All of the clothing I have made so far, as well as the canvas backpack I recently finished, is made out of 100% cotton fabric. Other than wool and linen, cotton is pretty much the standard for all non-athletic menswear, and yet I found myself wondering, how many people (including myself) give any thought to where cotton actually comes from.

The raw materials that go into those neatly stacked bolts of fabric in a fabric store, or the perfectly folded shirts in a retail clothing shop have undergone so much change and processing that they barely resemble their original form. We can’t exactly wear raw cotton fibers, so this processing is necessary, but how many times have you thought of that spread collar, oxford cloth, button-down shirt as a something that started out as a plant?

I decided that I want to know more about where the shirt on my back comes from, or at least learn a little about the plant from which my clothing is derived. So, this past summer I did a little gardening experiment and grew some cotton on my porch.

It’s hard to believe that so much of our clothing starts out as these little seeds.

cotton seeds

Little baby cotton plants.

cotton plant seedling

When the cotton plant blooms, it has these gorgeous, delicate, yellow flowers that only stick around for a day or two. They quickly turn a light purple color and fall off. From here the cotton bolls start to form.

cotton plant flower

After a week or two, the bolls begin to open up and you can see the cotton fibers inside.

cotton boll opening

Once the cotton bolls fully opened and dried out, I removed them from the plant.

cotton bolls

There is an old cotton mill about 100 yards from where I live, but unfortunately it is no longer in use. I would love to go see the next step in the fabric production process, where cotton bolls like these ones are turned into something that resembles the fabric we have come to love and depend on.

cotton bolls