August 2011
Billie Silvey
When I was a child, my grandfather owned a dry
goods store in
Tulia, the county seat of Swisher
County, just 15 miles from the tiny town where I grew
up.  The store was located on the north side of the
Court House Square, across the street from the
county jail.

It was essentially two stores in one--long, dark,
narrow buildings with glass display windows in front.

One side was the men’s side, with
Levi’s and
Stetson hats in the front and shoes and boots behind
the counter in the back.

The other side, down one step from the men’s,
was the women’s side, with lingerie and hosiery
and a few racks of ready-to-wear.  But the bulk of
that side was given over to bolts of fabric—mostly
cotton—in all colors and patterns—together with the
pattern books, thread, zippers, buttons and other
notions turn that fabric into garments.

Like most high school girls at the time, I took
economics classes.  It wasn't that I was planning to be
a homemaker.  I was planning to be a journalist.  It
was just that that was the assumption.  A girl would
grow up and marry and have her own home and
family to care for.

Every year, we studied cooking, sewing and child
care.  I remember when a friend and I planned and
cooked a dinner party for our parents.  I also
remember planning a birthday party for the son of
some friends of ours.

But mostly I remember the sewing--the frustration of
putting together two right sleeves, trying to take out
stitches without snagging the fabric, pulling threads to
make gathers for a skirt and having them break at the
last minute and losing all that work.

I also have some good memories—of garments that
came out well, work that I was proud of.  All of them
were made of cotton.

Cotton is versatile and can be used to make a number
of different textile products from terrycloth to denim to
seersucker.  It can be used to make towels and
bedsheets as well as shirts and T-shirts.  Even the
dress I was married in was cotton.

It is also used for fishnets, coffee filters, tents and
paper.  The seeds of the cotton plant are pressed to
produce cottonseed oil.  The remaining meal is
pressed into cottonseed cake.  We used to feed it to
our cattle.

Even after we moved to Los Angeles, after we had
started our family, I made a few pieces of clothing for
Kathy before she reached the age when she wanted
to shop for what she wore.

I still use cotton balls to remove makeup and apply
medicine, dry with cotton towels and sleep between
cotton sheets.
The Fabric of
My Life
King Cotton
'The Other'