History of Fabric - History

History of Fabric - History

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By Jay Swinkler

When it comes to fashion, the overall quality of a clothing item is determined by the fabric. For starters, the overall look and feel of a certain outfit will depend on the fabric used. The fabric may also limit the use of the resulting outfit to certain occasions. For instance, wearing your pajama suit to the office will only paint you as a clown, won’t it? This is also why some fabrics are more suited to underclothes, whereas others do well when used in designing workout apparel. Still, some fabrics such as cotton may be used to make different types of garments, including pants, blouses, shirts, and even accessories like caps or household upholstery.
Whether you are buying a suit or out shopping for undergarments, it is important to understand the various types of fabrics. Doing so enables you to ensure you are getting quality pieces that are not only fashionable but also worth what you are spending. But then again, the history of fabric goes thousands of years back even before the Egyptians wove flax into fabric in 5500 B.C. It is not uncommon to get a bit confused by the many different types of fabrics. Even designers experience this problem from time to time. This is especially because the various types of fabric are also available in a wide range of quality grades. Nonetheless, fabrics range from natural to synthetic fiber, knitted to woven.
Before getting ourselves even more confused, let’s look at eight of the most common fabrics out there and how to identify them.
1. Cotton
Cotton is the most common fiber in the textile and clothing industry. It is termed as a staple fiber since it is composed of different varying lengths of fibers. The fiber from cotton is almost pure cellulose. Thanks to the invention of the cotton gin in the 18th century, cotton is plucked from the plant's part called the boll, which encloses the fluffy cotton fibers.

The plucked cotton is spun into yarn, which is then woven into durable fabrics used in making clothing and other items.
Various tests are used to identify high-quality cotton, including the light test, tactility test, and uniformity test. In most cases, however, you can spot original cotton from a distance if you know the characteristics of this fabric. This fabric is generally durable, doesn’t shrink, twist, or wear out easily. Cotton fibers also respond well to dyes and thus the fabric does not fade easily. Moreover, clothes made from cotton are generally more comfortable, flattering, and stylish.
2. Linen
Linen is usually very strong and lightweight and comes from the flax plant. Most products and items made from this fabric usually have the terms "linen" on them. It is mostly used in making towels, tablecloths, napkins, and bedsheets. Most jackets and coats have an inner layer commonly referred to as lining, made from linen fabric. The lightweight characteristic of the fabric makes it suitable for making summer clothing. It is usually absorbent and easily breathable and hence the preference in making clothing worn in hot weather.
3. Jersey
Jersey, which was originally made from wool, is a soft, stretchy knit fabric. The fabric is today made from cotton, cotton blends, and other synthetic fibers. It has two sides. The right side of the fabric is usually smooth with a single slight rib knit. The backside is, on the other hand, piled with loops. Being a light to medium weight fabric, the fabric is used to make items like bedsheets and sweatshirts.
4. Silk
The silkworm usually makes this fabric as a material for its nets and cocoons. It is normally shiny and soft. The material is very strong and is commonly used in making official clothing, accessories, and more.
5. Satin/Sateen
Well, the terms satin and sateen are sometimes used synonymously but they refer to two different types or variations of the fabric. It is important to understand the difference between satin versus sateen because in most cases, these fabrics pretty much look alike. Well, to begin with, both of them are synthetically made from other materials such as silk, polyester, and nylon. However, satin is made from woven filament fibers of silk or nylon and polyester.
On the other hand, sateen utilizes short spun yarns of rayon and cotton or other material. Therefore, sateen tends to be tougher and more durable, making it a perfect choice for garments that need a higher level of resistance to wear and tear.
6. Lace
Lace was originally made from silk and linen. Over the years, this has changed and is currently made by combining cotton and synthetic fibers. Lace is usually a delicate fiber which is characterized by open-weave designs created through different methods. It is majorly used as a decorative material used to accent and garnish clothing and home décor items. The fact that it takes time and expertise to produce makes it a highly regarded luxurious textile.
7. Velvet
This fabric is common in evening wear and dresses for special occasions. This is because it was initially made from silk. To make the fabric cheaper, cotton, linen, wool, mohair, and synthetic fibers can also make it. Velvet is soft and has a dense pile of evenly cut fibers with a smooth nap. This characteristic gives the fabric a uniquely soft and shiny appearance. Like lace, velvet is a common feature in home décor.
8. Leather
Leather is usually any fabric from animal hide or skin. The difference in leather fabrics is based on the type of animal they are made from, and the treatment techniques they are subjected to. Any animal skin can be made into leather. Cowhide is, however, the most popular animal skin that is used in leather making. It contributes 65 percent of all leather that is produced. Leather is durable depending on the type of animal from which it is taken, the grade, and the treatment technique it is subjected to. It has a wide range of uses and is often a bit more expensive owing to its durability.
9. Canvas
Canvas fabric has a reputation for being durable and resilient. It is made from cotton yarn and, to a lesser extent, linen yarn. When cotton is well blended with synthetic fibers, the canvas becomes water-resistant or even waterproof. This characteristic makes it suitable as a great outdoor fabric.
The type of fabric one decides to use in making their product usually determines the quality of the product. The fabric's choice to use in making any product should depend on its destination, its use, and its durability. Fashion designers thus need to be aware of each fabric's symbolism, their uses, and durability before making a selection on which one to use. Consumers are also better off if they can recognize a fabric either by either looking at it or touching it to ensure they are getting the real deal.

