Project 1 – Life cycle of textiles and materials

Stages of textile product life cycle:

Personally summary of cycle prior to research:

  1. Agriculture/raw fibre production – I think this stage involves the initial planting of a crop, e.g. cotton, the cultivating of it, various agricultural practices (use of pesticides, water, soil enhancers,). I think within this stage is also the harvesting or separating of the fibre from the plant e.g. picking cotton from fields. I’m not sure if this stage involves cleaning of the cotton etc and therefore heavy use of water/chemicals and human labour.
  2. Ginning – I don’t know what this is!
  3. Spinning – the process of drawing out the fibres of the cotton into a single strand or thread, ready for use in the weaving stage. This can be done by hand, as a labour intensive method, I’m not sure if there’s machinery that can do this part too?
  4. Weaving – This involves taking the single thread produced in the previous stage and laying multiple strands in and out of each other to form a woven piece of cloth or fabric. There are hand based looms which allow someone to run a shuttle in and out of the threads to from a woven piece of CAD looms which can be programmed to produce a certain pattern or effect when weaving.
  5. Processing – Not entirely sure what this stage is – as a guess I’d say it’s perhaps the point of cutting garments into pattern pieces for stitching, maybe the dying stage too? Could also include any additional quality or safety checks to the fabric?
  6. Stitching – Using sewing machines, or hand skills to bring pattern pieces together by a stitched thread. This is often broken down (on a factory level), to component parts, with an individual person only responsible for stitching one part of the garment, the next part would be completed by someone else and so on.
  7. Distribution/retail – This stage involves, sending the finished garment or textile to a buyer. The buyer then repackaging the garment to their desired look, sending on to shops/store fronts. Setting a price for the consumer, deciding how to market and advertise the product – photography, social media, etc. Also includes deciding how to display item to customers in store, or catalogues, or online.
  8. Use/Consumption and end of life – Garment or textile reaches user, the product has a life cycle or use cycle with initial owner, may then have several alternative secondary placements. Some fabrics or garments, gain a second life through resale, charity shops, swapping events. Others end up as waste – for landfill, this is a lengthy process of degrading. Some products may be re-invented or ‘up-cycled’ into new garments or products, gaining a new lease of life. Some fibres can even be broken down and merged with other fibres to make clothing from post consumer waste.


Ginning – 

Cotton Gin


A machine that separates the seeds, seed hulls, and other small objects from the fibers of cotton.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


Ginning involves the process of separating the lint (cotton fibre) from the seed and any other shells or impurities. I found a detailed description on the National Cotton Council of America website, here.

Spinning –

I didn’t realise that spinning has several different stages. There’s carding; brushing cotton on combed pads to produce a roll of cotton. Then turning the roll of cotton into a sliver by ‘drawing’ or ‘drafting’ (essentially pulling) the cotton out into a single strand. Spinning is the combination of several slivers by twisting together at speed. Machines now spin the slivers together tightly until they reach a desired ‘yarn count’ ready for weaving with. Again my research from this came from the NCCA here.

I also found/watched a few You Tube videos from a lady who runs a business dedicated to cotton, from production to final use, called Cotton Clouds. 

Video: Spinning from Seed to Sliver by Cotton Clouds

Video: Spinning Cotton on a Takli Spindle 


Processing – 

In the book; Fashion and Sustainability  Design for Change by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose Processing is described as follows;

“Processing is an essential part of converting raw fibre to fabric to fashion garment, and a key contributor in sustainability impact”.

In a chapter dedicated to processing methods, a number of current methods and more sustainable methods are discussed. Some of the processes mentioned involve; chemical bleaching – to create a white base upon which to fix other dyes to the fabric with uniform results.  Enzyme technology – using enzymes (proteins), to treat the surface of the fabric to create different feels to fabric. Also included in the chapter were accreditation and labelling methods; for example has a company agreed to meet certain manufacturing standards, set water consumption, use of particular chemicals etc.

From this as far as I can tell there are several parts to dying a fabric – there’s often an initial bleaching, then a dyeing (involves chemicals to create dye, heat and water to fix dyes), drying the fabric and then repackaging it for next stage. These processes take place in a ‘Dye House’.

I did a little more research and found an video by American Apparel showing the processes inside their dye house here.  

In another video by American Apparel their stitching and final production stages are shown here.

To accompany my research I also created an illustration of the life cycle of cotton. There are 8 stages which mirror the stages of my written research. I searched for images relating to each stage and relevant machinery or technology used for each stage. I then drew up my own illustrations using those research as a reference point.

I find drawing these kinds of illustration helps me to consolidate or put the earlier much more complex research into a simpler, manageable form.

My illustration of material life cycle, based on cotton.

My illustration of material life cycle, based on cotton.


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