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What Are The Types Of Cotton?

Where would we be without cotton? It’s durable, renewable and low-maintenance. It forms the foundation of many a wardrobe. In the fabrics and crafts industry, cotton is an all-round favourite which is available in various textures and thickness. Its high tensile strength makes it strong, durable and less likely to rip or tear. It washes and dries easily and may be washed repeatedly as needed. But with so many different types of cotton fabric to choose from, it can be difficult making a final decision. Cotton’s versatility means there are countless different types of cotton clothes available – but what are the actual differences between the kinds of cotton, though? of cotton fabric so you can get clued up.

How Many Species Of Cotton Are There?

Actually, there are four types of cotton grown commercially worldwide:

  • Gossypium hirsutum – upland cotton, native to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean
  • Gossypium barbadense – known as extra-long staple cotton, native to tropical South America
  • Gossypium arboreum – tree cotton, native to India and Pakistan
  • Gossypium herbaceum – Levant cotton, native to southern Africa and the Arabian Peninsulas of cotton fabric so you can get clued up.

Gossypium Hirsutum

Most of the world’s cotton production, in fact, 90 percent of it, consists of gossypium hirsutum, commonly known as upland cotton. Upland cotton, relative to other species, is comprised of relatively short fibers. It’s widely used in a variety of consumer products where manufacturers are looking for quality and purity in an all-natural fiber. Upland, which makes up 95 percent of the cotton grown on US soil, is used in a number of nonwoven products in the feminine hygiene and baby care categories.

Gossypium Barbadense

While the second-most produced type of cotton, gossypium barbadense only comprises about eight percent of global cotton output. An extra-long-staple cotton, you’ll see this variety used in some of the finest fabrics in the world. Commonly known as pima, it’s very soft, quite strong, and it resists pilling, wrinkling, or fading. Pima cotton is native to tropical South America. Widely-copied, pima cotton is coveted for its apparel and bedding applications.

Gossypium Arboreum

Comprising less than two percent of global cotton production, gossypium arboreum is the species commonly known as tree cotton. This variant is local to India and Pakistan, and you’ll see it in wide use in societies that prize the fabric muslin. A plain weave, muslin is a gauzy fabric that offers immense breathability while maintaining its form over time. This durability can be attributed to the high tensile strength of the tree cotton fibers from which it’s made. Muslin is also used in cooking as a filter, as well as in the medical world as a gauze.

Gossypium Herbaceum

Also known as Levant cotton, gossypium herbaceum is native to southern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Also comprising less than two percent of the global market, Levant cotton is primarily spun into yarns to make a variety of fabrics. In addition to its use in clothing, societies in the developing world turn to this cotton, born from a perennial shrub, for a wide range of medicinal purposes, including the treatment of nausea, headaches, fevers, hemorrhages, and diarrhea.


With an established reputation of being the "best" cotton in the world, its softness, strength and superior characteristics, have positioned products made of Egyptian cotton as the world's finest. Egyptian cotton is hand picked which guarantees the highest levels of purity.

Cotton calico

It's known in the UK as an unfinished cotton fabric for making test garments. In the US, it's called muslin.

The label 'Pure cotton', especially in India, doesn't mean that the fabric is only made of cotton. Rather, it means that the amount of cotton that has been used in the fabric is pure. Your '100% cotton' fabric is a natural product only consisting of cellulosic fibers.

Pima cotton

Pima cotton is among the softest and most delicate kinds of cotton in the world because of its extra-large staple fiber that exceeds the size of average cotton fiber. Almost all luxury brands prefer to use this cotton to facilitate their spinning process and produce a fabric that is even and easy to dye.

Sea Island Cotton

The Sea Island Cotton is considered the most valuable (and expensive) cotton in the world.

Types Of Cotton Fabric

Now that you know about the different species of cotton, let's look in more detail about the different types of cotton fabric – there are quite a lot!

Cotton Lawn

Cotton lawn fabric is a thin, relatively sheer, high thread count cotton fabric which is made by using a tight weave, but with a finer thread. This is what creates the buttery smooth surface texture it is well-known for, making it perfect for clothes, blouses, skirts and other clothing pieces for the warmer months. So, if you are looking to sew a lightweight maxi dress, or a gorgeous summer blouse,cotton lawn may seem like a rather obvious choice for your dressmaking project. 

Cotton Jersey Fabric

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Known for its stretchiness and softness, cotton jersey fabric is a staple to make your favorite cotton tee-shirts. It’s a very low maintenance fabric which is incredibly soft and is made up of predominantly cotton with some elastane. One of the huge benefits of using jersey fabric is its versatility as it can be worked into most dressmaking projects - from breathable summer tops to base layers for the winter months - it can be used for almost anything. 

Cotton Poplin

This plain-weave cotton fabric is a light weight fabric which can be used to make a variety of clothing items that you can wear all year. It is often used in men’s shirts as it is soft and light weight and relatively crease free. It is also used in women’s dressmaking as well as sportswear and raincoats - so its popularity is hardly surprising. Cotton poplin is known for its distinctive ribbed texture and tightly closed weave, which makes it very lightweight but still retains its strength. Poplin has always been a staple fabric for its versatility, as it is a comfortable but stylish fabric for all manner of casual and formal wear. 