A brief history of upholstery and furnishing fabric

We may be spoilt for choice when it comes to furnishing our homes with luxury fabrics and unique cushions. But things weren’t always this way. Our love affair with comfortable and contemporary soft furnishing dates back to Egyptian times, when horsehair-stuffed cushions scattered on top of daybeds and luxury fabrics draped over thrones were the norm. Find out more about the history of upholstery and furnishing fabric and how things have changed over the years.

Medieval upholstery

After the dark ages were over, people could stop worrying if their houses were going to be burnt down, and began to focus on what was inside them. Standards of living began to improve and thoughts turned to comfort. Cushions could be added to solid oak chairs to offer a little comfort, but there were no cushions on the backs of chairs – people had to make do with leaning against tapestries hung on the walls. Italy began making the finest silk, which quickly spread to Britain. Weavers made wall hangings, bed drapes and cushions, reserved only for the very wealthy.

Elizabethan era

In the Elizabethan Era levels of comfort significantly increased. Heavy curtains were draped over bedheads and around four poster beds to prevent drafts. Mantelpiece drapes were also very popular, and all types of draperies became more and more elaborate – even for windows. Tall windows were framed with window headings, deep swags and tails. These were often heavily trimmed, surrounded by intricate wooden cornices.

To accomodate large Elizabethan skirts, the farthingale chair was introduced – a chair without arms with a piece of leather stretched across the back and nailed on each side. Elizabethan upholstering materials included: leather, brocade or embroidered cloth, and velvet trimmed with a heavy fringe. Stuffing could be anything from sawdust, grass or feathers, or deer, goat and horse hair.

Sofas still didn’t exist before now – seats for more than one person were usually benches that could be pushed against the wall.

Renaissance style

Belive it or not, upholstery took a while to catch on – anything slightly comfortable was often disregarded and was felt to be effeminate. Jacobean furniture was still similar to Elizabethan, with a few adjustments along the way. Furniture was still made from oak, and blocky due to the carpenters using carpentry tools to make it.

In Spain during the Renaissance beautiful, tooled decorative leather began to gain in popularity. Also popular were Turkish divans – low sofas completely covered in stuffed cushions, and colourful tapestries covering small chairs.

Decorative arts

With Charles II on the throne, the Puritan regime ended, and the decorative arts began to flourish in England. People were getting used to the comfort of upholstered furniture, and the first fully upholstered chair was built in 1705. This chair was referred to as a “sleeping chayre” – you could rest your head on either the sides or the back. Daybeds grew in popularity and custom cushions were everywhere.

Tapestry and fabric factories began to spring up in London and Paris, and the upholstery business began to boom.

Silk damask, wool moreen, elaborate embroidery were used more and more in upholstery. Cushions were made of horsehair with linen lining and down. Beds were one of the most upholstered pieces in the house: bedsteads were totally covered in soft fabrics such as velvet.

The age of the designer

By now, upholstery was very much integrated into the furniture-making process, and as comfort improved, the drop-in seat was invented. This meant that the seat could be upholstered in any fabric. Designers selected which colours and fabrics to use, which set the trends and colour palettes for the season. The Age of The Designer had begun.

Louis XVI’s chairs were upholstered in pastel blues, pinks, and yellows. Thomas Chippendale’s camelback sofas were some of the first to be completely upholstered, except for exposed legs. George Hepplewhite published a book to offer guidance in interior design, colour palettes, and how to arrange a room. His seats were overstuffed, finished with brass nailheads, and covered in fine haircloths and silk.

Victorian opulence

Victorian opulence reigned supreme in the 19th Century. Two major innovations brought about modern upholstery. The first was the steam powered engine, which provided cheap power to machine looms so that machine woven fabrics could be mass produced. The second was the steel coil spring, which revoultionised seat cushions.

Bold, Rococco revival styles were popular – rich, jewel-coloured upholstery such as velvet, was paired with gilded, painted, or black lacquer frames. Shiny silks, leather and brocades featured button tufting. Cornucopia-armed sofas often featured matching, upholstered round cushions on either end. Fringing and tassels were used with abandon.

20th century style

Styles from Mission to Art Deco and Mid Century Modern were born. The invention of Nylon was a durable alternative to silk – resistant to normal wear and tear that affected more traditional upholstery. Other inventions, from bent steel to fiberglass to molded foam cores, revolutionised furniture design and brought about many of the modern designs in furniture we still see today.

As innovation in technology drives innovation, upholstery and furnishing fabric is both beautiful and functional. Check out our full range of designer fabrics here.

The term ‘Textile’ is a Latin word originated from the word ‘texere’ which means ‘to weave’. Textile refers to a flexible material comprising of a network of natural or artificial fibers, known as yarn. Textiles are formed by weaving, knitting, crocheting, knotting and pressing fibers together.

History of Textile The history of textile is almost as old as that of human civilization and as time moves on the history of textile has further enriched itself. In the 6th and 7th century BC, the oldest recorded indication of using fiber comes with the invention of flax and wool fabric at the excavation of Swiss lake inhabitants. In India, the culture of silk was introduced in 400AD, while spinning of cotton traces back to 3000BC.

The History of Fabric Is the History of Civilization

The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, a new book by former Reason editor in chief Virginia Postrel, is a rich, endlessly fascinating history of the remarkable luck, invention, and innovation that made our fabric-rich world possible.

The book aims to make the mundane miraculous. Consider cotton. Most of the cotton we grow today is descended in part from a plant species that evolved in Africa and somehow got over to what is now Peru, where it mixed with New World strains.

"The fact that we have cotton at all, that it exists anywhere, is amazing," says Postrel. "It happened long before there were human beings, but much more recently than when the continents were together. So we don't know. It could have gotten caught up in a hurricane. It could have floated on a piece of pumice. So it's this random, very unlikely happening that had tremendous world-changing consequences."

The story of textiles is rife with attempts at protectionism and prohibition. In 17th and 18th century Europe, countries banned the importation of super-soft, super-colorful cotton prints from India known as calicos because they threatened domestic producers of everything from lower-quality cotton fabric to luxury silks. "For 73 years, France treated calico the way the U.S. treats cocaine," Postrel says. "T here was this huge amount of smuggling, and they were constantly ratcheting up the penalties [so] that they got quite grotesque, at least for the major traffic." Some of "the earliest writings of classical liberalism are in this context, people saying not only is this not working, but&hellipit is unjust to be sentencing people to the galleys in order to protect silk makers' profits."

Postrel also documents how the Luddites, the 19th century English textile workers famous for smashing the power looms threatening to put them out of work, owed their jobs to an earlier technological breakthrough: the spinning machines that emerged in the late 1700s.

"If you go back to that earlier period, when spinning machines were introduced, the same thing happened," she says. "T hey had their own period of rebelling against the new technologies and saying they're putting people out at work."

The book also upends some contemporary myths, such as the claim that commercial production of hemp for clothing was a casualty of the war on drugs. " Hemp historically was a very coarse kind of fabric for poor people who didn't have an alternative," says Postrel. "I t was replaced by cotton for good reasons. Cotton was also affordable, but it was soft and washable and just a much better fabric."

"Human beings live in history and we inherit the legacies, positive and negative, of that history," says Postrel, whose previous books include The Power of Glamour, The Substance of Style, and The Future and Its Enemies. Discussing the large themes of her work she says, "All you can do is start from where you are and try to do better from where you are."

Listen to the full podcast interview here.

Narrated by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Isaac Reese.

Music: "Thoughts," by ANBR

Photos: World History Archive/Newscom The Print Collector Heritage Images/Newsroom The "Réale" returning to port, Med/CC BY-SA 3.0 Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture/CC0 Battle of Grand Port, Rama/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0 FR Fine Art Images Heritage Images/Newscom Seton, M., Müller, R., Zahirovic, S., Gaina, C., Torsvik, T., Shephard, G., Talsma, A., Gurnis, M., Turner, M., Maus, S., and Chandler, M., 2012, Global continental and ocean basin reconstructions since 200 Ma: Earth-Science Reviews, v. 113, no. 3-4, p. 212-270

At DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III, a team led by Swedish researchers has produced the strongest bio-material that has ever been made. The artifical, but bio-degradable cellulose fibres are stronger than steel and even than dragline spider silk, which is usually considered the strongest bio-based material.

When you’re after a super durable textile there are two fabrics that instantly spring to mind: Ballistic Nylon and CORDURA®. These two fabrics have been used for over 50 years on some of the toughest military, outdoor and urban goods around.

Early Production

Like food and shelter, clothing is a basic human requirement for survival. When settled Neolithic cultures discovered the advantages of woven fibers over animal hides, the making of cloth emerged as one of humankind's fundamental technologies drawing on existing basketry techniques.

