Slow Sewing: Organic Cotton Farming

on August 22 | in Products, Sewing Trends, Slow Sewing | by | with 4 Comments

Gina Pantastico, Director of Operations for Cloud9 Fabrics, joins our Slow Sewing series with a discussion on a slow and healthy organic fabric production process. Part One covers farming and Part Two next week will focus on harvesting, printing/finishing and social compliance.

(Excerpt image is an adapted Turning Leaves free PDF pattern on the Cloud9 blog, featuring the House & Garden collection.)


People often ask us “Why organic cotton?” “What made you decide you wanted to start an organic fabric company?” The answer is surprisingly simple. Michelle and I knew that we wanted to launch a fabric company, but we wanted to do something that would set us apart from the rest. In 2008, when we incorporated, there were no other organic fabric companies that were providing modern, fresh fabrics to the quilt and craft community. We were both intrigued with the idea of offering more environmentally sound fabrics to the quilt and craft market. As moms and as advocates of wholesome food choices, it seemed like a natural choice for us, especially because we recognized the void in this industry.

Fanfare Flannel Collection | Lotus Pond Collection

We are fortunate because we have transcended the strictly organic audience and have found ourselves firmly seated in the mainstream quilt market. Quilters and sewists do not seek out our fabrics merely because they are organic. They are drawn to them because they are beautiful and unique, the pricing is right in line with other designer fabrics (that are not organic), and our quality is unsurpassed. Quite honestly, I try not to moralize and pontificate about the benefits of organic cottons over conventional cottons. It is a personal choice. However, there are dramatic differences between the farming, harvesting, weaving, printing and finishing of organic cotton vs. conventional cotton. Not to mention the significant differences between mills that make social compliance a priority and those that do not.

In the spirit of Slow Sewing, I would like to share some information about the slower and healthier methods of organic cotton farming, and why we value organics over conventional cotton.

Seeds:
The first step to occur is the farming of the crop. This includes planting, growing and harvesting the crop. When planting the most important element is obviously the seeds you use. All cotton grown organically must use GMO free seeds that have been untreated with chemical fungicides and insecticides.

Soil/Weed + Insect Control:
Another relevant component is the soil. Organic farming requires the farmers to rotate their crops, which leads to more fertile soil, and therefore a better, more robust harvest. This fertile soil also allows the organic farmer to use significantly less water than the conventional cotton farmer when growing the crop. Beneficial insects are allowed to flourish to keep pest insects in check. Weeds are controlled with precision tillage and the old fashioned hoe. The successful organic farm requires much more intensive and innovative management.

Arcadia Collection | House & Garden Collection

Conventional cotton farmers, on the other hand, are not growing in fertile soil so the need for chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides is essential. Worldwide, conventional cotton farming uses only about 3% of the farmland, but consumes approximately 25 percent of the chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Conventional cotton is one of the crops most heavily sprayed with pesticides. They are typically sprayed 30 to 40 times a season in some cases with pesticides so poisonous they gradually render fields barren. Cotton fertilizers foul the air and pollute rivers wherever cotton is grown. These chemicals kill and injure millions of fish, birds, and other wildlife, as well as countless thousands of rural residents. To further complicate matters, insects are quickly becoming resistant to pesticide application, and ever increasing amounts are needed be effective.

Rather shocking, isn’t it? This is quite a vicious cycle. If this is not enough to sway you, stay tuned for Part 2 next week, where I will discuss harvesting, printing/finishing and social compliance!

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4 Responses to Slow Sewing: Organic Cotton Farming

  1. Bronwen says:

    Thank you so much for these posts! I’m new to quilting this year but from the outset I decided to only use organic or recycled cotton. In doing so I’ve become an ardent fan of Cloud9! I’m currently working in a dress for my little one in prints from the House and Garden range. It’s beautiful!!

  2. Nina says:

    It’s extremely shocking! I swore off new conventional cotton fabrics some years ago and was so excited when Cloud 9 first brought out stylish prints on organic base cloth. It’s great that you attract customers for design and quality reasons, but I’ve always wished you’d do a bit more to educate those customers about organic farming and fabric production, so I’m pleased to see this article and looking forward to the next installment.

  3. Very interesting article! Thank you for sharing this information!

  4. Julie Beard says:

    I knew a lot was wrong when growing cotton. Thank you for your extremely interesting reading. Now I understand why cotton growers have us over a barrel with cost of fabric per meter when they use so much toxic substances. I do undertand that organic cotton is so so much more improved fabric and has no toxic substances. That’s why I love them plus I think the quality of the cotton is so much better too! Will look out for part two! Thanks Julie

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