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 Read Tom's account of the process at New Lanark in the 20th century.

CLICK TO ENLARGE:Tom's account of working at New Lanark










Annie says ...
Annie says ...


The Cotton Journey

Cotton arrived at the Mill in large bales. It would leave in a very different form. Natural fibres like cotton and wool are spun before they can be woven into cloth. The spinning mill, like New Lanark would spin the cotton into fine yarn or thread. This involved many different processes.


When the cotton arrived at a mill like New Lanark, the cotton bales were opened and mixed. Several bales were opened at the same time and blended together. This meant that any variations between the natural fibres of the cotton bale is minimised. The cotton blended was of a more uniform quality.

When the raw cotton was mixed it was stiff and still contained dirt, seeds and leaves. These had to be removed from the soft cotton fibres. Cleaning was done by willowing and scutching. These were similar processes done in different ways by different machines.

A willowing machine had a revolving drum, that used air to separate the fine cotton wool from the waste. Cottons of very fine quality weren't passed through a willow. In the early days, they were beaten by hand using twigs! Coarser cotton varieties  were batted by a scutching or blowing machine. This type of machine beat the cotton with blades. The cotton then moved through the machine on spiked cylinders that rotated quickly. The waste fell through the wire beneath.

Once clean, a lapping machine squeezed the cleaned cotton between rollers to form a flattened sheet called a lap. The lap would come out the front of the machine. It was now ready to put on a carding machine.

Carding paddles for hand combing before machinesNext, the sheets of cotton needed to be made into long lengths of cotton called slivers. This process was called carding. Carding was originally done by hand using brushes [or cards] that had stiff wires instead of bristles. The carding machine did the same thing on large spiky rollers.The lap was fed into one end of the machine. The drum turned and combed the cotton fibres straight so they ran parallel in the same direction. The long fleece slivers come out in a continuous length and are stored in tin cylinders. Fine cotton is carded twice. The machine's job was to produce an even length that could then be spun. 

After carding, the cotton slivers need to be stretched, thinned and made more solid. This was done by drawing and roving. The cylinders containing the cotton slivers were fed into a draw frame. The draw frame pulls the slivers between rollers. Several slivers [3-6] were run together and drawn into one thicker, even tube with a loose twist in it. Each roller pulls the cotton through faster than the one before it. This stretches the cotton and makes it thinner and thinner. The slivers can be passed through the machine up to 3 times!

Finally, these larger tubes were twisted by a roving machine to strengthen it. Each machine could have from 30-120 spindles on it! The cotton was finally wound onto bobbins. At last it is ready for spinning!

Spinning turns cotton slivers into yarn. Yarn is the name given to the thin lengths of cotton thread used in the weaving process. Yarns of different thickness are used to make cloth of different qualities. There is a working spinning mule still at work at New Lanark today.

A Spinning Mule spun finer, stronger thread than other spinning machines like the Water Frame and the Spinning Jenny. It was called a Mule because it was a cross between these two other machines! Some mills used other machines to spin thicker yarns. Spinning on a Water Frame for example was often called throstle spinning.

Wooden bobbin or pirnThe machine moved back and forward pulling, stretching and twisting the cotton into thin threads called yarn. There are 392 spindles on the machine at New Lanark today, so 392 lengths of thread are spun at the same time! The finest yarn was the thinnest. It was also the most expensive as it took longer to make. Once the required thickness of yarn was spun, it was wound by the machine onto a pirn or bobbin. These became known as cops when they were full or yarn. The pirns had to be replaced with empty ones regularly. This was a doffer's job and was normally done by children.

In 1813 there were over 30,000 spindles at work in New Lanark Mills. They spun 24 tonnes of cotton every week.

New Lanark Cotton Export LabelThe next part of the process was preparing the thread for weaving or packaging the thread to be sent to customers. This wasn't done without checking the quality very carefully of course! Other workers were involved in doing these finishing tasks like winders (tending machines that wound the yarn).

This is an export label that was attached to packages of yarn sent to Russia from New Lanark.  New Lanark cotton was sent all over the world.

Sequencing Activity                  Watch the cotton journey in film...




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