From the earliest hand-held spindle and distaff and basic handloom to the highly automated spinning machines and power looms of today, the principles of turning vegetable fiber into cloth have remained constant: Plants are cultivated and the fiber harvested. The fibers are cleaned and aligned, then spun into yarn or thread. Finally, the yarns are interwoven to produce cloth. Today we also spin complex synthetic fibers, but they are still woven together using the same process as cotton and flax were millennia ago.

History of Linen Textile

Linen is a type textile made from the fibers of the flax plant. Linen textiles are one of the oldest textiles in the world. They are cool to touch, smooth and get softer with repeated washing. The fibers do not stretch but because of this very low elasticity, the fabric will eventually break if it is folded and ironed at the same place constantly.

History of linen use goes back many thousands of years. Dyed flax fibers are found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia which is evidence that woven linen fabrics from wild flax were used some 36,000 years ago. Fragments of straw, seeds, fibers, yarns, and various types of fabrics have also been found in Swiss lake dwellings that date from 8000 BC. In ancient Egypt linen was used for mummification and for burial shrouds because it symbolized light and purity as well as wealth. Linen was so valued in ancient Egypt that it was used as currency in some cases. Linen was also produced in ancient Mesopotamia and reserved for higher classes. It always had high cost because it was always difficult to work with the thread (flax thread is not elastic and it is very difficult to weave it into a cloth without breaking threads) and also because the flax plant requires a lot of attention during cultivation. The first written evidence of a linen comes from the Linear B tablets of Pylos, Greece, where linen hast its own ideogram and is also written as "li-no" in Greek. The Phoenicians, who had their merchant fleet, brought flax growing and the making of linen into Ireland. Belfast became in time the most famous linen producing center in history. The majority of the world's linen was produced there during the Victorian era. Some religions even made rules that involved linen or they just mention them in religious concept. The Jewish faith restricts wearing of mixture of linen and wool. Linen is also mentioned in the Bible in Proverbs 31. Bible also mentions that angels wear linen.

Quality is very important in linen production. The longest possible fibers are got when the flax is either hand-harvested by pulling up the entire plant or when stalks are cut very close to the root. Seeds are then removed from the plant and fibers are loosened from the stalk. Woody portion of the stalks are removed by crushing between two metal rollers which separates fibers. They are then separated between themselves - longer from shorter. Longer, softer ones are then spun into yarns and then woven or knit into linen textiles.

Linen is used for variety of uses: from bed and bath fabrics, home and commercial furnishing items, apparel items to industrial products. It was iven used for books and for a type of body armour. Use for linen has changed in time and especially in the last 30 years. While in the 1970s only about 5% of world linen production was used for fashion fabrics, 70% of linen production in the 1990s was used for apparel textiles.

The Cross of Lorraine: the fascinating story of a symbol


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Influence of Denim on the Fashion Industry

Denim's status as a counter-cultural fabric paved the way forward for many youth style trends that continue to shape the fashion industry. This fabric remains an iconic image of Western clothing, and the adoption of jeans by Western women has also caused these types of pants to serve as symbols of women's liberation.

Jeans transcend all age and economic classes. They are equally enjoyed by the rich and the poor as well as the old and the young. It's possible to buy a pair of denim jeans for less than $25, but designer forms of these pants can cost hundreds of dollars per pair. High-quality designer jeans are now seen as status indicators, and the high degree of customizability associated with these types of pants makes it possible to produce jeans that appeal to each consumer class.


The word "cotton" has Arabic origins, derived from the Arabic word قطن (qutn or qutun). This was the usual word for cotton in medieval Arabic. [3] The word entered the Romance languages in the mid-12th century, [4] and English a century later. Cotton fabric was known to the ancient Romans as an import but cotton was rare in the Romance-speaking lands until imports from the Arabic-speaking lands in the later medieval era at transformatively lower prices. [5] [6]

The oldest cotton textiles were found in graves and city ruins of civilizations from dry climates, where the fabrics did not decay completely. [7]

America Edit

The oldest cotton fabric has been found in Huaca Prieta in Peru, dated to about 6000 BCE. It is here that Gossypium barbadense is thought to have been domesticated at its earliest. [8] [9] Some of the oldest cotton bolls were discovered in a cave in Tehuacán Valley, Mexico, and were dated to approximately 5500 BCE, but some doubt has been cast on these estimates. Seeds and cordage dating to about 2500 BCE have been found in Peru. [1] By 3000 BCE cotton was being grown and processed in Mexico, and Arizona. [9]

