Where it starts
It starts with a seed. Actually cotton comes from many seeds planted in the spring, gradually producing flowers that when pollinated produce fruit. The flowers emerge pale yellow but once pollinated they sharpen into pink and gradually a bright fuchsia. And the fruit that is produce from the flower isn’t your typical fruit like an apple or a mango. It’s a fruit that is a boll, a tough outer shell that contains soft white fluff and seeds. Between when the seed is planted in the spring to the boll harvested in the fall, the cotton plant grows to be about forty-eight inches and it puts out those lovely fuchsia colored flowers because it is related to the hibiscus after all. And then the bolls are harvested, the cotton ginned which separates fluff from seeds, its put into gigantic bales and sent off to be made into thread and then into cloth.
Of course there are numerous steps from the bales arriving to the bolts of cloth being shipped out. The cotton needs to be combed and carded. All the fibers need to be aligned so they can be spun into thread. And then all those thousands, millions of miles of thread are woven into cloth. The cloth is dyed mauve or turquoise or that creamy yellow that Carmen likes. Perhaps it is printed with the small floral designs that Judy prefers or bright fanciful animals that Cathryn will use for the baby quilts.
This is only a very quick glance at the process from seed to fabric bolt. There is no rumbling of machines planting cottonseeds twelve rows at a time under a southern sky. Nor the grumbles of Eli Whitney who invented the cotton gin and never made money from it. Can the body-shaking vibrations in a factory full of machines spinning that fluff into cotton threads at more than 2,500 revolutions a second even be imagined? And those looms! Not just any loom will do but looms called Sulzer shuttleless weaving machine or a water-jet loom. Acres of factories producing acres of cloth. So many acres of cloth that it is counted in tons, yes metric tons, rather than the sensible yards measured out at the fabric store.
It starts from a seed and transforms into that bolt of fabric that the slightly older woman with a pair of glasses hung around her neck measures and cuts into lengths at the shop. It will be taken home and cut again into smaller pieces and sewn into a pattern that becomes the top of a quilt.