All I never knew I wanted to know about cotton. I blame Mr. Thornton!

Living on the edge of the suburbs, subdivisions are commingled with farmland. Step outside the house and you can hear cows mooing in the field behind our subdivision. Drive to the grocery store and you pass numerous fields. The primary crop where I live–cotton.

This time of year almost every field looks like this:


Having lived most of my life elsewhere, I find the cotton fields beautiful. Every time you end up behind a semi carrying cotton it looks as though it is snowing as loose pieces float past, sometimes even necessitating windshield wipers.




Today I was out running errands and found myself behind a truck headed to the local cotton gin, located 2 miles from my house. As we drove, I looked at the flying cotton and then the truck sized bales of cotton outside the gin, to the haze around the gin itself.



With so much cotton around me, my thoughts naturally turned to North & South, Mr. Thornton and his busy cotton mill. I think I’m going to have to have a rewatch soon.

All of this made me curious though.

I learned about Eli Whitney and his cotton gin as a child, but knew nothing about the modern processing of cotton.

Those bales of cotton, it turns out are actually called, modules. These can weigh up to 10 metric tons (over 22,000 pounds). The compression used to build the modules helps reduce the number of trucks required to transport cotton from the field to the gin. There are module builders that are separate from the picker or picker/module combination equipment.


Once the modules are built they are transported to the gin. The view outside our local cotton gin looks something like the picture to the right.


Now we get to the processing of the cotton:

The modules are loaded into the  module feeder of the gin.

“The cotton then enters a dryer, which removes excess moisture. The cylinder cleaner uses six or seven rotating, spiked cylinders to break up large clumps of cotton. Finer foreign material, such as soil and leaves, passes through rods or screens for removal. The stick machine uses centrifugal force to remove larger foreign matter, such as sticks and burrs, while the cotton is held by rapidly rotating saw cylinders. The gin stand uses the teeth of rotating saws to pull the cotton through a series of “ginning ribs”, which pull the fibers from the seeds which are too large to pass through the ribs.”


What is left is the lint. This is once again compressed into bales, weighing about 500 pounds. The value of the bales is tested based on “fiber length (staple), strength, micronaire, color and cleanness.” At this point the cotton is usually sold to a local merchant who in turn sells it to a textile mill.


Were John Thornton around today, this is probably where he and his mill would take possession.

So there you have it. I now know way more than I ever thought I’d want to about the harvesting and ginning of cotton. I blame you Richard Armitage and your character John Thornton! Well, and maybe also the fact that I live in cotton country. 😉

All of my info is courtesy of:

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22 thoughts on “All I never knew I wanted to know about cotton. I blame Mr. Thornton!

  1. Fascinating cotton info! Where I live, corn and soybeans are what we eat and breathe–literally, our subdivision is surrounded by those fields.

    • Thanks, Grati. They tend to rotate the crops here. Some years we have quite a bit of corn and soybeans, but this year it seems all the farmers planted cotton. I won’t complain though as it makes me think of John Thornton…not that I really need much prompting. 😉

  2. Very cool, Jas. And once again, we learn something because of Mr. A. Or Mr. T. Depending on your point of view. LOL

  3. Neat! I live right on a state line and one state has the corn, boybeans, lots of wheat, and then in the other state there is corn, sorghum and tobacco (easy to tell which state was on which side during the Civil War). And I’m sure if I saw cotton everyday I would live of Mr T as well (not the one from the A-Team btw). 😉

    • Bollyknickers

      That was actually very interesting Jas – I wear cotton so I ought to know how it is made. The bit between the bush and the rail in the shop was , until today, hazy to put it mildly! Another reason to feel thankful for Mr Thornton. Thanks x

    • LOL, about Mr. T…no, no, no, not the guy from the A Team! 😉 I never would have thought about different states growing different crops like that. I guess maybe subsidies are different or something. Very interesting.

  4. Leigh

    Fascinating! I remember learning about the invention of the cotton gin, but until now, the modern workings were a mystery up to the mill.

  5. Very fascinating Jas Rangoon. 🙂

  6. Kitty

    You have just taken me back to the eighties when Hubby’s cousin lived in Prattville, Alabama where he worked for Continental Eagle, fresh out of Clemson w/ his Ag Engineering degree after having worked on a cotton farm in Lee County, SC. He help our daughters w/ their project for the science fair that year – it looked a lot like your blog entry w/ picks of the fields and the bales of cotton. They didn’t get the blue ribbon, but for your reference to Mr. Thornton, you get grand prize!

    • Ooh, the grand prize! Thanks Kitty. 🙂 Your bringing back memories for me…those trifold cardboard displays at the science fair. I never did very well, but there was always that participant ribbon in the end. 😉

  7. servetus

    This is the pretty side of it 🙂

    • Yes, definitely the pretty side. I contemplated adding pictures of the trash blowing out of the roof of the gin, but didn’t quite know where to put it. Also, I know that there are some extra allergy problems at the middle school just down the street this time of year. Everything seems to come with a price of some sort.

      • Servetus

        also amazing water consumption. Cotton production is more or less destroying the water resources of much of Central Asia. It takes hundreds of gallons of water to make a cotton t-shirt. And then there are the labor issues. Shutting up now.

  8. I remember doing a paper on cotton at Fashion design school and it was a bit bad for the environment. It does however feel very comfy and looks beautiful in a vase 🙂 I’d really like to see cotton fields (a few years ago I was yelling with excitement when I saw a pumpkin patch for the first time), so get a good eye-full for me Jas 😉

    • I’m sure that was an interesting paper to research and write, Agzy. It isn’t great for the environment, all of that dust and particles that go out into the air. I’m glad you got to see a pumpkin patch a few years ago. They are one of my favorite things about fall! Maybe someday you’ll get to see a cotton field too. you can always come visit the South. 🙂

  9. Servetus

    I’m trying really hard to bite my tongue because all of this spreads very heavily into politics — but if you want to know why they’re growing cotton, look at the federal cotton subsidy.

    • I appreciate the tongue biting, Serv. I know about the subsidies, but just wanted to stick to the basics here. 🙂

      • Servetus

        I think I’m just going to unsub from this comment strand — I know too much about cotton production to feel entirely comfortable here and I should have shut up in the first place. Feel free to delete comments above. 🙂

        • I understand the frustration of not voicing opinions on something you know a lot about, so I get why you want to unsubscribe from the comments. But, I don’t think you’ve said anything that warrants deleting your comments. They’re just informational. 🙂

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