With a softer and thinner texture than denim, woven with a coloured yarn in the warp and a white yarn in the weft, chambray is a widely used fabric for all kinds of clothing. It is available in different colours, but is often light blue in colour, which is where it gets its similarity to denim. This makes it perfect for the summer months, as you can still get the look of denim in your clothing - from men’s and women’s shirting to lightweight dresses - but without being weighed down. Stylish, flattering, and quick to sew, chambray is the perfect material for any summer dressmaking project. 

Brushed Cotton

Brushed cotton is a combination of various fabric structures, creating a soft and smooth finish which is extremely comfortable on the skin without any itchiness. This fabric’s breathability helps to reduce sweat and is perfect for a variety of dressmaking, patchworking and quilting projects. It is a popular fabric choice for making kids’ winter pyjamas. Due to its exceptional insulation capabilities, brushed cotton is ideal to wear during changeable weather conditions throughout autumn, or just before the sun comes out in spring. It provides protection against wind chill, but it doesn’t make you feel overheated. 

Cotton Drill

This durable fabric is known for being a very dense, strong, medium to heavy weight fabric which is a popular choice for uniforms and work clothes. It’s very similar to the texture and diagonal weave of denim, but is usually dyed and has a smoother appearance, making it perfect for all sorts of garments - including tailored and casual designs. It is easy and comfortable to wear, and its use has become progressively more stylish and contemporary. 

Seersucker Fabric

If you are looking for a lightweight cotton fabric that never needs ironing, seersucker cotton is the perfect choice for you. It originated in India and is commonly used to make shirts, shorts and even suits best suited for warm weather, being both light, breathable and durable. As the uneven slightly puckered texture causes the fabric to sit away from the skin, it allows for air circulation, making it ideal for the warmer months - as well as activewear. 


A lightweight cloth with a long history; a cambric shirt is mentioned in the folk song ‘Scarborough Fair’. It’s also used for handkerchiefs and lace. Cambric was originally made of linen but nowadays you’ll find it in cotton as well.


A heavy, long-lasting fabric, often rough to the touch. It’s used to make things that will need to withstand the elements, such as tents, sails and rucksacks, but you might also find it in your favourite hat.


With its distinctive ridged pattern, it is often used to make trousers or jackets. You can run your finger across it and feel the cords.


The rough, sturdy twill weave that’s usually used for jeans. It’s interesting to take a close look inside blue jeans; you’ll usually find white stitches alternating with blue. This is because the warp threads are dyed blue, but the weft threads, which only appear on the inside of denim, are usually left white.


A soft, slightly fuzzy fabric with a bit of weight to it. It’s often used for casual shirts and cuddly pyjamas. As with many kinds of cotton fabric, flannel can also be made from other materials, such as wool.


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Very loosely woven and often sheer. Cotton gauze is often used to dress wounds, but it can also add stunning transparent accents to your clothes.


A light, smooth, finely woven fabric. It’s silky to the touch and great for colourful summer dresses.


A light, loose-woven, affordable cloth. If dressmaking has always been your dream, you might use muslin to make test versions of clothes before you break out the more expensive fabric.

Oxford Cloth

A textured fabric, opaque and wrinkle-resistant, which makes it very practical for shirts.


A strong, straightforward, versatile fabric with a bit of ribbing to it, as the weft is thicker than the warp. It’s got a slight sheen and it’s used for all sorts of clothes: shirts, trousers, coats, dresses and more.


A satiny feel and sheen. It’s weaved in the same way as satin, but it’s made of cotton rather than silk. It’s popular for bedsheets.

Terry Cloth

The fabric that’s used to make towels, bathrobes and face flannels, covered in tiny loops of thread. It’s an absorbent design that enhances the natural absorbency of cotton. It’s confusing that flannels aren’t made of flannel, but that’s the world we live in.


A very soft pile, and at first glance, its lustrous sheen is similar to velvet. Velvet is traditionally made of silk, though, so cotton velour is a lot more affordable. It’s used for both clothes and upholstery.

How To Care For Cotton

As a versatile fabric, cotton is relatively easy to look after. Here’s how to wash, dry, and iron your cotton:


Always check the care label to make sure your cotton item is machine washable! Each blend of cotton is different. To preserve bright or dark colours on cotton, try washing at a lower temperature. Using fabric conditioner alongside your laundry detergent will help keep your clothes like new. Simply add it to your fabric conditioner drawer when you do your wash, our fabric conditioner will be released during the washing cycle. It coats the fibres of your clothes and helps to keep them soft, smelling great, and able to retain their shape and colour. It also helps to keep them from bobbling and makes them easy to iron, and with less static. Ultimately, it helps to keep clothes in good condition, so you can enjoy your favourite items for longer!


Check the label for any special considerations, and dry naturally or at a cool temperature in the tumble dryer to avoid shrinking.


Use a fabric conditioner like Comfort to help preserve the softness of cotton as well as give it a great fragrance ready for ironing! Check the label and choose the corresponding ironing setting.


As you can see, cotton is a plant with near-limitless possibilities for a wide range of products. With upland cotton, we see the greatest production and application variety, with this type even used in the production of processed topsheets for nonwoven hygiene and baby care products. Whether it’s grown in the southern United States or southern Africa, cotton makes a difference in the quality of our lives worldwide, in our personal care, our clothing, bedding, upholstery, and much, much more.

This article by no means covers all the different types of cotton fabric available to you. Cotton’s a fantastically versatile plant, and it can be used to make all sorts of great clothes. If you start looking out for it, you’ll be amazed by how many things are made of cotton.

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