Our Cotton


What the bobbins does that mean?

While the technology that drives the cotton industry today is worlds away from the machines that powered the cotton mills centuries ago, much of the language used throughout the industry today harks back centuries.

Many of the old, traditional terms, phrases and words are still in regular use.  The meanings of some are more obvious, but others may make you scratch your head in wonder – so, in case you come across something you don’t quite understand, here’s a short glossary of those most commonly used words.


 A basic, tradeable unit of ‘lint’, or ginned cotton – bale weights vary from country to country.


The direction of a piece of woven fabric is usually referred to as ‘the bias’. The bias is at 45 degrees to its warp and weft threads and every piece of woven fabric has two biases perpendicular to each other.


A spool to wind cotton thread around.


The seed pod of the cotton plant. It’s made-up of separate compartments called locks, in which the cotton seeds and lint grow.


An industrial yarn preparation. During the carding process, raw cotton is opened, disentangled, cleaned, separated and aligned on a machine called a card. As the carded cotton comes off the card, a thin web about 10mm thick is produced and rolled into a loose rope of fibre called a sliver.


An industrial yarn preparation. During the combing process, fibres are combed to make them parallel in the sliver, and short fibres are removed. The process eliminates all short fibres and makes parallel all the remaining long fibres. The short fibres, called noils, are usually blended with shorter cottons and spun into cheaper, carded yarns. The combing process produces a continuous rope (20mm diameter) of clean straight cotton fibre, called a sliver.

compact ring spinning

Compact spinning is a process where strands of fibre are condensed before they’re twisted. This system reduces the hairiness and makes a more consistent, stronger yarn.


A conical package of yarn, usually wound on a disposable paper core.


Transferring yarn from skeins, or bobbins or other types of packages, to cones.


This refers to the degree of whiteness of the cotton fibre.

colour grade

There are 30 standard colour grades – 15 are physical standards and 15 are descriptive.


A yarn package spun on a mule or ring spindle.


A system for measuring the fineness or thickness of yarn by spinners, weavers and knitters.

A direct fixed length count system to measure the size of a filament yarn. Used primarily in the U.S., denier is the number of grams per 9000 metres of yarn. The lower the denier number the finer the yarn, and the higher the number the larger the size of yarn. In other countries, denier is replaced by the tex system.

draw frame

A machine that draws out and combines several slivers of carded fibre into one larger, thicker sliver, which is then drawn further into a roving, then spun into a yarn.


This is a process where cotton fibres are further strengthened after carding.  Drawing forms the fibres into a loose rope called a sliver.


A set of full packages, bobbins, spools, etc. produced by one machine.


The operation of removing full packages, bobbins, spools, etc. from a machine and replacing them with empty ones.


A cotton fibre is classified in four ways: by its length, micronaire, strength and uniformity. Fibre typically makes-up around 35% of the weight of a cotton boll.


A filament is a continuous fine thread, fibre or wire.


A series of processes to make cotton cloth ready for use, such as bleaching, dyeing and printing.


Twisting together two or more single yarns to form a folded, plied or doubled yarn.


The cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney in 1793, separates the cotton fibres from the cotton seed. The process is called ginning and takes place in a ginnery.


A continuous loop of yarn, without a specific measurement or weight. The circumference can be a yard, a metre, 45 inches or 60 inches, depending on the type of textile trade.


After the cotton fibre has been cleaned and all the seeds and heavy impurities are extracted, it enters the lap former. This produces a continuous roll, 50mm thick x 1000mm wide, of semi-cleaned cotton fibre, called a lap.


A fine linen cloth that was originally used for clerical garments woven in Laon, northern France.  This fine, sheer cloth is now woven in cotton. Liberty of London’s famous Tana lawn was first made in the 1920s. Tana lawn is named after Lake Tana in Sudan, where the raw cotton was grown.


The cotton fibre obtained by the ginning process once the cotton seed, leaves and casing have been removed.


The size of an individual cotton fibre, taken in cross-section.

mercerised cotton

Mercerisation is a treatment that gives cotton fabric and thread a lustrous appearance. Mercerisation applies an alkaline solution to the cotton, causing the fibres to swell, giving it greater dye affinity and also making the fibre stronger. Discovered by John Mercer in 1844, the process was enhanced to increase lustre by Horace Low in 1889.


Modal is a cellulose fibre made by spinning reconstituted cellulose from beech trees.


A small knot of tangled fibre.


Percale is a closely woven, high thread count, cotton fabric often used for sheets and clothing. A fine smooth, plain weave fabric, the term percale originates from the Persian word ‘pargalah’.


When two or more threads or yarns are plied, or twisted, together.  The industrial term for ply is fold.

ring spinning

A continuous mechanical spinning process that’s mostly used in the cotton industry. The ring spinning process was developed in the U.S. in 1828. During the simple process, the yarn is guided on to the spinning bobbin by a ring and traveller arrangement, rather than the edge of the cap.


The name of the process and its product – the final stage in fibre preparation before spinning. The roving is drawn out from the sliver. Since the roving has no strength at this stage, a slight twist is inserted into the roving to hold the fibres together in a thin rope about ¼” (5mm) in diameter.


This is a loose rope of cotton fibres.  A card sliver is thicker and has more tangled fibres than a drawn sliver. The same term is used throughout the woollen, worsted, cotton and man-made fibre industries.


A yarn defect consisting of a lump, or thick place on the yarn caused by lint, or small lengths of yarn adhering to it. Can also be deliberately introduced to create decorative yarns.


A continuous length of yarn or thread of no set measurement, which is coiled into a collapsible coil obtained by winding a definite number of turns on a reel with a set circumference.  The circumference of the reel can measure a yard or a metre, 45 inches or 60 inches depending on the type of textile trade.  Sometimes called a hank.


A thin tube to wind the spun yarn around.


Description of a cotton fibre’s length and fineness. Short staple is less than 25mm. Medium staple is 25 to 30mm. Long staple is 30 to 37mm and extra-long staple (ELS) is 37mm and above.


A yarn measurement in grams per kilometer. A direct decimal count system for describing the linear density (mass per unit length) of fibres, filaments and yarns. The lower the number, the finer the thread. In the U.S. the denier measurement system, is used.


A C-shaped, metal clip that revolves around the ring on a ring spinning frame. It guides the yarn on to the bobbin as twist is inserted into the yarn.


The number of turns about its axis in length of a yarn or textile strand. Twist is expressed as turns per inch (tpi), turns per meter (tpm) or turns per centimeter (tpc). The direction of twist in yarns is indicated by the capital letters S and Z. Yarn is S-twisted if the spirals around its central axis slope in the same direction as in the middle portion of the letter S – to the right. If they are Z twisted, they slope to the left, like the middle section of the Z. The amount of twist in a yarn plays an important part in determining its character – its softness and strength. Variation in twist has considerable effect on the appearance of a fabric and shows in the dyeing and finishing.

upland cotton

Originally this term referred to cotton grown on raised lands that didn’t flood. Now, it means short and medium staple cottons that are the most commonly used cottons.


Threads that run parallel to the loom – the set of lengthwise threads attached to a loom before weaving begins, and through which the weft is woven.


Crossing warp and weft threads to make cloth.


Threads that run at right angles to the warp. The weft is the yarn that is woven back and forth through the warp to make cloth.


Creating bobbins or spools of yarn.


A spun thread.