Kingdom of Kush Edit

Cotton (Gossypium herbaceum Linnaeus) may have been domesticated around 5000 BCE in eastern Sudan near the Middle Nile Basin region, where cotton cloth was being produced. [10] The cultivation of cotton and the knowledge of its spinning and weaving in Meroë reached a high level in the 4th century BC. The export of textiles was one of the sources of wealth for Meroë. Aksumite King Ezana boasted in his inscription that he destroyed large cotton plantations in Meroë during his conquest of the region. [11]

Indian subcontinent Edit

The latest archaeological discovery in Mehrgarh puts the dating of early cotton cultivation and the use of cotton to 5000 BCE. [12] The Indus Valley civilization started cultivating cotton by 3000 BCE. [13] Cotton was mentioned in Hindu hymns in 1500 BCE. [9]

Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, mentions Indian cotton in the 5th century BCE as "a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep." When Alexander the Great invaded India, his troops started wearing cotton clothes that were more comfortable than their previous woolen ones. [14] Strabo, another Greek historian, mentioned the vividness of Indian fabrics, and Arrian told of Indian–Arab trade of cotton fabrics in 130 CE. [15]

Eastern world Edit

Handheld roller cotton gins had been used in India since the 6th century, and was then introduced to other countries from there. [16] Between the 12th and 14th centuries, dual-roller gins appeared in India and China. The Indian version of the dual-roller gin was prevalent throughout the Mediterranean cotton trade by the 16th century. This mechanical device was, in some areas, driven by water power. [17]

The earliest clear illustrations of the spinning wheel come from the Islamic world in the eleventh century. The earliest unambiguous reference to a spinning wheel in India is dated to 1350, suggesting that the spinning wheel was invented in the Islamic world and later introduced from Iran to India. [18]

Western world Edit

Egyptians grew and spun cotton from 6–700 CE. [9]

Cotton was a common fabric during the Middle Ages, and was hand-woven on a loom. Cotton manufacture was introduced to Europe during the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily. The knowledge of cotton weaving was spread to northern Italy in the 12th century, when Sicily was conquered by the Normans, and consequently to the rest of Europe. The spinning wheel, introduced to Europe circa 1350, improved the speed of cotton spinning. [19] By the 15th century, Venice, Antwerp, and Haarlem were important ports for cotton trade, and the sale and transportation of cotton fabrics had become very profitable. [14]

Christopher Columbus, in his explorations of the Bahamas and Cuba, found natives wearing cotton ("the costliest and handsomest. cotton mantles and sleeveless shirts embroidered and painted in different designs and colours"), a fact that may have contributed to his incorrect belief that he had landed on the coast of India. [2] : 11–13

India Edit

India had been an exporter of fine cotton fabrics to other countries since the ancient times. Sources such as Marco Polo, who traveled India in the 13th century, Chinese travelers, who traveled Buddhist pilgrim centers earlier, Vasco Da Gama, who entered Calicut in 1498, and Tavernier, who visited India in the 17th century, have praised the superiority of Indian fabrics. [20]

The worm gear roller cotton gin, which was invented in India during the early Delhi Sultanate era of the 13th–14th centuries, came into use in the Mughal Empire some time around the 16th century, [21] and is still used in India through to the present day. [16] Another innovation, the incorporation of the crank handle in the cotton gin, first appeared in India some time during the late Delhi Sultanate or the early Mughal Empire. [22] The production of cotton, which may have largely been spun in the villages and then taken to towns in the form of yarn to be woven into cloth textiles, was advanced by the diffusion of the spinning wheel across India shortly before the Mughal era, lowering the costs of yarn and helping to increase demand for cotton. The diffusion of the spinning wheel, and the incorporation of the worm gear and crank handle into the roller cotton gin, led to greatly expanded Indian cotton textile production during the Mughal era. [23]

It was reported that, with an Indian cotton gin, which is half machine and half tool, one man and one woman could clean 28 pounds of cotton per day. With a modified Forbes version, one man and a boy could produce 250 pounds per day. If oxen were used to power 16 of these machines, and a few people's labour was used to feed them, they could produce as much work as 750 people did formerly. [24]

During the early 16th century to the early 18th century, Indian cotton production increased, in terms of both raw cotton and cotton textiles. The Mughals introduced agrarian reforms such as a new revenue system that was biased in favour of higher value cash crops such as cotton and indigo, providing state incentives to grow cash crops, in addition to rising market demand. [25]

The largest manufacturing industry in the Mughal Empire was cotton textile manufacturing, which included the production of piece goods, calicos, and muslins, available unbleached and in a variety of colours. The cotton textile industry was responsible for a large part of the empire's international trade. [26] India had a 25% share of the global textile trade in the early 18th century. [27] Indian cotton textiles were the most important manufactured goods in world trade in the 18th century, consumed across the world from the Americas to Japan. [28] The most important center of cotton production was the Bengal Subah province, particularly around its capital city of Dhaka. [29]

