History of Egyptian Cotton Production
by: Michael O'Brien
Some of those softest, most luxurious cotton fabrics are made from Egyptian cotton fibers. Once considered the gold standard for cotton fabrics Egyptian cotton is among several varieties of cotton fiber that originates in the Middle East. Fabrics made of 100% Egyptian cotton are made into many different linen products including quality bed sheets. Bed sheets made from 100% Egyptian cotton will generally be more expensive, but when you sleep on them, you will know where that extra money went.
Thousands of years before the American South became a center of cotton cultivation, cotton plants were thriving in the Middle East. At one time, linens made from Egyptian cotton were available only in fine linen shops. In these days of global commerce, fine Egyptian cotton is more widely available.
As with many agricultural products, geography can make a difference in qualities like taste, texture and even appearance. The length of the harvested fibers can affect properties like workability. This is particularly true with cotton fibers. For example, much of the cotton cultivated in the American South produces fibers that are relatively short and can vary in degrees of softness. This is in contrast to Egyptian cotton. Egyptian cotton has fibers which can exceed two inches in length and are several degrees softer than domestically grown cotton fibers.
It is generally accepted that cotton fibers have been used for over 4,000 years across a wide area of the world. From Northern Africa to India to China, cotton was cultivated and used on a local level. Varieties of cotton plant were also thought to exist in the Americas, from modern day Mexico through South America. Like many cultures with roots in antiquity, agriculture was a localized endeavor, with food and fiber crops grown for local subsistence. The beginnings of our modern global economy grow out of the trade routes that started to develop between Europe and Asia.
The trading in silk that had expanded from China to modern day Iran is said to have started around 100 BCE. As coastal sea travel expanded, so did the trade in fabrics and fibers. Since early European cultures had little access to fiber sources, the availability of silk and cotton must have created tremendous demand. This expansion of trade to North Africa, the Middle East and Asia changed fabric and fiber trading forever.
Europeans had learned to rely on fiber fabrics. European colonization of the Americas brought with it commercial cotton cultivation. Very early in the 1600ís cotton had became a key fiber source in the colonies. Early cotton cultivation began a painfully long and tragic period of world history. Brought to the Americas as slaves, people kidnapped from West Africa were brought to North America by the thousands to toil in the cotton fields.
It was not until mid 1800ís that Egypt began to develop cotton as a commercial crop. Through the influence of European business interests, Egyptian cotton took on a commodity status. Doing for or to Egypt what the discovery of oil for Arabia, Egyptian cotton became a target for exploitation by foreign interests. Still, no one could deny the unique qualities of Egyptian cotton and it was not long before it was being cultivated in North America. Today, Egypt remains an important player in the world cotton market. The cultivation of Egyptian cotton has been extended through many areas of the Middle East and Central Asia, principally Pakistan.
A genetic hybrid Egyptian of cotton known as Pima ma is widely cultivated in the American Southwest and South America. Pima cotton fibers are considered quite similar to the finest Barbadense Egyptian cotton. Egyptian and Pima cotton fibers are long and extremely soft. The result is fabrics of high quality, superior durability and appearance.
About the Author
Michael O'Brien is Staff Writer for 100PercentEgyptianCottonSheets.com