You are looking at a cotton field. I took this picture last weekend, on my way back from Snead’s Ferry, N.C. It is in Kenansville, or thereabouts, and I could not resist the urge to stop and explore. I actually picked a piece or two, (much to my mother’s chagrin) and it was very soft and nice! Hard to believe that the stuff I knit with so often, comes from a plant like this. I do not know very much about cotton production, but I do know that North Carolina is one of the leading cotton producing states in the U.S. When I held the pieces in my hand; they were lumpy with seeds. The seeds did not let go of the cotton around them very easily. I can see why ginning is important. They were also very soft. It made me wonder what is involved in the process of refining and spinning it. None of the cotton balls or yarn that I have come in contact with are this soft. Some oils must be removed during ginning. Mercerized cotton is given a bath in sodium hydroxide (lye) and then rinsed with acid to nutralize the lye. This treatment increases luster, (down south, we say shiney) strength, affinity to dye, resistance to mildew, and also reduces lint. Cotton with long staple fiber lengths, respond best to mercerization. Therefore linen, hemp and flax can also be mercerized. There’s your fiber lesson for today. 🙂
My mother was with me and I was so excited and couldn’t understand why she didn’t share at least a little of my joy. Then it occurred to me that she had grown up around cotton. Her grandfather grew some, and she often helped pick it. No wonder she didn’t consider it a big deal. I also thought about the story my Aunt Carolyn tells about planting and harvesting a cotton field to pay for college. She told her dad that she wanted to go to Gardner Webb College. He gave her some bags of cotton seed and a field to plant them in and said, “There you go.” She planted and harvested and sold the cotton for four years to pay her tuition and expenses. Things sure were different back then.