COTTON, cool, soft, comfortable, the principal clothing fiber of the world. Cotton "breathes". In recent times, the consumer determined that polyester, although easier to care for, took away the cool from cotton and also added a "pilling" effect to cotton/polyester blends. Consumers now often request "100% Cotton". Permanent finishes also added to the all cotton fabric gave a wash and wear property to cotton." This fiber absorbs and releases perspiration quickly, thus allowing the fabric to "breathe".
Cotton fibers come from a plant, related to the hollyhock, that ranges in height from 2 feet to 20 feet, depending upon the variety. Cotton plants 15 to 20 feet tall are called tree cottons. The plant requires a warm climate with about six months of summer weather for full development. It blossoms and produces bolls or pods of cotton fibers.
Classification of cotton according to length of staple is probably more logical than a geographical classification, as the length of staple and fineness of fiber are criteria in judging the quality of cotton. Egyptian cotton has the longest fiber of the ancient species. This type of cotton was grown along the Nile delta. It is a light tan or brown in color and therefore must usually be bleached. It averages 1-3/8 inches in length of fibers. Cotton grown in India has a fiber averaging between about an inch in length. African cotton, aside from Egyptian, has a short-staple fiber about one inch in length.
Cotton is classified, not only according to length and strength of fiber, but also according to the condition of the cotton on a basis called middling. Middling cotton is creamy white, with no evidence of dirt or gin-cuts (fibers matted and cut) and with only a few pieces of leaf and immature seeds. Middling-fair, the best, has a perfect, lustrous, silky, clean fiber, whereas good-ordinary contains leaf particles, sticks, hulls, dirt, sand, gin-cuts, and spots.
The diameter of the cotton fiber ranges from .0005 to .009 of an inch. Egyptian fibers have the smallest diameters and so can be spun into the finest yarns. A single cotton fiber will sustain a dead weight of from 2 to 8 grams. Such a fiber is not very strong, but the finished cotton cloth can be made very strong if tightly twisted.
The unripe cultivated cotton fiber is a tube-like structure. In the tube or canal of this fiber is a substance called lumen, which either dries as the cotton ripens or shrinks back to the stalk of the plant. The disappearance of this substance causes the fiber to flatten and twist so that under the microscope it appears like a twisted ribbon. In studying the feeling of different textile fabrics, it was found that cottons have more elasticity or give than linens. The natural twist in cotton increases the elasticity and makes it easier to spin the fiber into yarn.
Fibers that carry heat away from the body and thus keep it cool are said to have good conductivity. Cotton is a better conductor of heat than wool or silk, but not so good as linen. Cotton is the whitest and cleanest natural fiber. It can be laundered easily, for it withstands high temperatures well (boiling water does not hurt the fiber) and it can be ironed with a hot iron because it does not scorch easily.
The chief constituent of cotton is cellulose (87 to 90 per cent). Cellulose is a solid, inert substance that is a part of plants. The fact that it is the chief component of cotton fibers and is an inert substance explains cotton's lifeless feel. Water (5 to 8 per cent) and natural impurities (4 to 6 per cent) are the other components of a cotton fiber.