Cotton, what is it and why do we use it for socks?
Cotton we wear it and use it in many times a day in our daily lives, but have you ever stopped to think about where it comes from, how its processed and why it is good to use for socks?
The cycle of the cotton seed plant
Cotton comes from a plant called Gossypium which has around 50 species in the family. It is grown in hot countries such as India, Africa, Asia and South America. Ideally it needs an average temperature above 32ºC, lots of sunlight and water especially during the early days of growth.
The plant is grown from a seed which takes around 6 months from planting to harvesting. After around 5-7 weeks from sowing the seeds, the plant produces a bud which is called a square, these open up into flowers and pollination starts.
The flowers last for around 3 days starting as white in colour, then turning to yellow, pink and eventually dark red before they fall off leaving a capsule called a boll. Each plant has around 100 bolls each. Normally cotton is harvested into bales with an average of about 50,000 plants in each bale. One bale producing around 215 pairs of jeans and a whopping 4,321 pairs of mid-calf length socks.
The cotton fibres as we know them get separated from the boll by a process called Ginning. The first ginning removes the longer fibres, the better-quality ones that are turned into yarns and threads for higher quality textiles. The second ginning removes the shorter fibres called linters that are used in lower quality textiles.
19th Century Cotton Ginning Machine
The seeds and their kernels don’t get forgotten about. They have their own purpose. Roughly 5% are used for re-planting and the rest gets treated for use in cooking; oil for use in cooking, salad oil, shortening and margarine. Limited quantities also go into soaps, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The remains of the kernels are high in protein and get turned into feed for livestock poultry, fish and lawns!
So, all in all a very versatile plant with many bi-products, but why is it so good for socks? Well, it is not so good for all socks, it really depends on what your socks are going to be used for.
Cotton socks are great for everyday use, as they are easily washable, breathable and when mixed with other fibres such as nylon it becomes moisture wicking too. Cotton is also very good for sensitive skin or if you suffer from any allergies. Pure cotton products can often be expensive and are not at all practical for sock production as they would have no elasticity. Sock producers use a mix to bring the cost down and give the needed elasticity (normally with spandex/lycra), but obviously the bigger the mix the less you benefit from the cotton fibre properties. Try to aim for a cotton content above 75% for the best benefits.
On the other hand, if you are having a sporty action day then high cotton socks are not the ones you want to put on your feet. We will look at sport socks another time.
Check out these pages for some great cotton socks for all the family