Cotton is a natural fiber harvested from the cotton plant. Cotton is one of the oldest fibers under human cultivation, with traces of cotton over 7,000 years old recovered from archaeological sites. Cotton is also one of the most used natural fibers in existence today, with consumers from all classes and nations wearing and using cotton in a variety of applications. Thousands of acres globally are devoted to the production of cotton, whether it be new world cotton, with longer, smoother fibers, or the shorter and coarser old world varieties.
Cotton is in the mallow family and produces delicate, lovely flowers. Other members of the mallow family include hollyhocks and hibiscus, used to brighten gardens all over the world. The cotton fiber forms around the seeds of the cotton plant and is designed to help carry the seeds long distances on the wind so that the plant can distribute itself. Early humans realized that the soft, fluffy fibers might be suitable for textile use and began to breed the plant, selecting for fluffy, easily spun varieties.
After harvesting, cotton must be combed to remove the seeds. This used to be a laborious process until the invention of the cotton gin, which quickly separates the seeds from the fiber and combs them for spinning. While a single cotton fiber is not terribly strong, when multiple curling fibers are straightened and twisted together, they form a strong, smooth thread that can be knitted or woven, as well as dyed.