Bengal accounted for more than 50% of textiles imported by the Dutch from Asia, [30] Bengali cotton textiles were exported in large quantities to Europe, Indonesia, and Japan, [31] and Bengali Muslim textiles from Dhaka were sold in Central Asia, where they were known as "daka" textiles. [29] Indian textiles dominated the Indian Ocean trade for centuries, were sold in the Atlantic Ocean trade, and had a 38% share of the West African trade in the early 18th century, while Indian calicos were a major force in Europe, and Indian textiles accounted for 20% of total English trade with Southern Europe in the early 18th century. [32]

Western world Edit

Cotton cloth started to become highly sought-after for the European urban markets during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. [ citation needed ] Vasco da Gama (d. 1524), a Portuguese explorer, opened Asian sea trade, which replaced caravans and allowed for heavier cargo. Indian craftspeople had long protected the secret of how to create colourful patterns. However, some converted to Christianity and their secret was revealed by a French Catholic priest, Father Coeurdoux (1691–1779). He revealed the process of creating the fabrics in France, which assisted the European textile industry. [33]

In early modern Europe, there was significant demand for cotton textiles from Mughal India. [26] European fashion, for example, became increasingly dependent on Mughal Indian textiles. [ citation needed ] From the late 17th century to the early 18th century, Mughal India accounted for 95% of British imports from Asia, and the Bengal Subah province alone accounted for 40% of Dutch imports from Asia. [30] In contrast, there was very little demand for European goods in Mughal India, which was largely self-sufficient, thus Europeans had very little to offer, except for some woolens, unprocessed metals and a few luxury items. The trade imbalance caused Europeans to export large quantities of gold and silver to Mughal India in order to pay for South Asian imports. [26]

Egypt Edit

Egypt under Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century had the fifth most productive cotton industry in the world, in terms of the number of spindles per capita. [34] The industry was initially driven by machinery that relied on traditional energy sources, such as animal power, water wheels, and windmills, which were also the principal energy sources in Western Europe up until around 1870. [35] It was under Muhammad Ali of Egypt in the early 19th century that steam engines were introduced to the Egyptian cotton industry. [35]

East India Company Edit

Cotton's rise to global importance came about as a result of the cultural transformation of Europe and Britain's trading empire. [15] Calico and chintz, types of cotton fabrics, became popular in Europe, and by 1664 the East India Company was importing a quarter of a million pieces into Britain. [33] By the 18th century, the middle class had become more concerned with cleanliness and fashion, and there was a demand for easily washable and colourful fabric. Wool continued to dominate the European markets, but cotton prints were introduced to Britain by the East India Company in the 1690s. [15] Imports of calicoes, cheap cotton fabrics from Kozhikode, then known as Calicut, in India, found a mass market among the poor. By 1721 these calicoes threatened British manufacturers, and Parliament passed the Calico Act that banned calicoes for clothing or domestic purposes. In 1774 the act was repealed with the invention of machines that allowed for British manufacturers to compete with Eastern fabrics. [36]

Indian cotton textiles, particularly those from Bengal, continued to maintain a competitive advantage up until the 19th century. In order to compete with India, Britain invested in labour-saving technical progress, while implementing protectionist policies such as bans and tariffs to restrict Indian imports. [37] At the same time, the East India Company's rule in India opened up a new market for British goods, [37] while the capital amassed from Bengal after its 1757 conquest was used to invest in British industries such as textile manufacturing and greatly increase British wealth. [38] [39] [40] British colonization also forced open the large Indian market to British goods, which could be sold in India without tariffs or duties, compared to local Indian producers, while raw cotton was imported from India without tariffs to British factories which manufactured textiles from Indian cotton, giving Britain a monopoly over India's large market and cotton resources. [41] [37] [42] India served as both a significant supplier of raw goods to British manufacturers and a large captive market for British manufactured goods. [43] Britain eventually surpassed India as the world's leading cotton textile manufacturer in the 19th century. [37]

The cotton industry grew under the British commercial empire. British cotton products were successful in European markets, constituting 40.5% of exports in 1784–1786. Britain's success was also due to its trade with its own colonies, whose settlers maintained British identities, and thus, fashions. With the growth of the cotton industry, manufacturers had to find new sources of raw cotton, and cultivation was expanded to West India. [15] High tariffs against Indian textile workshops, British power in India through the East India Company, [33] and British restrictions on Indian cotton imports [44] transformed India from the source of textiles to a source of raw cotton. [33] Cultivation was also attempted in the Caribbean and West Africa, but these attempts failed due to bad weather and poor soil. The Indian subcontinent was looked to as a possible source of raw cotton, but intra-imperial conflicts and economic rivalries prevented the area from producing the necessary supply. [15]

