Cotton also was known as "vegetable wool," arising from the Vegetable Lamb myth that grew up in the Middle Ages among Europeans. They mistook the unfamiliar cotton they encountered in travels to the Middle and Far East for familiar wool and thought the bolls were lambs attached to the plant at their navels. Cotton was originally grown in several colors, including brown, rust and even light purple. Mexicans in the 16th century used brown cotton as currency. "Cotton" comes from the Arabic word "qutun" or "kutun," a term for fancy fabric. The word "denim" comes from "serge de Nimes," a fabric made in the French town of Nimes more than 400 years ago from silk and wool. "Jean" was the French name for a blended cotton-linen or cotton-wool cloth popular with the sailors of Genoa (called "genes" by the French).
Illustration courtesy Jimmy Ferry