Made of cotton
From blue jeans to banknotes, cotton is used to produce an amazing array of products.
Cotton is uniquely versatile. It can be fashionable and luxurious, or practical and utilitarian. Cotton textiles revolutionised fashion and made colourful printed fabrics affordable. Cotton is practical and is used everyday around the home for furnishings and bedding.
Since Levi-Strauss patented the first riveted denim jeans in 1873, denim has been the most iconic and instantly recognisable form of cotton. Originally designed as heavy workwear for farmers and miners, jeans were adopted by cowboys in the 1890s. Cowboy films in the 1930s brought denim into the public’s imagination and denim started to become fashionable.
Jeans are one of the few garments that have remained virtually unchanged since the nineteenth century. They have become a symbol of democratic fashion, youth and America itself. The word ‘denim’ is an Anglicised form of ‘serge de Nimes’. Jeans are so-called because sailors from Genoa, Italy, who were known as ‘Genes’, wore heavy cotton workpants.
Cotton transformed personal hygiene. Traditionally clothes and bedding had been made from wool or linen, which were difficult to wash and dry. Cotton was easier to wash and could be starched and ironed to make it crisp and smooth. It was also cheaper, so people could afford to buy several changes of clothing. Cotton can absorb up to 27 times its own weight in water. This makes it comfortable to wear and sleep on, especially in hot weather.
Titherley's cotton waste factory
A complete product
All parts of the cotton plant are used. From one bale of cotton, about 53% goes to make clothing, 29% to home furnishings and 13% to make industrial products, with only about 5% waste. The fibre is used to make cotton cloth. Linters (the short fuzz on cotton seed) provide cellulose for plastics, paper, banknotes and even explosives.
Cotton seeds are crushed, and then separated into oil and the hulls. The oil can be used for cooking, while the hulls are used for animal feed. The stalks and leaves of the cotton plant are ploughed back into the soil ready for the next year’s crop.