Friday, October 22, 2010


The Wall Street Journal reports that prices for raw cotton lately hit a 140-year high. During the last three months the price of our luxury good has risen over 50%.

A pound recently sold in the futures market for about $1.20, which doesn't seem that much, except that $1.198 is the highest price recorded since record-keeping began in 1870.

Memphis Cotton Brokers

Why is cotton so high in 2010? Supply and demand. Droughts that have ruined harvests in China and increasing demand from up-and-coming consumer societies nudge the prices up.

I doubt that comparing the price in 2010 and 1870 is good economics (or good reporting) since there doesn't seem to be adjustment for inflation in comparing prices. $1.70 in 1870 was a chunk of change.

But the important number is that the raw material increased 50% in cost in a few months...you can see where we are going.

This photo is actually captioned:
 "Picking cotton is one of the most easily learned occupations for women..."
Like the other period photos here it's from the collection of the Library of Congress.


I hate to inspire wide-spread panic or hoarding---but isn't that the duty of us bloggers? Don't quit your dayjobs yet. You might need some extra pocket money.


  1. Love your vintage photo's, but what I don't understand is that consumption of cotton made goods in the US & Europe are wayyyyy down, so even with all the widespread droughts, too much rain or anything else Mother Nature throws at the farmers, the price should NOT increase that much. Think about cotton goods other than just the fabric that we purchase, furniture, rugs, kitchen accessories, boat accessories, even what is used in Hospitals and Drs. offices is way down, so I will have to think about this one.

  2. This blog: http://footnotesfromhistory.blogspot.com/

    recently had an entry comparing prices in 1886 with prices today. The blogger references
    this website:

    It was at the top of my mind, so I thought I'd pass the info along.

  3. YIKES...I need to get a day job it looks like because I am NOT quitting my habit. Maybe I better start hoarding!!

  4. I love this is an easy learned occupation for women. The most painful too. Talk about a back ache and bloody fingers.!

  5. Wow! I wonder how high price-per-yard will go. Still worth it, every cent.

  6. I just got a flash of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara: "We'll plant more cotton. Cotton ought to go sky high next year." Do you think I could grow it in my garden? LOL!

  7. Well this is why we have a stash, big grin.
    Here in Australia we still pay $ 24 per meter even so the US $ and the AUs $ is nearly even.


  8. I am a hoarder and that is why, lol.
    I have my stash of wool and fabrics, so if the time comes when I can't afford it, I can still create until the prices come down;)


  9. I also had the same thoughts of the photo of two ladies picking cotton as an easily learned trade for women. Hard bloody work, I doubt if those ladies picked for very long in those clothes (talk about a planned photo).

    I read your blog regularly and appreciate all of the information you post, thank you.

  10. OK! This does it for me ... cutting up my husband's cotton shirts - NOW! lolol
    Quilting is not an inexpensive hobby these days. Remember, you are paying for every square inch of fabric you buy. A 36" x 45" yard has 1620 sq inches! Save ALL scraps that even look like they might come in handy. Been throwing really odd small scraps into a plstic box. These are destined to be pieces in a Pickle Dish quilt. Besides, scraps give such a great mix of colors etc.

    Julie in TN

  11. The last cotton broker in Augusta Georgia closed his doors this summer. Farmers were dealing directly with exporters so his business was steadily declining. Interesting that the farmers locally say there is little money to be made on cotton...perhaps less is being grown now?

  12. My now deceased grandfather was an agricultural farmer who planted cotton, soybeans and rice split pretty evenly for around 40 years. My mom now plants anything but cotton. Cotton is very expensive to grow and like Yankee Quilter said, the price a farmer gets is not enough to grow it. This farm is in Southeastern USA, in the Mississippi Valley region.

  13. I have made a lot of scrap quilts over the years and intend to keep on doing that - I have boxes of scraps. It looks like we might need to be searching for good sales in the upcoming years and save fabric from things like shirts ect like our grandma's did!
    Very interesting blog.

  14. Food for thought indeed! Oh, I love the caption under the elderly lady's photo. You made my day with that one.


  15. As the wife of a cotton farmer I must rebut. Do you have any idea how much the price of fertilizer has risen in the last 20 years? How about petroleum to run our tractors, high boys and pickers? Did you know Cotton has to be defoliated prior to being picked since no one is willing to hand pick in in this country? Also we must use irrigation and insecticides to keep our crop from being eaten or droughted. So do not complain about a .05 cent increase in these days of high inflation.

  16. This is interesting....dear hubby and I were having a similar discussion just this morning when he called me at the house while he was in the field harvesting cotton....yes, the prices are higher this year....BUT, there's always a balance...since prices are high...others will plant MORE acres this next year...soooo there will be an abundance and the price will come back down....yes, growing cotton is pricey...the price of a bag of seeds to plant is what has skyrocketed.
    We have no complaints...farming cotton has been very good to us...my dear hubby is so diligent with managing our acres!!
    But here is another 'angle' to this discussion....my opinion these last couple of years as to the rising prices on yardage is perhaps in large to the fact that fabric is so 'designer labeled' and quilting is becoming so fashionable nowadays and the main target is 'women'...you know items sold targeted toward women is ALWAYS higher...just my humble opinion!

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  18. uhmm..read about all this in my history book ..the uk cotton stuff and al...and how they entered india for getting that ...STEALING THAT actually :P well apart from all this UK is a great country and will be the BEST forever..ahan im writing all this cause im sick of my history book ;)