Cotton is a widely known fiber that is used for t-shirts, napkins, bedsheets, carpets and more. It is currently the most used textile in the fashion industry but do we know how the process from raw material till the end product looks like?
Inspired by the linen process, the next step was to investigate cotton. I was curious if it is possible to grow cotton in The Netherlands. Since cotton grows in warm climates I was not sure if it would survive in the Dutch climate. But since the temperatures are rising and the summers start earlier and last longer than before, it might be possible to grow, harvest and produce cotton goods closer to home.
To answer my question I order cotton seeds from Ons Zaden. On the 15th of May I sowed the seeds on my balcony. The seeds are fuzzy and have some hair on them. I need to keep the soil on a sunny spot and on a temperature of 20 – 28 celsius. Therefore I started the process indoors. In the morning the cotton sits in the East window to get the morning sun. In the afternoon I will move the cotton to the West window for the afternoon and evening sun. By doing so the plant will be able to enjoy 6-8 hours of direct sunlight in the first few weeks that will help to grow and establish a strong basis.
May 15th 2020
The day of sowing the seeds.
May 19th 2020
In 5 days I could already see results. Every morning the cotton plant was sitting in the East side of the house for the morning sun and in the afternoon I placed it in the West side of the house for the afternoon sun. The plant needs around 1,5 – 2 liters of water each day. It depends on the weather as well. If it’s dry and sunny I might have to water it twice a day but if it’s rainy the plant does not dry out that easily.
May 21st 2020
On the 21st of May 5 of the 10 cotton seeds were coming out already. They were around 3-5 cm long with 2 leaves each.
May 28th 2020
On the 28th of May 6 out of 10 cotton seeds were growing. The plants are around 6-10 cm long and multiple leaves are coming out.
May 31st 2020
I have rearranged the cotton plants in the bucket. From the 10 seeds that I sowed, 6 started growing in one corner of the bucket. To give them an even space to grow I have rearranged the plants by pulling them out gently from the soil and repotting them in the correct spot.
June 16th 2020
It’s been very cold and dry the past two weeks and the cotton has been inside for a while. Past weekend it rained a lot and was warm enough to put the cotton outside and it is showing more results than in the past 2 weeks. The bucket is at this point too heavy to move around the house, therefore the cotton plants will stay on the balcony where they will get 7 hours of direct sunlight a day.
July 2nd 2020
The past two weeks have been raining a lot therefore, I did not have to water the cotton plants at all. The plants have multiple leaves coming and are around 40 cm tall.
Just as during the linen research, I ordered dried cotton for comparison from Bries aan Zee, a flower company focused on dried plants and flowers. If everything goes right the cotton that I sowed will look similar to the one shown on the picture. However, at this point I have no idea how much cotton I will be able to produce and if it is enough to make yarn or other types of fiber from it. To answer this question I will have to wait 3-4 months to calculate the amount of harvested cotton from my own balcony.
As a next step I would like to design a (digital) series of posters where the amount of seeds, soil, water and time is visualized. By doing so, the poster series could become an educative model that represents the resources needed for growing one cotton t-shirt or a collection of t-shirts. The viewer can compare these visualizations and be introduced to the amount of materials needed for a garment.
The goal is to experience and understand the process of growing cotton. By doing so the production of cotton could be introduced to Europe and of course The Netherlands. During the global COVID-19 pandemic the demand for local production is rising harder than before. Western countries are realizing their independence on East Asian countries when it comes to production of goods. Therefore, combining critical thinking, agriculture and simple curiosity could be a changing factor in future production of cotton.
So far into the process the effort, energy and care that goes into the plants is more than I expected. Every morning I check on them before I make breakfast for myself. If the weather is dry, I can only hope for a little rain that will help the plants grow faster. Of course I give them water but natural rain is always better.
I have also been thinking what I would want to do with my produce after harvest. As an answer for now I would not want to sell it to any company especially not to a fast fashion company. It would not feel ethical to grow these beautiful crops and sell them to a company that is socially and environmentally not responsible. Therefore, I am researching another possibilities such as making my own yarn from it or collaborating with a designer or another professional in the creative field.
If you have any suggestions pleas send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an ongoing investigation and experimentation about materials that I find in my closet.