Saturday, 6 October 2012

Why Should You Choose Organic Cotton?

Cotton is cotton, right? We choose it for the print, the cheaper it is the more we can buy, so as long as it's 100% cotton that's OK then, isn't it?
Unfortunately, no, it's not OK.. Cotton is not the pure, natural fibre we often think it is.
It is true that cotton, is a natural fibre.It  has been grown for centuries around the world and accounts for half the world’s fibre consumption, but the average “100% cotton” product actually contains only 73% cotton. The remaining 27% consists of chemicals, resins, and binders which are used in the farming and manufacturing of the cotton.
Modern methods of cotton farming can no longer be called natural. The amount of land used to grow cotton hasn’t changed since the 1930s, but yields have been increased 300 percent through hybridization, intensive land management and use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
It now takes roughly 150 grams (a third of a pound) of pesticide and fertiliser to grow the cotton for a single T shirt.
Conventionally grown cotton is the third most heavily treated crop in the US behind corn and soy beans. It uses 25% of the world's insecticide and 11% of the world's pesticide.
The US Environmental Protection Agency categorizes seven of the 15 most common pesticides used on cotton in the US as “possible,” “likely,” “probable,” or “known” human carcinogens.
According to the World Health Organization, 20,000 individuals die of cancer or suffer miscarriages each year in developing countries as a result of the chemicals sprayed on conventional cotton. Farm workers around the world are suffering from serious health problems relating to an over exposure to hazardous pesticides, including asthma, neurological damage and cancer.
Chemical toxins are a growing problem, and have replaced bacteria and viruses as the main threat to health, according to Dr. Dick Irwin, a toxicologist at Texas A&M University.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) is a syndrome of medical conditions ranging from mild to life-threatening and include headache, trouble concentrating, memory problems, nausea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, irregular heart beat, and seizures. Usually the symptoms fade between exposures, but some people have the symptoms all the time. MCS symptoms in children include red cheeks and ears, dark circles under the eyes, hyperactivity, and behavior or learning problems.

Researchers have long known that chemical toxins can be stored and accumulated in the fatty tissue and organs such as the liver. MCS is thought to be a result of the chemical “straw that breaks the back” of our body’s natural ability to purify and remove toxins and it causes a temporary or prolonged breakdown in the body’s natural balance.
The discomfort from chemical sensitivities might be triggered by a wide range of causes such as the off-gassing of chemicals from a new carpet or new, fabric-covered office partitions, lawn pesticides, cleaning solvents,laundry detergents, perfumes or clothing grown and manufactured with toxic chemicals. Nothing is closer to our bodies than our clothing and our clothes today are too often chemical toxin storehouses.
As well as directly impacting on out health, the chemicals used in cotton production are an environmental hazard. Pesticides used on conventional cotton crops are well known for seeping into local streams, rivers and even public water supplies.

So now I've made you really concerned about that lovely new quilt you've just made, or the fabric bundles you have been sniffing the new smell of, how is organic cotton different?

Organic Cotton is grown without the use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or genetic engineering. It is certified by an accredited independent organization.
Instead of these toxic chemicals, organic farmers use beneficial insects, crop rotation, compost, and weed by hand  in order to build soil quality, enhance biodiversity and protect the air and water on which we depend.
Genetically modified seed is never used. Crop rotation builds a strong soil, so plants are healthier.Weeds are removed by hoeing rather than with chemicals. Trap crops are used to lure insects away from the cotton. Farmers wait for frosts to defoliate the plants and allow them to harvest the cotton rather than chemical inducements.Much less water is used in the production of organic cotton.
Organic cotton feels softer than conventional cotton, but it has all the qualities and strength of conventional cotton.
It is true that it can sometimes cost a little more, and that print designs and colour choices are more limited. The amount of organic cotton available to the quilter, sewist and knitter has increased enormously over the last few years. More ranges, more colourways and more suppliers are to be found every few months. So , if you see an organic fabric you like - vote with your feet and buy it!
Ask your local quilt shop if they would consider stocking some organic ranges.
It doesn't have to be a case of "all or nothing". Use conventional cotton when you have to. I have been trying to buy organic rather than conventional cotton for the past five years. The conventional purchases still outweigh the organic, but the gap is slowly closing. If we all opt for the organic choice whenever it's a perfectly good fit for the item we want to make, particularly if we are making for babies or children, we will be influencing the trend towards organic, playing our part in helping the environment and helping to minimise the health hazards presented by conventional cotton.

As you can tell from the length of this post, this is a subject I'm pretty passionate about. This is the first of a series of posts on organic cotton.Tomorrow and over the next few days I shall look at the organic choices that are out there, both for quilters and sewists in general, and  I shall review organic yarn choices that are available for knitters.
Have a good weekend, and if you are off to purchase some stash - look at the organic options!!!!!


  1. Such an interesting post, thank you, I will definitely look out for organic cotton now.

  2. Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment, Fran. Once you feel organic cotton in your hands, you'll be smitten!

  3. I'll be interested to read your thoughts on organic yarns. It is something I'm researching myself and haven't yet reached s conclusion especially in regards to bamboo yarns vs cotton yarns.


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