Pique Cotton (Marcella)
A medium weight cotton fabric with a special textured diamond patterned weave forming raised parallel cords.
A lightweight, cotton knit fabric with openwork patterns in it. The geometric openwork patterns makes it a favorite for making kids wear.
Dull surfaced net fabric with Leno, gauze, knotted, or mesh weave and having various sized holes. The fabric has white or coloured dots individually spaced or in groups.
Either a satin weave cotton or a plain weave cotton that is finished chemically to appear shiny.
A blend of polyester and cotton.The blending of fabric fibers makes this fabric wrinkle-resistant and colourfast. This fabric is used to make a variety of garments including no crease shirts.
A tightly woven plain-weave fabric (usually a light weight cotton) characterized by a corded surface. ( fine horizontal ribs) A durable fabric, poplin is usually made of cotton but can also be silk, wool or synthetic blends. It does not wrinkle much and is popular for making shirts, dresses. Check out the post “what is poplin ?” for more details on this fabric.
This refers to a medium weight 100% cotton. It is also known as craft cotton. Mostly they are printed. They can be used to sew dresses, tops and skirts other than quilts.
A soft durable fiber (usually cotton) spun prior to knitting, so it’s finer, softer and more durable than ordinary cotton. The twisting prior to weaving makes the short hairs of cotton stand out, resulting in a stronger yarn with a significantly softer hand.
A very durable and strong canvas or duck fabric sold in different weights. Can be found in lighter weights for dressmaking and heavy weights for making sails and other outdoor projects.
Lustrous and smooth cotton fabric with a nice sheen. It is used for making dresses, nightwear.
A woven, light- to medium-weight fabric with a permanently puckered appearance (Crepe-stripe effect) made of cotton or rayon. The woven crinkle is produced by alternating slack and tight yarns in the warp. It is a popular fabric for dressmaking and bedding.
Lightweight crisp cotton fabric with woven in stripes or checks. This is mostly used to make men’s shirts.
Silk cotton blend
This blend minimizes many faults of cotton. This is used to make blouses and dresses.
A sturdy twill-weave smooth finished cotton fabric; used for pockets and linings
An abbreviation for “superior pima.” Made of 100% American pima cotton or extra-long staple cotton.
An absorbent knit fabric usually in cotton, that has a plush pile of loops on one side. This fabric is used to make towels, bathing robes etc.
This is a very heavy cotton fabric used in covering bedding; Usually used in making upholstery and other home decor.
Various fabrics (linen or cotton) used to make towels.
A medium-weight, plush knit fabric, usually made of cotton, with qualities similar to velvet. It’s soft and plush with a close, dense pile having a sheen. It is used in clothing ( sportswear, evening wear)and upholstery.
A woven, cotton fabric with a velvet-like pile.
A cotton velveteen, but the weft has longer floats, which when cut give a longer pile. The pile is also firmly bound.
A plain weave cotton fabric with horizontal bands and vertical bands in a light and strong variants of the same color forming a checkered pattern.
A soft, fine, sheer fabric with a slightly crisp feel. Usually made from plain woven cotton, but can also be made from acetate, silk or rayon. It is lightweight see through and has a good drape. It is used to make summer clothes and curtains.
This is a rugged cotton fabric with a diagonally ribbed surface.This medium to heavy weight fabric is used to make coats, suits and sportswear.
Which cotton is best for making clothes?
Cotton is usually classified as plain, twill and satin weaves according to the way it is woven. For the layman ( like me ) this is of no interest than the way the fabric feels against the body. Very tightly woven cotton will be harsh on the skin.
My favourite cotton fabric for making garments are Poplin, cotton velveteen, gingham & Cotton jersey. Poplin is a popular shirtmaking fabric ; Lightweight chintz fabric is great for making dresses. I also love making dresses with polycotton, because of its sheen and less wrinkling and it is also very inexpensive. It is true that it is not as breathable as pure cotton.You can learn more about the best fabrics to make shirts, best fabrics to make bedsheets, best thin and lightweight fabrics , best thick and heavyweight fabrics and best lining fabrics, which include many cotton fabrics.
Quilting cotton in pretty prints are best for making kids frocks, but it is thin and may need lining for garment making. Voile is used for making baby clothes. Muslin for petticoats/slips worn under dresses and tops.
http://acsa-cotton.org/ – American Cotton Shippers Association
https://www.fas.usda.gov/search/cotton – United states department of agriculture.