Once our cotton has been farmed, it is then sent to the gin where the machine carefully removes the seed and other debris; and the cotton is pressed into bales to be shipped. These bales of cotton will then be spun into the yarns to knit the fabric. You can read more about how seed remnants from this process are repurposed on our Supima® farms here.
Short Staple vs. Extra Long Staple Cotton
The gin method used in production directly correlates to the length of the cotton fiber (also known as “staples"). Short staple cotton is any cotton fiber with a length between 3/8” to 15/16". A common short staple cotton is Upland cotton. Upland cotton is the most familiar type of cotton because of it’s low-maintenance processing requirements.
Extra Long Staple cotton (ELS) has a length between 1-3/16” to 2-1/2” and has different requirements in the spinning and weaving process. As staple length increases, so does the cotton’s soft, silky feel. It is important that the fiber length is maintained through the ginning, spinning, and weaving process because a longer fiber length results in a smoother surface with fewer exposed fiber ends. This means that items made with Extra Long Staple cotton don’t pill or tear as much and can even become softer over time.
Our mills use roller gins; which are used specifically for ELS cotton because it maintains the fiber quality and length. Roller ginning uses a rotary knife to separate the seed from the lint. Saw ginning, used on short staple cotton, is less gentle and uses a row of saw blades to pull the cotton through the system. The rotary knife used in roller gins allow for precise sorting and cause less damage to the fiber.
Fewer "neps" are created when using the roller gin, which additionally contributes to the evenness and sheen of the fabric once it is dyed. Neps are small knots of entangled fibres caused by the mechanical processes that occur during ginning, such as cleaning and carding. They are visible in fabrics when the yarns are dyed; they will appear as darker colored specks that you are likely familiar with.
After debris is removed from the cotton, fiber samples are removed from the bales of lint by experts to be graded. The fiber samples are graded against the following standards:
These standards depend on the growing conditions, as good growing conditions lend to higher-quality of cotton. The quality of the cotton determines the yarn and the final fabric quality, often affecting the price of the fiber. Higher grade cotton will be sold at a higher price.