Buying organic cotton fabric is a choice that most of us have, but perhaps as a new sewer you are unaware of it. Cotton fabric goes by many names - corduroy, calico, batiste, denim, muslin, seersucker, flannel and terrycloth, to name a few. Most people rely on it for its comfort – your favorite pair of jeans, pjs and sweat shirt are probably made from it. As for your t-shirt, if you purchased it at Walmart, it probably is organic cotton.
A little explanation of the processing of cotton. It is called a natural fiber, (as opposed to a man-made one, like polyester). Cotton grows out of a seed pod (also called a boll) on the plant. When the fiber is picked, it is then processed to remove the seeds and stems (this process is called ginning).
Cotton fibers can be various lengths and colors. The longest fibers are spun into thread for fabric. The shortest fibers are used to produce rayon, and in many cases the stems and seeds are returned to the earth in the form of fertilizer.
Cotton fabric is very breathable, doesn’t pill like wool, won’t give you electric shocks, and moths leave it alone. However, it is also flammable, wrinkles and soils easily, fades and deteriorates in the sun, and shrinks when washed.
That’s where the fabric manufacturers step in to add other fibers and finishes to help take away some of the negative properties.
Conventional methods of growing the cotton plant require a lot of insecticides to protect the crop. Some sources state that 25% of all insecticides used worldwide are applied to grow the current yields of conventionally grown cotton.
Imagine the farmers, crop workers and manufacturers handling all those chemicals. Then, add the trips from country to country (for example, the fiber is grown in Egypt, then processed in China, then sent here to the US fabric wholesalers) – that’s a lot of chemicals and airplane miles just to produce a batch of t-shirts.
Cotton is being grown organically in different colors
(tan, light green, cream) and doesn’t get the mega-processing with
chemicals. One of the problems, however, is that if you’re a processor
that has spent extra money to get organic cotton, (it’s more expensive
because there are so few growers), then you would want to use some type
of organic/natural dye to color it. And so far, the manufacturers
haven’t come up with an inexpensive way to produce printed organic fabric
with natural dyes. So, you will continue to pay more for organic fabric.
I’m the last one to preach about only buying organic fabric– I have a room full of fabrics from the last 30 years, none of which were grown in a sustainable way. But now there’s all the talk about eco-friendly fabrics, yarns, and even Walmart being one of the largest buyers of organic cotton fabric in the world.
It can only be a good thing to spend my time asking for what would be better for everyone and everything on the earth - organic cotton fabric that is reasonably priced and good looking. I would love to be able to buy more fabric!
The dream of most eco-conscious people is that some day you won’t have to ask if something is organic. It just will be. The more we look and ask for sustainable fabric, however, the more available it will become. Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if the latest Amy Butler print was on organic fabric?