Friday, October 28, 2011

In High Cotton

By Maggie Toussaint

On a recent trip to the North Carolina shore, I enjoyed seeing the snowy whiteness of field upon field of ripe cotton. The plants appeared to be about knee-high, with generous mounds of fluff at the end of each stem.

I live in coastal Georgia, and history tells us that cotton used to be a big cash crop around here. To my knowledge, there’s not a single field of cotton grown in my county now, but apparently, cotton is a Big Deal in North Carolina.

These days, cotton havesting and processing at mills are done by machines.

There are many uses for cotton – clothing, medical gauze, bandages, towels, baby diapers, sheets, drapes, book covers, toys,shoes, glove liners, just to name a few.

In late fall the plants are tall, yielding the phrase High Cotton. The Urban Dictionary has three definitions for the phrase: well off in terms of happiness or wealth, having a lot of money, and coming into very good circumstances.

Fun cotton facts:

Fragments of cotton fabric dating back to 5,000 B.C. have been excavated from Mexico and Pakistan.

Wikipedia estimates 25 million tons of cotton are grown annually.

This wad of raw cotton was on the side of the road.
I think it looks a bit like a dragon or the
Loch Ness monster
China grows the most cotton.

The U.S. exports the most cotton.

During the late medieval period, Europeans believed imported cotton grew on plant-borne sheep.

About ¾ of an acre will yield 500 pounds (1 bale) of cotton.

Samples from cotton bales are tested and categorized into 14 grades of cotton based on color, fiber length, micronaire, strength, and other properties.

Harvested cotton is cleaned, combed, graded, spun, packaged, and shipped out without ever being touched by human hands.

Raw cotton and first drafts

On the left, smooth cotton from my vitamins.
To the right is my lumpy roadside cotton.
Big difference in appearance & texture.
Because I’m also wrapping up a first draft, I was struck by the similarity of a raw manuscript and fresh off the bush cotton. Both need a good bit of cleaning, combing, and grading before they’re ready for public consumption. Some cotton/manuscripts don’t make the grade. A high quality product has a special sheen and luster that is immediately apparent.
Here’s hoping we’re all in high cotton for the forseeable future. Hey, anybody seen my manuscript comb?

Maggie Toussaint
DEATH, ISLAND STYLE coming Feb 2012


  1. On our trip to Michigan, we go through Arkansas, and part of Missippi, and then part of Tennessee. All the cotton through there is the short variety. But I grew up on the South Plains close to Lubbock, and the entire landscape was all cotton..or oilfields. That cotton was you describe.
    When I was a Senior, I and my friends decided we'd hire on to pick get a tan. We went out in our halter tops. I lasted about an hour and went home. The others stayed and got a serious sunburn.
    Stupid teenagers...what we'll do..for what?

  2. Hi Celia, As ideas go, picking cotton wasn't the worst thing high school girls could've tried. I don't know how long I'd have lasted either. Now when I think of all the times I intentionally tried to get a tan, I tell myself I got my lifetime dose of sun early! You're so plucky, though - I bet you can do anything you put your mind to. Best wishes! Maggie

  3. Loved the comparison of a rough draft to bush cotton, and like you, I could use that manuscript comb!

  4. I loved your cotton pics. Cotton is very verstile, isn't it? I thought it was interesting to learn that China was the big cotton producer in the world. Thanks so much for sharing. I like your analogy betwen raw cotton and a raw manuscipt - very true.


  5. Hi, Maggie,

    I've never seen fields of cotton but wish I did.
    I remember reading back in school about how Eli Whitney's cotton gin revolutionalized the cotton business for the Southern states.

  6. Maggie,
    Loved the pics and similarities to our manuscripts. So true. Your photos reminded me of when I lived in Spain and the cotton fields there. Thanks for the fun blog and memories. So proud of you, and I wish you continued success! *Hugs*

  7. Nice picture of the before and after cotton! It's also nice to see a healthy field of cotton. Ours was all puny this year due to the drought. Around here, most years, the roadsides are littered with white fluff that has blown off the trucks carrying the cotton to be ginned. (central Texas)

  8. Hi Anne,

    Maybe I could make a lot of money inventing a manuscript comb. It's an idea...

    Thanks for the visit!


  9. Steph, My single post doesn't quite hold a candle to your informational lighthouse series, but the image of those fields seared into my brain and I knew I had to tell that story. I'd like to find more "southerisms" to highlight here at mudpies. Now if I could just slow down long enough to develop a topic index! Maggie

  10. Jacqueline, I've seen cotton fields from time to time, but its a topic that is a little bit taboo, coming as it does from that turbulent time in America's history. Wonder what would've happened way back when if we had all those machines to do the work? Kinda mind blowing to think about that. Thanks for the visit! Maggie

  11. Hi Diana, I never think of cotton fields as being international but my research here proved me wrong. Cotton is a nearly universal crop, given the right climactic conditions. I was amazed that it had been woven into fabric for at least 7,000 years. Always enjoy you stopping in for a hello. Maggie

  12. Kaye, North Carolina is uniquely poised to get a lot of rain from summer storms. That must be why they are having such a successful crop this year. I'm not sure every year is so plentious with rain. The road we traveled to the Outer Banks was lined with bits of cotton. It was quite the spectacle, and I couldn't resist stopping to pick up a small sample from the shoulder. Thanks for the comment! Maggie

  13. Great minds think alike... I was in Virginia a couple of weeks ago and took several photos of cotton and soybean fields for a future blog post.

    The trip brought back old memories of the times when many of my friends (back in the day) picked cotton for three dollars a bag, a grueling day-long task that always resulted in bloody, sore fingers, so they could earn enough money to go to the movies on Saturday night. I, however, made the dumb decision to pull tobacco from sunup till sundown to earn my movie money. Back-breaking, mind-numbing work, and all in the brutal summer sunshine.

  14. Lee, I don't have a feel for farming and can't grow a houseplant to save my soul, but there's something about the land that draws me time and again.Fortunately for me, my family were fishermen, and I learned early on how to fish, shrimp and crab, and how to clean all of the above as well. For pocket money, we used to go down to the shrimp dock to head shrimp. A bucket of shrimp heads was worth a quarter. Talk about grueling work. The shrimp heads always poked holes in my fingers, which then stung from the shrimp juice. Definitely not my cup of chowder. Thank goodness I didn't have to do something like this to survive.

    I'm glad you survived tobacco pulling.


  15. Hi Maggie-- Long time ago I saw the fields of cotton in Egypt and was told it was the best cotton in the world. But things change. Yes, it takes a lot of refining to turn a good manuscript into a great book. Mona in VA

  16. Love, love, love, your cotton dragon!!! And the comparison between a rough draft and fresh cotton couldn't be more...On the Nickel! LOL!

  17. I don't remember seeing cotton when were in GA. Guess that's the reason! My daughter went to LA recently, though, and was pretty amused to see cotton fields.

  18. I've never seen a cotton field, but I love wearing cotton! I'm glad they grow it.

    Morgan Mandel

  19. Thanks Mona, Keely, Lorraine, and Morgan for dropping over and sharing your thoughts about cotton. I had a lot of fun with this topic!


  20. Just discovered your blog! very interesting facts about cotton. So nice to meet you!

  21. Maggie, my dad was in the cotton business in Texas and I've heard "high cotton" all my life. High cotton was easier to hand harvest. Now, with the defoliants and machine harvesting, height doesn't matter--but the phrase stays with us.


Thank you for visiting Mudpies.