Cultivating Cotton Conscientiously

Eli Whitney Museum

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Vacation Program

  • Wednesday, April 16, 2014
  • 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
  • Designed for ages 9 to 12

Cotton is an ancient fiber. Eli Whitney demonstrated that machines could reduce labor in the steps from field to your wardrobe. But the cotton gin was one small step in a succession of inventions that has taken far too long. Bayard Winthrop is a unique master of that tradition. His company American Giant has organized reasonable resources – growing, spinning, weaving and sewing – first rate machines and people – to produce sportswear without compromises.

Consider the sewing machine. It sews fabric with speed, precision and endurance in a mind-bogglingly complex art. Construct a simple wooden sewing machine model to appreciate its mechanical genius. Understand the processes involved in making the thread used to sew fabrics into products. Separate cotton from seeds (think of Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin?), card the cotton lint, spin the combed fibers into thread that can then be used to sew. Perhaps try it on your own sewing machine you've just built.

Then experiment with our modern sewing machines to discover just how clever the technology has become. Sew a sampler.

With special thanks to Nancy Bartels whose toy sewing machine donation inspired this project.

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