|Getting to tour a denim textile factory was a real treat. Having never seen something like this, it was a real learning experience for us. The American Cotton Growers Textile Division is located about 45 miles north of Lubbock and Natalia gave us a very informative tour. It is the world's ONLY farmer-owned textile mill and uses 130,000 bales of cotton each year. The mill makes over 30 different denim fabric styles where just a few years ago they made only 2. They mix 32 different bales from different fields to produce the optimal yarn strengths. A machine plucks small tufts from all 32 bales as it starts the process of becoming yarn. It then goes through a final cleaning process where the short fibers and impurities are removed. Next it is sent through a carding machine where it is carded into a wide web. As it comes out of this process it is spun into soft strands or ropes about as big around as your thumb and spun into coils into huge barrels. The barrels are then moved to the machine that forcefully twists them into yarn (about the diameter of a straight pin) that is rolled onto 10 lb spools, each of which contains 35 miles of yarn. 40% of the yarn is left natural (white) and 60% is sent on to be dyed. The dyed yarn is the vertical portion of the fabric and the white is the horizontal part that holds the fabric together. The yarns go through several intricate guides and machines where thousands of yarns become hundreds (between 360-370 individual yarns)and those yarns are then rolled onto big spools that are 14,000 yards each. The 60% is then sent on to the dyeing bath. The yarn is first treated with a sulphur dye solution that turns it yellow and helps the yarn accept the indigo dye. It then goes through 5-7 indigo bath boxes to coat the yarn. Because the yarn is so strong, it doesn't absorb the dye but only coats it which is why denim fades. It takes over 6 hours to complete the dyeing process. Once that is done it is wound once again into ropes of yarn, then wheeled to a loom where it is somehow pieced together (we never did get the hang of this part)to create yarns that are each 14,000 yards long. In each loom there are between 4300 to 4400 yarn ends that go through the guides which are needed to create 68" fabric. During this process the yarn is also coated with a wax and starch solution to give it some stiffness or "tooth." The precise number of yarns is determined by the fabric construction and style. The excess solution is removed by going through squeeze rollers and steam heated drying cans. It then travels to the weaving room where the 60% vertical indigo strands are woven with the 40% white horizontal strands. This process is so fast, it is hard to see with the naked eye. At this point it is now turned into fabric and rolled onto huge rolls that then go through a machine to shrink it (remember it was 68" wide) and pulls it first horizontally then vertically to push the yarns closer together and pull the yarns straight. Who hasn't bought a pair of jeans that the seam turns in or out? This process is to keep that from happening. The fabric then goes through a computer where flaws and inconsistencies show up and either marked or cut out for the manufacturer. The fabric is then rolled onto long rolls and wrapped in plastic ready for shipment to manufacturers or fabric stores. Sadly most fabric is shipped out of the country as the only jeans manufacturers left in the U.S. are designer jeans which cost the consumer over $300.00 a pair. The mill creates 100,000 yards of denim per day. Their customers include Levi Strauss, Lee, Wrangler, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Polo by Ralph Lauren and many others. The mill employees over 500 people but much of it is now automated in order to compete with mills in China, Asia and South America. Just one more part of the cotton process that is being shipped overseas and jobs lost to the U.S.