We organic product makers are some of the most conscientious people in the world. We want to know all the particulars about every material we put in our products so we can be certain everything in is safe for our sewing staff, customers and for the environment.
That’s why I took a trip to India to see for myself what goes into the making of Sewpure organic cotton thread, right down to the dirt that the cotton is grown in. Here’s the story of what I saw and who I met and what I learned.
Organic cotton can be grown anywhere, and most organic cotton (including the cotton grown right here in the Carolinas) is great for making yarns for weaving and knitting fabric, but it takes a very long cotton fiber to make strong sewing thread. Cotton suitable for sewing thread is produced through a combination of things; the cotton variety, the weather, and the soil conditions. All the right conditions come together in India with the added feature that the cotton there is picked by hand which is very gentle to the fibers and keeps them nice and long.
Outside the city of Indore the land is dry and baron looking except in the irrigated areas.
But on the farm of Raphael Bhuria and wife Tashila Bhurie just outside the village of Mohancot in the district of Jhabua, things are green and bursting with life. Raphael and Tashila are leaders of a group of organic farmers.
We were received like dignitaries, draped with garlands of Giant Marigolds and Tashila put a dot of vermillion and sandalwood oil on each of our foreheads as a blessing and welcome.
I was thrilled to see the same practices of organic gardening and farming that I use at home, their vermi-composting pit was huge!
Raphael and Tashila are not only extremely well educated in organic farming, they are leaders in organic research, they have developed methods of composting and creating amendments from their compost that other farmers can apply to their crops for better yields and deterring pests. This top sign has both English and Hindi, the bottom sign in Hindi reads,
“Use cow dung and cow urine as fertilizers in your fields. You don’t have to buy expensive fertilizer. This will reduce your debt. Give new life to your fields. Go organic.”
Tashila Bhurie showed me her organic gooseberry grove where she has developed gooseberries the size of golf balls that have three times the vitamin C of oranges.
After being picked the organic cotton is collected from the farmers in small trucks and brought to the gin to have the seeds removed.
Men carry loads of cotton on their heads and take it to a large open area where it is spread into a big rectangle.
A line of women pick out debris that is caught in the cotton; vegetable matter, trash that may have blown in, bits of weeds, etc.
Layer after layer is added to the pile and picked clean by the line of women until it reaches nearly seven feet high.
The clean cotton is then carried to the gin loader which takes it by conveyor belt into one of two gin buildings each holding 60 small gins. Inside the gin building a huge overhead loader rides back and forth over a sea of rattling gins, dropping loads of raw cotton into their open boxes.
Each gin pulls the seeds out of the cotton and spits them into a trough which is constantly cleaned out by the gin women. Notice how these women cover themselves thoroughly so they don’t breath the cotton fluff and it doesn’t get stuck on their hair and skin.
Under the gin the fiber that has been separated from the seeds, known as lint, rolls out like dough.
The lint is gathered up and loaded into baskets which the men carry on their heads to the bailer.
The cotton lint is packed into bails and covered with a cotton gauze case. Each bail is numbers and a labeled so the hand-off of organic material can be tracked from one destination to the next.
The bails are loaded onto a truck, stacked as much as 30 feet high, then taken to the mill for spinning.
This picture shows the entire gin campus.
The bails of organic cotton are received from the gin and their labels are checked. They’re stacked together and always designated “Organic Cotton”.
At the mill the cotton’s journey begins in the “blower” where the lint is blasted with air to separate the fibers, then it’s carded and combed to straighten the fibers and settle them alongside each other in sheets which are loaded onto a roll.
The rolls of lint are separated into roving which looks like loose rope with no twist in it. The roving is loaded into the green barrels you see on the right.
The roving is spun into a very thin single ply of organic cotton and wound onto bobbins.
Signs on the racks of material identify whether the cotton is organic or chemical so that the two are always kept separated and the organic integrity is secure.
Lots of machinery means lots of noise and lots of nearly microscopic fluff in the air. Workers and visitors are required to wear ear protection and masks to keep from inhaling the cotton micro-fibers. Most workers also cover their hair to keep from looking like snow-people!
Three strands of cotton are twisted together to make our 3-ply thread.
Once the thread is spun the cones designated to stay their natural color are set aside and those destined for another hue are taken off the cones and wound into large, loose skeins and taken to the coloring area. Here in India vat-dyeing is the norm.
Natural Sewpure is colored with fiber-reactive dyes that are approved under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). These dyes are non-toxic and, when applied, bond with the molecule of the cotton and actually become part of the fiber so they won’t bleed off or leach out.
The dyes approved under GOTS are well marked and stored separately to ensure that the organic cotton thread will not ever be contaminated with dangerous chemical dyes.
Finally the colored organic cotton thread is wound onto large cones. Some will be wound again onto smaller cones suitable for manufacturers and home sergers, some will be wound onto 1 kg cones to be spooled in South Carolina onto a spool-size suitable for home sewing machines.
The cotton, the thread and the process itself have all been approved under the Global Organic Textile Standard. That’s why it can wear this seal: