The fabrics for our dogis are not readily available on the market. They have never been produced in organic quality. A first piece of organic canvas for aikido pants was ordered in July 2014 from a Turkish weaving mill. We took the chance to assist the “coming out” of our canvas and visit the different production sites near Izmir.
We were so lucky to have the first piece of fabric produced for Misogi Dogi in early October 2014, just in time to enjoy the opulent white gold on the Aegean cotton fields. The timing also coincided with a conference of the international organic cotton community in Istanbul, where I got first-hand insights in the current situation and challenges of this still young organic cotton sector.
Enjoy this report!
TJR Part I – White Gold of Aydin
by Lucile Barras
My journey started in Izmir. While most of us will associate Izmir with beach holidays, the region is also famous for its textile industry. Turkey is one of the worldwide largest producers of organic cotton, together with India and China. Syria as well, before its crisis started.
The cotton used for our first piece of fabric was grown near Izmir – maybe exactly on the fields in the pics – a year earlier. This region offers optimal conditions for cotton: a lot of sun and a lot of water.
Aylan, whom I identified as the farmer’s son, kindly let me shoot pictures. Unfortunately, the language barrier reduced our communication to little more than smiles.
After the harvest, the cotton seeds are removed in the ginning process. During my visit, the cotton hadn’t been picked yet, thus the ginning factories were closed . Ginning is a winter activity.
Organic cotton is hand-picked.
On conventional farms, to lower the effort and cost, farmers sprinkle some highly toxic defoliant over the fields to force the cotton to ripen rapidly and blossom all at the same time, before the whole plant dies. Then, they pick the cotton all at once with huge machines.
On organic fields, cotton is grown without harmful chemicals. The plants are left intact allowing for natural ripening. In nature, cotton doesn’t ripen all at once. The ripe seeds are selectively and carefully picked by hand, resulting in higher fibre quality.
Organic cotton uses up to 90% less water than conventional one.
Conventional agriculture often heavily damage the soils, fostering erosion and leaching. The remaining soil cannot store water very well anymore and needs a lot of irrigation. Damaged soils is one of the challenges for farmers who want to convert to organic farming. But the conversion is worth the effort, because organic farming allows for the soil to regenerate and get healthy and alive again.
Our cotton yarn spinning mill, one of Turkey’s 350 mills, is located in midst of cotton fields. Nur and Sedat welcomed me very warmly and showed me around. On the way to the storage halls, we walked by a group of factory workers, men and women, enjoying their break outside the building, in the shadow of some trees.
Our cotton was bought at the Izmir Commodity Exchange. Two main regional products are negotiated there: cotton and raisins, often grown by the same farmers. Sellers and buyers meet every day from 12am to 1pm to negotiate the daily price face to face. The company that spun the yarn for the first piece of Misogi Dogi fabric is also specialised in trading both cotton and sultana raisins.
The ginned cotton is stored in large halls. Quality and origin is marked on each bale: the mill spins 20% organic cotton, 80% conventional. Half of it is regional cotton, the other half is imported from Egypt or California.
Egyptian and Californian cotton are famous for their long fibres and are used for the finest yarns. Aegean cotton contains medium fibres. The spinning mill I visited is specialised in very fine yarns.
After enjoying the serene and silent atmosphere of the cotton bales storage halls, I receive a pair of earplugs. We enter one large factory hall full of very noisy machines for the entire spinning process. Most of them are from Switzerland, just like me.
In the entrance, last things first, we discover something that looks like a huge peak of whipped cream. It turns out to be a pile of cotton dust collected in the spinning hall.
Long lines of ginned cotton lie directly on the clean floor, with a separate line for organic cotton.
In a first step, it will be cleant from plant residuals that were not removed in the ginning process in a sort of a large laundry machine. Three of these are reserved for organic cotton only.
stock of cotton bales
whipped cream? no. cotton dust
cotton ready to be cleaned
cotton laundry machines
laundry machines for organic cotton only
installing the roving machine
usterizing quality control
twisting two yarns to one
Nur, Sedat and Lucile
Then, the fibres are disentangled, aligned and combed (=carded) to form a large roll of cotton, then a thick sliver, then slightly twisted into a rowing and finally spinned into yarn. Cinderella beware: the factory building hosts 30’000 spindles, each of the 30 machines bundling a thousand.
But this is not the end. On the next machine, each yarn goes through a so-called usterizing machine to control the quality of every mm of yarn. Uster-what?? Oh, Uster is the name of a small Swiss town with a nice castle on a hill. The quality control mechanism was developed there.
Last, but not least, two or three yarns will be twisted into a single, stronger one. It is quite fascinating to watch the bobbins, furiously rotating, all aligned but seemingly independent from each other: one bobbin is nearly empty while its neighbour is reaching full size.
Is organic cotton spun differently than conventional one?
Well, not very much. The mill needs to carefully separate organic cotton from the conventional all through the process to avoid contamination or mixing up the qualities.
However, besides the cleaning stage and the choice of lubricants and additives to keep the machines running smoothly, the other processes are mainly mechanical and quite the same for both qualities.
Our yarn was sent to a weaving mill of Turkey’s major textile city Denizli. 65% of the local companies are part of the textile sector. Tourists stop there to shop for clothes on their way to the impressive landscape of Pamukkale, the cotton castle: A single hill covered in a white shell made of limestone. On top, thermal springs were used as a spa by the ancient greeks and romans who built a whole city up there.
Already in 1332, the traveler Ibn Batuta described: “the cotton cultivated here is of the finest quality and excellent fabrics are made here, with gold or silver embroidery.” Our weaving mill also has a long tradition, as a few ancient pictures in their meeting room state.
Today, the weaving mill is situated in an industrial area full of textile companies on the outskirts of Denizli. A few turkeys greeted me at the entrance of the peach colored company building. Gülcin, a very friendly sales director who speaks German and English as well as I do, showed me around.
Weaving basics: warp & weft
Basically, on a loom, a shuttle interweaves the weft (horizontal thread) into the warp (set of lengthwise threads). It takes at least one whole work day and several machines to arrange the threads on a warp and install the loom. Then, more or less 200m of fabric can be weaved by one loom per day.
From yarn to fabric
A first gigantic machine rolls the yarn from hundreds of bobbins onto one big warp beam. On the drawn-in machine, the warp is arranged to fit the fabric pattern. The warp beams queue in a line for the next step: a wax bath to avoid the threads breaking during the weaving process. Now, the warp is ready for weaving.
hundreds of bobbins
From hundreds of bobbins to one warp
preparing the warp
preparing the warp
waxing the yarn
waxing the yarn
queuing for next step
At the entrance, we were warned and equipped with earplugs: “Kulak koruyucunu kullan!” You’d better protect your ears! 72 looms, continuously weaving while sitting all together in one single hall, drown each other with their roaring staccato. The looms from Germany and Belgium weave 400.000m of fabric monthly, of which 10-20.000m a month are organic.
As we arrived in the weaving hall, two workers were just finalising the loom and together, we observed the very first centimeters of weaving. A historic moment for MISOGI DOGI!
A first piece was cut out to be controlled. Covered with starch, the fabric was still very stiff and unbleached.
I had been told that the weaving mills produce minimum quantities of fabric because their machines are huge. When I saw the looms, my first thought was: come on, they are not THAT big! It’s in the finishing mill that I found the giants…
As for spinning, weaving is also mainly a mechanical process. There is one key difference between organic and conventional weaving: to protect the threads from breaking and stabilize them during the weaving process, they are waxed. Instead of toxic wax, an environmental-friendly stabilizer such as corn or potato starch is used for organic fabrics.
As for spinning, the weaving process uses a lot of electric power. Currently, Turkish power is mainly generated from natural gas, coal and hydro-electricity. The government intends to establish some nuclear power capacity. MISOGI DOGI intends to rapidly grow and support the mills in installing renewable energy equipment. Didn’t I already mention in part I?: Turkey offers ideal conditions: a lot of sun and … a lot of wind!
I had hardly ever heard anything about finishing before I started developing MISOGI DOGI. This is surprising, since finishing is the paramount process in defining the quality of fabrics: for example, it’s because of the selected finishing process that your aikido uniform typically
shrinks by 10% and more during the first laundry and sometimes more over time;
is very stiff when freshly purchased;
is whiter than white.
In a finishing mill, freshly weaved fabrics are washed (to unwax), “grilled” (to burn away fluff), bleached and dyed, made water or fire proof, anti-static, wrinkle-free, softened and shrinked. The finishing makes it all! It’s a very subtle process where experience and expertise is key.
never ending finishing machine
organic fabrics - ready to be finished
finishing worksheet for organic fabric
finishing worksheet for organic fabric
team in front of conventional fabrics to be finished
testing the fabric quality
To make sure all my questions would be addressed properly, the director of the finishing department showed me around. Behind him and the sales ladies, you can see fabric rolls waiting to be finished. The organic fabrics are stored on a separate stack. To avoid any misunderstanding, the worksheets for organic fabrics are green while the ones for conventional are white.
Have you ever imagined a 30m long laundry machine? All the finishing machines are huge and look quite alike for an untrained eye. Can you imagine seven of them in one single hall? This was impressive! After seeing it, I understood why no weaving company would sell less than 500m of a fabric. 500m are already a very small quantity for the finishing giants, especially with regards to the special conditions required for organic fabrics:
Both conventional and organic fabrics are finished by the same machines. To avoid the organic fabrics to get in touch with toxic chemicals remaining from conventional treatment, the finishers have to clean all the machines with special care before processing a series of organic fabrics.
At the end, a controller scrutinizes each meter of fabric for errors. In a lab, tests are performed to check various quality aspects such as the fabric’s resistance to pilling and tearing. Then, the fabric is ready for shipping.
How are organic textiles finished?
Using large amounts of toxic chemicals, the finishing process counts amongst the most polluting industries. Together with the farming methods, this is where organic cotton can make a real difference in environmental terms: GOTS certified textiles are finished using only mechanical and thermic processes, natural additives and harmless chemicals.
Although organic fabrics are made with environmental friendly methods, their market share is so small yet that they are, in most cases, made by conventional mills alongside conventional fabrics. Thus, waste water treatment is an issue. Our finishing mill is situated in an industrial area with a common state-run sewage works, unfortunately out of the scope of my interlocutors. Questions remain for the future…
My day ended with a wonderful training with the Aikido Club of Denizli. What a pleasure to have such a global practice enabling us to find friends wherever we go!