cotton yarn: finding the right fiber

cotton yarn: finding the right fiber

Pictured from left to right: one of our 100% cotton yarns, Whimbrel, is now available in three new colorways: Fathom, Polaris, and Gunwale.

Cotton is one of the softest and strongest plant-based fibers around, properties that have helped make it, “the fabric of our lives,” as the jingle goes. We love cotton yarn for all kinds of knitting and crochet projects, from that perfect workday cardigan, to a colorful (washable!) baby blanket, to a comfy hand-knit tee. Ubiquitous cotton has a dirty secret, though. As we wrote about when we launched our cotton Sport / DK weight yarn, Willet, cotton production is often resource intensive and destructive to the environment. Its environmental hazards have serious implications for environments in which cotton is grown, and the communities that grow it across the globe. Cotton also has a tragic history, in particular in the United States, something we will discuss further in a future blog post.

Our first cotton source: Cleaner Cotton™

When we developed Willet, we considered carefully how to ensure that the cotton we used was grown responsibly. As we wrote about on our blog, we originally made Willet, and later its big sister Whimbrel, with California Cleaner Cotton™. Cleaner Cotton™ was a certification program established by the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP), a non-profit founded in 1996 that was dedicated to changing the way cotton was grown in California. To achieve Cleaner Cotton™ certification, farmers used biologically-based pest control practices and avoided the most toxic pesticides and herbicides that California conventional cotton growers use. 

While Cleaner Cotton™ wasn’t fully organic—which unfortunately is not economically viable in California—it was considerably kinder to the environment compared to conventional growing. SCP worked with mostly small family farms to transition thousands of acres from conventional cotton to Cleaner Cotton™ over the course of the program. Farmers participating in the program reported new signs of returning wildlife—owls, rodents, and insects—that had been absent for years, coming back to the farms.

cotton yarn: finding the right fiber

Mari and Gary Martin, third generation family farmers who participated in the Cleaner Cotton™ program.

Although SCP was successful in growing the Cleaner Cotton™ program and in reducing harmful chemical use statewide, the ground shifted beneath them. Cotton acreage in the state declined substantially over the last decade as it became less economically viable, squeezed out by other forms of farming, in particular tree crops (mostly almonds, walnuts, and pistachios). SCP also saw a significant portion of its funding, nonpoint source pollution funds provided by the EPA, dry up under the Trump administration. 

Last year, SCP officially ended the Cleaner Cotton™ program. Quince & Co. are very proud to have played our own small part in providing support and exposure to the program and the many talented and dedicated farmers that took the risk of moving away from conventional cotton growing for the betterment of their land, families, and communities. We are happy to know that many of the sustainable practices that the Cleaner Cotton™ farmers implemented continue to be used, even though their cotton can no longer be certified as Cleaner Cotton™.

A new link in our supply chain: the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative

When we first searched for the right cotton for Willet, we spoke with as many people as we could to become better informed about the fiber. One such person was Kelly Pepper, longtime Manager of the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative (TOCMC). Kelly brought to those conversations a wealth of knowledge, and years of experience as a dedicated advocate for organic cotton growing in the US; we stayed in touch with Kelly through the years, and he was the first call we made after learning that we would no longer be able to acquire Cleaner Cotton™.

cotton yarn: finding the right fiber

The farmers that make up the TOCMC’s membership are pioneers of organic cotton growing in the US, and have been producing organic cotton since 1993. Of the five million acres of cotton grown across the state, the total output for Texas organic cotton accounts for fewer than 20,000 acres; however, thanks to TOCMC’s efforts, that small share continues to grow.

Making our Cotton Yarns Organic

Though disheartened by the demise of SCP, we are delighted to announce that our cotton and cotton blend yarns are now being made with GOTS-certified organic, Texas-grown cotton, and we will once again play a small role in helping farmers move fields from conventional cotton growing to a more responsible, earth and people-friendly approach. 

“So, where will my cotton yarn come from?”

Our wool & cotton blend yarn, Wren, has been made with Texas organic cotton right from the start. However, as we make the transition from Cleaner Cotton to organic for our 100% cotton yarns, Willet and Whimbrel, we will have a mix of both on our shelves for a little while longer. Orders may include yarn made with either organic cotton or with Cleaner Cotton™, but your skeins will always be labeled accordingly. 

cotton yarn: finding the right fiber

Pictured from left to right: our wool & cotton blend yarn, Wren, followed by our 100% cotton yarns, Willet and Whimbrel.

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