Growing Naturally Green Cotton

Follow the experiments of two fiber artists as they grow a nearly forgotten cultivar of cotton.

Courtesy of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

As a weaver, I have plenty of reasons to attempt growing cotton in my small, urban backyard garden. So I teamed up with Caitlin Wilson, a fiber-spinning friend of mine, and hatched a plot to grow naturally colored green cotton. Because we’re fiber fans, growing our own colored cotton was an appealing challenge.

Such experiments never go smoothly at first, and ours was no exception. But regardless of the outcome, gardening trials always leave us with plenty of new information. And through our adventures, we learned a lot.

Cotton Cultivation

Cotton has been cultivated as a crop for centuries. Around 5000 B.C., civilizations in North, Central, and South America were growing cotton to make yarn and cloth. By 3000 B.C., several cotton species were growing in present-day Pakistan and India, as well as along the Nile River in Egypt. And by 800 A.D., cultivated cotton was grown in southern Europe. When Europeans moving to North America found cultivated native cottons, they adopted those species into their colonies.

Ancient civilizations used naturally colored cottons to weave wall hangings. This hanging dates back to 1300 to 1470, and is thought to have hung in a palace in Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian-era city of South America. Photo by Met Museum

While we tend to think of cotton primarily as white, most cotton species come in several colors: green, brown, tan, rust, and a light-pink rust. Some cultures, such as the Paracas and Nazca civilizations in Peru, valued the color variations and used them to create intricately patterned cloth. Ancient Egyptians, on the other hand, appreciated white cotton and natural-colored linen, using both to create light garments suitable for desert living.



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