Britain Edit

Cotton's versatility allowed it to be combined with linen and be made into velvet. It was cheaper than silk and could be imprinted more easily than wool, allowing for patterned dresses for women. It became the standard fashion and, because of its price, was accessible to the general public. New inventions in the 1770s—such as the spinning jenny, the water frame, and the spinning mule—made the British Midlands into a very profitable manufacturing centre. In 1794–1796, British cotton goods accounted for 15.6% of Britain's exports, and in 1804–1806 grew to 42.3%. [15]

The Lancashire textile mills were major parts of the British industrial revolution. Their workers had poor working conditions: low wages, child labour, and 18-hour work days. Richard Arkwright created a textile empire by building a factory system powered by water, which was occasionally raided by the Luddites, weavers put out of business by the mechanization of textile production. In the 1790s, James Watt's steam power was applied to textile production, and by 1839 thousands of children worked in Manchester's cotton mills. Karl Marx, who frequently visited Lancashire, may have been influenced by the conditions of workers in these mills in writing Das Kapital. [33] Child labour was banned during the middle of the 19th century.

Pre–Civil War Edit

Anglo-French warfare in the early 1790s restricted access to continental Europe, causing the United States to become an important—and temporarily the largest—consumer for British cotton goods. [15] In 1791, U.S. cotton production was small, at only 900 thousand kilograms (2000 thousand pounds). Several factors contributed to the growth of the cotton industry in the U.S.: the increasing British demand innovations in spinning, weaving, and steam power inexpensive land and a slave labour force. [45] The modern cotton gin, invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney, enormously grew the American cotton industry, which was previously limited by the speed of manual removal of seeds from the fibre, [46] and helped cotton to surpass tobacco as the primary cash crop of the South. [47] By 1801 the annual production of cotton had reached over 22 million kilograms (48.5 million pounds), and by the early 1830s the United States produced the majority of the world's cotton. Cotton also exceeded the value of all other United States exports combined. [45] The need for fertile land conducive to its cultivation led to the expansion of slavery in the United States and an early 19th-century land rush known as Alabama Fever. [48] [49]

Cultivation of cotton using black slaves brought huge profits to the owners of large plantations, making them some of the wealthiest men in the U.S. prior to the Civil War. In the non-slave-owning states, farms rarely grew larger than what could be cultivated by one family due to scarcity of farm workers. In the slave states, owners of farms could buy many slaves and thus cultivate large areas of land. By the 1850s, slaves made up 50% of the population of the main cotton states: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Slaves were the most important asset in cotton cultivation, and their sale brought profits to slaveowners outside of cotton-cultivating areas. Thus, the cotton industry contributed significantly to the Southern upper class's support of slavery. Although the Southern small-farm owners did not grow cotton due to its lack of short-term profitability, they were still supportive of the system in the hopes of one day owning slaves. [45]

Slaves were fobidden to use for themselves commercial cotton, selected to produce fibers as white as possible, but it seems that their use of cotton with naturally colored fibers was tolerated [50] . Ironically, today, these heirloom varieties are the subject of collectors passions but also renewed interrest for high-end niche markets with the hope to produce textiles of lower environmental impact or fibers with sought-after unusual properties (e.g. UV-protection) [51] .

Cotton's central place in the national economy and its international importance led Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina to make a famous boast in 1858 about King Cotton:

Without firing a gun, without drawing a sword, should they make war on us, we could bring the whole world to our feet. What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years. England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her save the South. No, you dare not to make war on cotton. No power on the earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king. [52]

Cotton diplomacy, the idea that cotton would cause Britain and France to intervene in the Civil War, was unsuccessful. [53] It was thought that the Civil War caused the Lancashire Cotton Famine, a period between 1861–1865 of depression in the British cotton industry, by blocking off American raw cotton. Some, however, suggest that the Cotton Famine was mostly due to overproduction and price inflation caused by an expectation of future shortage. [54]

Prior to the Civil War, Lancashire companies issued surveys to find new cotton-growing countries if the Civil War were to occur and reduce American exports. India was deemed to be the country capable of growing the necessary amounts. Indeed, it helped fill the gap during the war, making up only 31% of British cotton imports in 1861, but 90% in 1862 and 67% in 1864. [55]

After 1860 Edit

The main European purchasers, Britain and France, began to turn to Egyptian cotton. After the American Civil War ended in 1865, British and French traders abandoned Egyptian cotton and returned to cheap American exports, [56] sending Egypt into a deficit spiral that led to the country declaring bankruptcy in 1876, a key factor behind Egypt's occupation by the British Empire in 1882.

