The cotton plant grows on plantations in warm countries. Most of the cotton used in the world is raised in the United States, where the two principal varieties are short-staple cotton or cotton having short fibres, and long-staple cotton having long fibres. The short-staple or upland cotton, which is chiefly raised, grows on a plant from two to three feet in height. Long-staple or sea-island cotton grows fifteen to twenty feet high, and is found on the islands near the coast of the Southern States. Sea-island cotton is much more valuable than upland cotton.

The seed is sown in March and April, and early in June the plant begins to bloom. The blossom resembles that of the hollyhock, and changes its color, being a pale straw-color in the morning, pure white at noon, pale pink at night, and a clear pink the next morning. After the flowers fall, the pods or bolls grow rapidly, and when ripe burst open, showing the fleecy cotton ready for picking, which is done by hand or by a machine.

It is separated from the seeds by being run through the cotton-gin, then baled, and shipped to the manufacturers. The bale is opened, and the cotton is put through a beater and picker-machine, which loosens the matted fibres, and separates a portion of the sand and leaves. It is subjected to a second, and sometimes a third process of picking, which forms it into laps, or rolls of cotton similar to cotton batting.

These laps are taken to the carding-machines, where they are carded, and sometimes combed, until the fibres become sufficiently clean and even; they are then called slivers. The slivers pass to the drawing-machine, where they are drawn even and parallel, and several of them are united into one. Then they are twisted on the roving-frames into rovings, which are wound upon bobbins. They are next spun into yarn, by passing the rovings through the spinning-machines.

When thread is to be made, the yarn is doubled and twisted more than for weaving into cloth, as greater strength is required. It is then reeled off into loose hanks for washing, bleaching and dyeing, after which comes the reeling on to bobbins, and the spooling. In spooling, after the machine-tender has set the spool on the spindle and attached the end of the thread from the bobbin, the machine does the rest. It runs the thread on evenly, without overlapping, or leaving a hair's breadth between, and even adjusts its work with the same precision to the widening of the spool with every layer of thread. It runs on exactly two hundred yards, and at the right time and place, cuts the fine slit in the edge of the spool, draws the end of thread tightly into the slit, cuts it off, and drops the finished spool into a tray. The spools are labeled and packed in boxes containing a dozen each.

If the yarn is to be woven into cloth, the warp is prepared on one machine, and the woof on another; the warp being made stronger than the woof, as a greater strain comes on it. Then they are woven on the loom, great care being taken that every thread is kept in its proper position. In weaving, the warp threads are first passed from the warp beam at the back of the loom, to the cloth beam in front, on which the cloth is to be wound. Plain weaving is done by passing the woof, in a shuttle, alternately over and under each thread of the warp; this may be readily discerned by unravelling a piece of cotton cloth. Twilled cloth is woven by varying the number of threads passed over or taken up by the woof. In piled cloth, like velvet, other threads are woven in with the woof, making loops, which are afterwards cut and sheared evenly. Mixed cloth is woven with the warp of one color and the woof of another. In striped cloth the warp is of two or more different colors; and in checked cloth the warp and woof are both of two colors, one set of stripes crossing another.

White cloth is bleached after weaving. When calico is made, the cloth is singed, then bleached, and the coloring applied by a printing machine.