For many thousands of years, cotton has been woven into cloth by hand
Machines that greatly increased the speed and scale of cotton yarn production were invented during the Industrial Revolution.
Today, the inside of our state-of-the-art cotton mill looks very different to its heyday hundreds of years ago, when the North West of England was the global centre of textile manufacturing.
More than just cotton spinning
It’s been well documented that English Fine Cottons has brought cotton-spinning back to the UK. But there’s a lot more to producing beautiful cotton yarns than simply spinning.
We’ve installed the very latest technology and carefully planned our production processes to create the most modern, efficient and productive compact ring spinning system in the world – enabling us to produce the finest quality cotton yarns anywhere.
But before we even start to spin our cotton, it has already undergone a series of preparation processes where it’s grown.
First, the raw fibres are harvested by picking the flowers – or ‘bolls’ – of the cotton plant. This is sometimes done by hand, but mostly it’s a highly mechanised process and a single machine does the work of hundreds of hand pickers.
The cotton is picked after the dew dries in the morning and before it starts to form again at the end of the day. Cotton can’t be harvested and stored if the moisture content is more than 12%.
This process separates the cotton fibres from the seeds of the cotton plant in a machine called a ‘gin’ (short for engine). It also removes stems, leaves and dirt, leaving clean cotton ‘lint’ ready for baling.
The cleaned, raw cotton fibres are compressed into bales weighing about 200 kgs each. The bales are shipped in containers to Tower Mill in Dukinfield.
The raw cotton then starts its journey through Tower Mill’s fully automated cotton spinning processes. First, our finely tuned ‘bale plucker’ opens and ‘plucks’ the cotton fibres, moving along the bales and taking small amounts from the top of each.
The mixed fibres are carried along the transportation ducts to the blowing room.
The Blowing Room
The blowing room is a collection of cleaning blending and mixing machinery. Here, the cotton lint is blown by air from a feeder through chutes to another, more gentle cleaning process.
This removes any remaining leaves, seeds and other waste without damaging the delicate fibres – including waste that’s invisible to the naked eye. The fibres are then mixed together to form a consistent blend of clean, fine cotton.
Our blowing room has the capacity to open and clean 2,000 kgs of raw fibre every hour.
The Carding Machines
The carding machines disentangle the fibres by passing them between cylinders that are covered in millions of fine metal teeth. These teeth tease, separate and align the fibres to form a continuous web. The web is drawn through a trumpet-shaped device to produce a soft, rope-like strand called a sliver (sounds like ‘diver’), which looks a little like an untwisted rope.
Carding is perhaps one of the most important of the cotton spinning processes, as it directly determines the final features of the yarn. Our carding machines have the largest active carding area available, so we use fewer machines to deliver up to 500 metres of sliver per minute. They are around 15% more efficient than 10-year-old carding machines and 50% more efficient than machines used in the 1990s.
The machines are equipped with nep counters to help us to reduce the level of imperfections in the sliver. Neps are small knots of entangled fibres caused by the mechanical processes, such as cleaning and carding. They show-up in fine fabrics – when the yarns are dyed, they appear as darker coloured specks. The quality of the sliver at this stage is critical to the downstream processes.
The Draw Frame
Many slivers are blended together in the drawing process, which combines multiple slivers into one, reducing unevenness, weight and thickness.
Our draw frame is programmable, maximising efficiency and capacity and giving us precise control over the specification of the sliver.
The Lap Former
The lap former winds up to 12 parallel slivers around a plastic core to form a continuous sheet, or ‘lap’, which then feeds the comber.
This process enhances the developing yarn, removing short fibres and any remaining impurities from the sliver. By eliminating the short fibres and neps it improves the developing yarn’s evenness, strength, smoothness and overall visual appearance.
The very latest Japanese technology enables us to produce finer, high quality cotton yarns. The combers use duo driven rollers that aid uniformity, further ensuring the consistency of the yarn.
The Speed Frame
The speed frame further reduces the thickness of the sliver, applying a holding twist before winding it on to roving bobbins ready for spinning.
Our speed frame is 65% more efficient than other modern machines, with computerised roving monitoring to ensure quality.
The Ring Spinning Frames
Our ring frames are fitted with compact spinning attachments, a vacuum process that reduces the hairiness of the yarns by tucking loose fibres into the core of the yarn.
The roving bobbins are loaded on to the ring frames. The yarns are drafted down to the finished yarn specification and required twist, while being spun on to plastic tubes or ‘cops’.
The ring frames are at the heart of Tower Mill’s cotton spinning process. We have six fully-automatic 50-metre long ring spinning frames. They have computerised quality monitoring of each spindle (1,200 spindles per frame). Next year, we will be adding four more ring frames, to bring our total capacity up to 1,000 tonnes per year.
Winds the yarns from cops on to cones, analysing the yarn as it winds, detecting any faults. The machine automatically cuts out any faults and invisibly splices the yarn back together.
It winds at speeds of up to 1,500 metres per minute, using 20% less energy than other winders.
Winding and doubling
If required, yarn can be plied and waxed for knitting.