Cotton - Child of sun

Cotton is the most widespread natural fiber in the world. Over 190 million people in more than 80 countries dedicate their lives to cotton-picking, and another 60 million work at enterprises processing raw cotton into fabric and producing its sub-products.

Among the wood-carved columns in the Juma Mosque in the city of Khiva, there is one that represents cotton. Many people are puzzled by it because they are used to the fact that cotton is a bush no more than 1 meter high. However, the craftsman who made the column did not sin against the truth. Progenitors of cotton used to be 6 meters and sometimes even 12 meter high. By autumn, such trees produced cacheсtic bolls with seeds.

People were lucky to have come across this plant because it was predisposed to variability like no other plants. Even in one field you will not find two plants that are absolutely alike. Or, to be more exact, you will easily notice that the color of their flowers varies as well as the shape of leaves and the size of bolls. You only have to select plants with the most needed features. It was as a result of such selection in the course of centuries that a robust and stocky cotton bush with sparse leaves and a large number of bolls stuffed with white fiber came into being.

In India, cotton has been known since the 6th century A.D. Herodotus wrote that strange plants, which produced wool instead of fruits, grew there. This fact is reflected in some languages; in English, for instance, the “fruit” of cotton plants is called cotton-wool.

Until the second half of the 19th century, cotton was called “cotton paper” in Russian technical literature. Nowadays, they use the words “cotton fiber” or “seed cotton” in technical books. The English word “cotton” is used as an international notation.

Cotton is cultivated in many regions of the world with a moderate climate. It is a sun-loving plant, and the optimal temperature for its growth is from +25* to +30*C; the plant perishes at a temperature below zero. Cotton produced the highest yields in conditions of hot, cloudless weather and systematic watering.
A researcher specializing in cotton pointed out that over the past few decades we learned more about this plant than in the preceding centuries. It has been found out, for instance, that cotton plants renew water contained in their cells 10-15 times in the course of 24 hours. Thus, cotton, which ancient people called “the child of the sun”, is also “the child of water”.

Cotton is valued thanks to its fiber – long white, grayish-white, yellowish-white or bluish-white fleece that envelops seeds. Fibers can be from 3 to 5 cm long, the longer – the better. Long-fleece cotton is used for producing high-quality textiles, while short-fleece cotton serves as feedstock for coarser, yet more durable fabrics. Cotton fabrics absorb moisture and dye well. They are durable and hygienic, and easy to wash and iron.

The advantages of clothes made of light cotton fabric were highly appreciated by people who lived in countries with a hot climate, which were the birthplace of textile production. The best Indian-made fabrics were so light that they could be easily put through a wedding ring. Via the Arab market, cotton reached Palestine, Egypt, Sicily and Andalusia. Until the end of the 8th century, cotton was brought to Europe only in the form of finished products. The first factory producing cotton fabrics was established in England in 1772.

However, apart from textiles, cotton fiber is also used for producing… money. Paper for banknotes is made namely of cotton fiber. The “white gold”, as it is often called, serves as feedstock for producing gunpowder and soap, stearin and glycerin, and lubricants. Cotton cake is fed to livestock. About 1,200 products are cotton derivatives. Uzbeks cannot live without cottonseed oil, which is used which is used for cooking pilau. Honey that bees gather from blossoming cotton plants is also a valuable product.

Cotton fiber is relatively inexpensive natural product because it can be easily extracted from an open cotton bowl while other plant fibers, such as flax fiber, are rather difficult to procure and require complicated processing.

The first cotton-ginning device was invented in India. It consisted of two rollers, a fixed upper roller and a moving lower one, which was rotated with the help of a handle. Seed cotton was fed between the rollers; the lower roller caught the fiber and pulled it into the other side while the seeds fell down. Two or three persons working in shifts could gin no more than 6 to 8 kg of cotton fiber daily. So, there was no question of large-scale and cheap production.

In 1972, Eli Whitney invented a saw gin, which facilitated the process of cotton ginning and made its production cheaper. Now two or three workers could produce hundreds of kilograms of cotton fiber daily. The gin could be driven by people, animals, water, etc. since then, cotton production began to spread widely and as fast as no other industry in the world. Professionals associate its further development with new achievements of science and engineering in the 21st century.

Uzbekistan is among the world`s five leading cotton producers. Five countries of the world – China, the USA, India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan – account for 65% of the total world output.

Cotton (gossypium) belongs to the Malvaceae family of annual or perennial herbs (more rarely - trees) with large leaves, bright flowers and fruits as large as an egg. White and yellow cotton flowers turn pink and violet as they ripen. The Chinese who grew cotton as a decorative plant appreciated its beauty as far back as in the 8th century. When cotton bolls ripen they burst open into several segments, from two to five, and those segments contain seeds enveloped in finest, mostly white, fibers.

The history of cotton cultivation is remarkable for the fact that is begun in the Old World and in the New World independently. Columbus and his crew saw that inhabitants of the continent he had discovered wore cotton aprons and kerchiefs that protected their heads from the sun-rays. Later, the ruler of Aztecs presented 30 bales of cotton cloaks as a gift to the Spanish conqueror Cortez.

Cotton is the most widely cultivated industrial crop. Cotton plants occupying 30 million hectares, an area equal to that of Italy, together with its islands, produce 20 million tons of cotton fiber annually. According to statistical estimates, a person uses an average of up to 7 kg of cotton goods annually. Many people believe that cotton is the best fiber in the world.