King Cotton

Jul 12, 2015 :: by Pam Allen

By now you probably know that we are pretty much obsessed with wool around here. We love its warmth, its squishy-ness, its versatility in warm and cool weather. But wool isn't the only fiber that we love to knit with. 

Variety is the spice of knitlife, and we love working with other natural fibers and experiencing the unique attributes of each. One fiber that we've been wanting to incorporate into our line for a long time is almighty cotton, the most-grown non-edible crop in the world. 

We love cotton for many reasons - it takes dye very well, it's soft, sturdy, and airy, and, like wool, the fiber can be made into a variety of yarns, from thick to thin, from tightly twisted suiting yarns to buoyant, loosely spun yarns for drapey sweaters. 

But cotton comes with a catch, it is environmentally devastating to grow. It takes up to 2,700 liters of water to produce the fiber in one t-shirt. The chemicals used on conventional cotton farms--fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides--are notoriously dangerous to the environment. 2.4% of the world's crop land are used for cotton, and yet 24% and 11% of total yearly insecticide and pesticide usage goes to cotton. Many of the most environmentally harmful pesticides, including organophosphates and carbamate, are sprayed on cotton fields. One commonly applied chemical, called Aldicarb, which is still used in 25 countries and the US, “can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through the skin," according to the Organic Trade Association. Sixteen states have reported its presence in groundwater. Many of these pesticides contaminate soil and water supplies for years, and concentrate as they move up the food chain. 

In the US, the cotton industry accounts for more than $25 billion in annual revenue and upwards of 200,000 jobs. The vast majority of this output is conventionally grown. While there is a small amount of domestic cotton grown organically, it tends to have a shorter staple length and is inconsistent in quality--not ideal for making great yarn.

We wanted extra long staple cotton (Pima and Acala) for softness, durability, and the lovely muted sheen of high-quality cotton. But we also want to source it here in the US, and we want to feel good about the practices and industry that we promote and give business to. So, how do we source quality cotton fiber, grown in the US, that we can feel good about? We've found a way.

Check out tomorrow evening's blog post to see how we garnered extra long staple cotton from family farmers in California. These farmers have eliminated the most harmful aspects of conventional cotton growing and are working collectively on improving integrated pest management strategies, building the knowledge-base needed to make sustainable cotton growing more competitive.

Also in tomorrow's post: a preview of little Willet, our wonderfully soft and springy cotton yarn, made from this special, American fiber!

Go to Part 2 of this story: Cleaner Cotton™

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