It all starts here 3

My last entry in this series was the beginning of October and the fields looked nearly ready to pick then but still, the ones by our house remain unharvested.

I took the picture below about 3 weeks ago. I didn’t post it thinking I’d do a before and after thing but the after thing still hasn’t happened -no harvest yet. Now, there’s a lot more cotton on the ground than shown here. At this rate they won’t have to pick it. They can just come along and scoop it off the ground or use rakes or something. This is so not like the movies.

I’d been checking the ginning facility just south of my office and it remains fallow and quiet. Quiet that is except for the two guard dogs in the neighboring yard, although they’re not barking at me anymore since I started bringing them dog biscuits on my morning runs. Something wasn’t adding up. I mean, the harvest seems like it should have started well before now. After all, in the movies, the cotton pickers are always sweating up a storm in what appears to be mid-July. You know, overseers with whips and sweat drenched slaves? In real life however, it would seem that cotton isn’t picked -or rather scooped- until the temperature turns chilly. So much for Hollywood movies warping our sense of harvest and seasons.

Concerned that this may end up being the harvest that never happened (which would totally ruin my series), I made a phone call to the Farmer’s Ginning Cooperative. Maricela says the harvest started south of here on October 17th. She says that two gins closed for good at the close of last season. That can’t be good news. One was in Deming and the other is the one by me. So, I will have to drive to the gin south of town for the latest in this riveting series. I’ll bet you can hardly wait.

Below is the cotton of two boles and the seeds I pulled out of them. I was surprised the seeds were so large. I thought they’d be little.

On a related note, Anne made a recent comment on what could rightly be considered the very first entry to this series Field trip to a cotton gin (actually, it was a trip to the cotton ginning research facility over here at NMSU). The guys over there weren’t too wild about FoxFibre, the naturally colored cotton (grows in greens, browns and yellows) so this is what Anne had to say about that…

Naturally coloured cotton does fade in sunlight unless it has been boiled. I can’t remember how long it has to be boiled for, but the colour also intensifies. It’s rather cool :-). The fibres are shorter than commercial white cotton, but that’s just a matter of breeding – if effort and time was put into it, there’s no reason coloured cotton couldn’t be just as long. I can happily spin it – what’s wrong with the commercial spinners?

…which led to another discussion between us that I thought was interesting since I don’t know diddly about spinning, Anne said:

I haven’t read much about the cotton spinning industry, but I seem to remember that it took a lot longer to mechanise cotton spinning compared to wool. Wool is easier to spin – it has microscopic barbs that help hold the fibres together when you spin them. Cotton fibres are covered in a sort of wax, which needs to be boiled off. It feels quite different to spin each fibre (ok, I have six spinning wheels, even more handspindles, a floor loom, three knitting machines, two sewing machines and an overlocker). You need a lot less tension to spin cotton – it’s a delicate balancing act, enough tension to pull the finished yarn through the flyer and onto the bobbin, but not so much the yarn falls apart; and shorter fibres make it more complex; and then there’s the amount of twist you decide to put in the yarn, depending on how it will be used. As a spinner, I find it amazing that they can mechanise something that requires so much subtlety; however machine spun yard doesn’t have the ‘life’ that good handspun has.

I’m interested in your choice of bamboo fibre fabric for your blouse line – have you considered some of the other new fibres? I’ve got some in the stash that I haven’t spun yet, but soy silk sounds interesting. It’s a protein fibre, which means you can dye it with safer dyes than cellulose fibres – basically protein fibres are dyed with acid dyes, which are related to food dyes. Some colours have extra additives, but most are OK as long as they’re in liquid form (powdered anything can be bad for your lungs). Hmmm, hope this hasn’t been too boring – I can get carried away talking about this stuff :-).

Get carried away all you like Anne (or anybody else). I know I’m not the only one interested in this stuff although not as a central focus. This series was intended to be about where our products start and the process they go through. Any volunteers for the spinning phase? I’ll finish up on my end at the farmer’s cooperative but I can only track it on my end till the cotton leaves the gin. Then who knows where it’ll go? I’ll ask at the coop where it’s going from here.

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  1. SB says:

    I was told by someone involved with FoxFibre in the beginning that it is also waxier than other cottons. He said the processing was so problematic and costly that he abandoned working with it altogether. Add to that the fading issue, and it’s not a great fabric to deal with for those of us looking for consistency in production. Let alone cost effectiveness.

    So we have moved away from granola-colored organic fabrics and have thrown ourselves into luscious eco-dyed colors.

  2. Karren says:

    I think when I was reading about environmental impact of cotton a few years ago, that one the problems was the use of defoliants for harvesting. Seems that green leaves stain the cotton boll when harvested mechanically. So the organic cotton growers were letting the plants freeze before harvesting, and losing part of their harvest.
    A quick check with google leads me to believe they are still using defoliants (here):

    *The cotton industry relies heavily on chemicals such as fertilisers and insecticides, although some farmers are moving towards an organic model of production, and chemical-free organic cotton products are now available. Historically, one of the most economically destructive pests in cotton production has been the boll weevil.
    *Most cotton is harvested mechanically, either by a cotton picker , a machine that removes the cotton from the boll without damaging the cotton plant, or by a cotton stripper which strips the entire boll off the plant. Cotton strippers are generally used in regions where it is too windy to grow picker varieties of cotton and generally used after application of a defoliant or natural defoliation occurring after a freeze. Cotton is a perennial crop in the tropics and without defoliation or freezing, the plant will continue to grow. Cotton is a close relative of okra and hibiscus.

    I think that they are now using GM cotton to cut down on the pesticide usage.

  3. Tom Willmon says:

    When I lived in MD I bought cottonseed munchies at a healthyfood store – had been toasted or fried (faded memory). Nice tasting stuff.


  4. Liana says:

    I remember reading that one of the (perceived) problems for FoxFibre was that neighboring farmers were terrified that it would hybridize with their all-white varieties. Not sure how that came out. You used to be able to buy yarn for knitting that was FoxFibre. I haven’t seen it in a while.

  5. anne says:

    have what looks like FoxFiber yarn, as well as other organic yarns, fibres and fabrics. I think the stuff’s still out there, just not as widely available.

    Fashion moves on, and a few vendors are left catering to the remaining niche market. Look what’s happening with fur – for a while, it was the thing to avoid fur. Now, many of the same people publicly stating how bad fur is, are now promoting it.

    There are people who do what they think is right, and there are others who jump on a bandwagon, only to move onto the next one when they’re bored. You can’t assume that your fellow travelers are there for the same reason you are :-(.

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