Five-year-old Tobin Woodard is a happy, healthy South Carolina farm kid which is a miracle and an answer to prayers in every way.
What’s so miraculous about young Tobin, you may ask? Well, it turns out that when Tobin was just three months old in December 2015, he was rushed to Prisma Health Children’s Hospital in Columbia where he was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, an often deadly disease that affects the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord and the membranes protecting the central nervous system.
This was certainly stressful for Tobin’s parents, Ty and Tracy Woodard, who farm in Darlington, S.C. But then during his hospital stay, on the day before Christmas Eve, Tobin began to have seizures which prompted an MRI that showed Tobin needed immediate brain surgery to relieve the fluid pressure on his brain and treat the infection.
The surgery was a success, a true answer to prayers, but little Tobin still had to spend another 21 days in the hospital to recover. The worry was that Tobin might experience development delays or permanent hearing or vision loss.
Still another miracle had begun at the start of their hospital stay, when one of Tobin’s nurses in the pediatric intensive care unit brought a blanket to the family that she had purchased herself. This kind gesture touched the family deeply and the blanket helped comfort Tobin and the rest of the Woodard family for the rest of his hospital stay. Tobin has a twin sister Tyson and an older brother, Tate, age eight.
Miracles do happen
Finally, after 35 days, Tobin went home to Darlington in January 2016. Today, nearly five years later, Tobin is healthy in every way, as if the frightening disease and risky surgery had never even happened. “He is a miracle. He is just as healthy as he can be. He has no long-term effects. It’s an absolute miracle,” mom Tracy says.
And it was Tobin’s miraculous recovery and that simple blanket given to the family by Tobin’s caring nurse that served as the epiphany for the establishment of Covered in Cotton, a business launched by Ty and Tracy, to make cotton baby blankets, throws and hand towels from the cotton the family grows on their South Carolina farm.
As Tracy tells it, in December 2017, two years after Tobin’s hospital stay, she awoke from a dream with a vision to create Covered in Cotton. What’s interesting is Tracy, a native of Lexington, S.C., didn’t have a background in textiles; she is a 2008 Clemson graduate with a degree in Graphic Communications. Husband Ty is a 2007 Biology graduate from Clemson, where the couple met.
“I woke up and knew we were supposed to make blankets or throws with our own cotton, what it was supposed to be called and what the logo would even look like,” says Tracy.
She had the vision and determination to make it happen. Importantly, she had the full backing of husband Ty, as well as Ty’s parents, Frankie and Connie Woodard and Ty’s brother, Wes and his wife Amanda, who are also partners in the Woodard’s 4,000-acre farming operation.
Business grows tremendously
By November 2018, Covered in Cotton was launched. The business has grown tremendously since then and a year ago, Tracy began devoting full time to the business, in addition to raising her three children. Prior to starting Covered in Cotton, Tracy was in full-time ministry at their church.
Driving much of the growth was an article in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Garden & Gun magazine, where Covered in Cotton was highlighted as the top overall winner in the publication’s Tenth Annual Made in the South Awards. “Things really took off with us after we appeared in Garden & Gun,” Tracy says.
What helped the business begin and succeed is there are still a number of textile companies within 150 miles of the Woodard’s farm that all jumped in to help. “The textile industry is a lot like agriculture. It’s a really tight knit community. People were willing to jump on board with what we are doing,” Tracy says.
The Woodards earmark a percentage of their best cotton each year to Covered in Cotton. Ty estimates less than five percent of the cotton they produce is used for the baby blankets, throws and hand towels they make.
After the crop is harvested and ginned at S.P. Coker Cotton Gin in Hartsville, it goes to Hill Spinning in Thomasville, N.C., where the cotton is ring spun into yarn. Shuford Mills in Hickory, S.C., piles it and then Weavetec, Inc. in Blacksburg produces the throws on Jacquard looms and the baby blanket and hand towel fabric on dobby looms. They are then sent to Craig industries in Lamar, where the baby blankets and hand towels are cut and sewn, and all the products receive Covered in Cotton labels.
Ground broken for new warehouse
From there, Tracy and one part-time employee package and ship the products to buyers from an old hardware store in Darlington. The business is growing so much that ground has been broken on a new warehouse and office for Covered in Cotton, adjacent to the Woodard’s farm office. The new warehouse and facility is expected to be completed by early 2021.
Their main marketing channel is their website, coverdincotton.com.
“We’ve shipped to all but three states; we’re only missing Alaska, Hawaii and New Mexico. We’ve shipped to four different countries. Our hope is that someone will come to our website and read about our farm, about our story, about our cause, and why we do what we do. The internet allows us such a broader reach and we have people all over the country who reach out to us who have never seen a field of cotton, but yet we are able to share that story,” Tracy says.
Tracy notes that their weaver, Harold Pennington, Jr. at Weavetec in Blacksburg, has been a great help ever since Covered in Cotton was launched. Pennington is a Clemson graduate just like Ty and Tracy, and Tracy says he is gifted in helping turn Tracy’s ideas into finished products.
“I would show him some samples or pictures of blankets I liked, and he would work with me to make the designs work for our cotton. We have a great working relationship,” Tracy says.
Of course, one pressing question is just what cotton variety is used for the baby blankets, hand towels and throws. Ty and Tracy say it all depends on the year, and what variety performs best each year.
“Over the different production runs we’ve had, we used different varieties. The vast majority has been Deltapine 1646. From a quality standpoint, it has stood out for us. I’m going through that bale data and selecting those bales with my ginner. And we say ‘let’s pull these bales out. Deltapine 1646 has continued to be at the top,” Ty says.
The family has also used NexGen cotton and other varieties as well. “We have real strict quality specs we are trying to reach, just to make sure everything is kosher with the spinner. The ring spun process requires the highest quality,” Ty says.
The Woodards have a heart to share not only their cotton, but also the hope and blessing they experienced through Tobin’s story of miraculous healing. Covered in Cotton donates one throw to a local children’s hospital for every 10 sold. They call it “Cotton With A Cause” with the hope that a simple cotton throw will bring comfort to another family in need.
Both Ty and Tracy are committed to growing Covered in Cotton. They say their passion for the business and the cause is unwavering.
“Our goal is to build Covered in Cotton as a brand that is synonymous with American made, American agriculture, and American cotton,” Tracy says. “We want to share the story that U.S cotton is the best in the world and connect to a cause. We’d love long-term to connect with other farmers, such as a pima cotton farmer in California or another Upland cotton farmer in North Carolina, to create different products and tell some of their stories too and connect it with causes.”
Tracy urges folks to go to their website, coveredincotton.com, to learn more about their story and view their line of cotton baby blankets, hand towels and throws.