The South continued to be a one-crop economy until the 20th century, when the boll weevil struck across the South. The New Deal and World War II encouraged diversification. [47] Many ex-slaves as well as poor whites worked in the sharecropping system in serf-like conditions. [57]

Boll weevils Edit

The farmer said to the merchant

I need some meat and meal.
Get away from here, you son-of-a-gun,
You got boll weevils in your field.

Going to get your home, going to get your home.

Boll weevils, insects that entered the United States from Mexico in 1892, created 100 years of problems for the U.S. cotton industry. Many consider the boll weevil almost as important as the Civil War as an agent of change in the South, forcing economic and social changes. In total, the boll weevil is estimated to have caused $22 billion in damages. In the late 1950s, the U.S. cotton industry faced economic problems, and eradication of the boll weevil was prioritized. The Agricultural Research Service built the Boll Weevil Research Laboratory, which came up with detection traps and pheromone lures. The program was successful, and pesticide use reduced significantly while the boll weevil was eradicated in some areas. [58]

Africa and India Edit

After the Cotton Famine, the European textile industry looked to new sources of raw cotton. The African colonies of West Africa and Mozambique provided a cheap supply. Taxes and extra-market means again discouraged local textile production. Working conditions were brutal, especially in the Congo, Angola, and Mozambique. Several revolts occurred, and a cotton black market created a local textile industry. In recent history, United States agricultural subsidies have depressed world prices, making it difficult for African farmers to compete. [33]

India's cotton industry struggled in the late 19th century because of unmechanized production and American dominance of raw cotton export. India, ceasing to be a major exporter of cotton goods, became the largest importer of British cotton textiles. [59] Mohandas Gandhi believed that cotton was closely tied to Indian self-determination. In the 1920s he launched the Khadi Movement, a massive boycott of British cotton goods. He urged Indians to use simple homespun cotton textiles, khadi. Cotton became an important symbol in Indian independence. During World War II, shortages created a high demand for khadi, and 16 million yards of cloth were produced in nine months. The British Raj declared khadi subversive damaging to the British imperial rule. Confiscation, burning of stocks, and jailing of workers resulted, which intensified resistance. [2] : 309–311 In the second half of the 20th century, a downturn in the European cotton industry led to a resurgence of the Indian cotton industry. India began to mechanize and was able to compete in the world market. [59]

Decline in the British cotton textile industry Edit

In 1912, the British cotton industry was at its peak, producing eight billion yards of cloth. In World War I, cotton couldn't be exported to foreign markets, and some countries built their own factories, particularly Japan. By 1933 Japan introduced 24-hour cotton production and became the world's largest cotton manufacturer. Demand for British cotton slumped, and during the interwar period 345,000 workers left the industry and 800 mills closed.

India's boycott of British cotton products devastated Lancashire, and in Blackburn 74 mills closed in under four years.

In World War II, the British cotton industry saw an upturn and an increase in workers, with Lancashire mills being tasked with creating parachutes and uniforms for the war.

In the 1950s and '60s, many workers came from the Indian sub-continent and were encouraged to look for work in Lancashire. An increase in the work force allowed mill owners to introduce third (night) shifts. This resurgence in the textile industry did not last long, and by 1958, Britain had become a net importer of cotton cloth.

Modernization of the industry was attempted in 1959 with the Cotton Industry Act.

Mill closures occurred in Lancashire, and it was failing to compete with foreign industry. During the 1960s and '70s, a mill closed in Lancashire almost once a week. By the 1980s, the textile industry of North West Britain had almost disappeared. [60]

Economy Edit

Textile mills have moved from Western Europe to, more recently, lower-wage areas. Industrial production is currently mostly located in countries like India, Bangladesh, China, and in Latin America. In these regions labour is much less expensive than in the first world, and attracts poor workers. [33] Biotechnology plays an important role in cotton agriculture as genetically modified cotton that can resist Roundup, a herbicide made by the company Monsanto, as well as repel insects. [2] : 277 Organically grown cotton is becoming less prevalent in favour of synthetic fibres made from petroleum products. [2] : 301

The demand for cotton has doubled since the 1980s. [61] The main producer of cotton, as of December 2016, is India, at 26%, past China at 20% and the United States at 16%. [62] The leading cotton exporter is the United States, whose production is subsidized by the government, with subsidies estimated at $14 billion between 1995 and 2003. The value of cotton lint has been decreasing for sixty years, and the value of cotton has decreased by 50% in 1997–2007. The global textile and clothing industry employs 23.6 million workers, of which 75% are women. [61]

Max Havelaar, a fair trade association, launched a fair trade label for cotton in 2005, the first for a non-food commodity. Working with small producers from Cameroon, Mali, and Senegal, the fair trade agreement increases substantially the price paid for goods and increases adherence to World Labour Organization conventions. A two-year period in Mali has allowed farmers to buy new agricultural supplies and cattle, and enroll their children in school. [63]

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