Before I grew cotton this summer I had never seen it first hand. I live in southeast Kansas and I am told there are two cotton gins in the state. (Which is nothing compared to Alabama, Tennessee etc..) This is about as far north as you can grow it, from what I understand.
In each boll there are four of these that pull off and fluff up.
As you pull them apart you will find seeds inside. Each of the 'bumps' in the above holds a seed.
You have to pull each one out and separate the fibers.
It is a slow and relatively tedious process that took me a number of hours to do by hand.
Once I was done separating the seeds and fibers I chose to put them both into plastic bags to protect them from any pet hair, dirt etc... I was told to expect a Grey toned fiber, but instead it is a sort of creamy white.
In the left are the seeds that I will keep back for next year. On the right is all of the fiber packed into one bag. To see how much it is packed, consider that the previous image has only a very small amount outside of the bag. Think of purchased batting, once you start pulling it from the bag it's as if it is on steroids and expands up to 10 times in size.