There are lots of beautiful fabrics on Pinterest that grab attention from pinners. But do we know what are they actually? How are they produced? Let’s find out a lot more about these textile fibers.
The fibers used in the manufacture of cloth are of two different natures, vegetable and animal.
The vegetable fibers may be divided into three distinct classes:
1. The cotton, having soft, lint-like fibers, one-half to two inches in length, is obtained from the seed-pods, called “bolls.”
2. The fibers from flax, hemp and jute are flexible and of soft texture, ten to one hundred inches in length.
3. The hard or leaf fibers, including manila, sisal, istle and the New Zealand fibers, all having rather stiff woody fibers, one to ten feet long, are obtained from the leaf or the leaf stem.
The animal fibers are obtained from the wool bearing animals such as common sheep, Angora and Cashmere goats and the hair of the camel.
The silk fiber is obtained from the cocoon of a caterpillar.
Silk is the most beautiful of all fabrics. It is made from the fiber produced by the silk-worm which is a species of caterpillar. So perfectly does this little worm do its work that no spinning is required. This fiber, placed under a microscope, looks like a glass thread. It is the light playing along this smooth surface that gives to silk its beautiful luster.
Silk first came to Europe from China where the industry had been cultivated for many centuries. It is said this was begun by a woman, the wife of an Emperor, in the year 2600 B. C., and the culture of the mulberry, upon the leaves of which the silk-worm feeds and thrives, forty years later.
Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to introduce the cultivation of the silk industry into the United States. As the business requires a large amount of cheap labor for a short time during the year, it has not as yet been found profitable. Machines are of little use, except in reeling the silk.
The moth lays its eggs, about five hundred in number, in August or September, and they hatch the following May, just at the time the mulberry comes into leaf. These little caterpillars are hatched and fed in-doors, and they eat like hungry school-boys for a month or more, until they are about three inches long. At this period they sicken and cast their skins, after which they begin eating as eagerly as ever. In about a month, however, the worms stop eating altogether, crawl up on the twigs which are placed on large trays, and begin to spin their cocoons. There are two little openings in the head of the worm, from which comes two thread-like substances resembling glue, from which the silk is made. These stick close together and form a flat thread. The silk-worm by moving its head about, wraps this thread around its body, wrapping from the outside inward, until it has completely inclosed itself in this silken blanket. Then it goes to sleep. If left to itself it would in two or three weeks bore its way out of this silky covering and come forth a feeble white moth. But as the cutting of this hole in the cocoon injures the fibers, only just enough for the next year’s crop are allowed to come out. The rest are stifled in a hot oven.
After the outsides of the cocoons are removed they are placed in hot water which softens the gum that is in the silk so that it can be wound off on reels. The silk fiber is all in one piece, and about one thousand feet long. There is always a portion of the cocoon which is too tangled to be wound, and it is made into what is called spun silk. Spun silk is carded like wool. The removal of the natural gum, by boiling in strong soap suds, effects a considerable loss in weight, the cleansing process, however, causing it to take on very beautiful tints. This loss has led to the weighting of silk by mixing cheaper materials with it.
An artificial silk is made from the fiber of the ramie plant which grows in China and Malay. This is sometimes known as China silk. Mercerized cotton has also been treated so as to very successfully imitate silk.
Cotton is one of the most important vegetable fibers, distinguished from all other fibers by the peculiar twist it possesses which makes it especially adapted to spinning. It is cultivated between the twentieth and thirty-fifth parallels north of the equator. This is known as the cotton belt. Within this belt lie the cotton districts of the United States, Northern Mexico, Egypt, Northern Africa, Asia and India.
Although cotton is cultivated mainly for the fiber surrounding the seeds, its by-products, the seeds and stalks, are of great commercial importance, being manufactured into oil-meal, oil cakes, cottolene, etc. There are about fifty species of the cotton plant but only a few are cultivated, the best known and most commonly used being the “American Upland,” which is now cultivated in many parts of the world. The two varieties grown in the United States are the “Sea Island” and the “Upland.” The former is much more valuable because its fiber is longer. It is cultivated on the islands and low-lying coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The latter, while not so valuable, furnishes most of the crop and is grown over a wide area.
The plant grows from seven to ten feet high. The leaves are sprinkled with small black dots. The hollyhock-like flowers are white and yellow when they first open, but two days later they turn a dull red. Surrounding the flowers are three or four cup-shaped green leaves which together are called squares. These remain after the petals have dropped, to serve as a protection to the bolls.
Cotton thrives best in a rich, deep soil with a hot, steamy atmosphere. It should have plenty of moisture while growing and a dryer period during the ripening and gathering of the crop. The most of the cotton crop is planted by the twentieth of May. Six weeks after it begins blossoming the first bolls are ready for picking. This is done by hand, and as the bolls do not all ripen at the same time, it is necessary to go over the field many times, and the picking often lasts until the middle of December. The cotton is gathered into baskets hung from the shoulders of the pickers.
The Preparation of the Fiber
After the cotton is picked it is taken to the gin which separates the fiber from the seed. Until the cotton gin was invented in 1793, by a Connecticut teacher, then living in Georgia, the cultivation of cotton was not profitable, as one person could only clear the seeds from five or six pounds a day. This machine has revolving teeth which drag the cotton between parallel wires, leaving the seeds behind. With this machine a slave could clean about a thousand pounds in a day. This gave a wonderful impetus to the cotton industry, and its cultivation increased enormously.
After the seeds are removed the cotton is put up into bales weighing about five hundred pounds each, and is then ready for shipping. When these bales are received at the factory the cotton is so closely matted together that it must be broken up or loosened. This is done in the blending room where it is first run through heavily weighted and spiked rollers which pull the cotton apart. It is then blended or mixed to make it of uniform quality. After this it is taken to the carding room. Here the fibers are drawn parallel to one another and bits of leaves and unripe fibers removed, when it is put through the drawing frame, consisting of a pair of rollers. These parallel, untwisted fibers are now called “slivers.” From the drawing frame these “slivers” go to the slubbing machines where it is lightly twisted and wound on bobbins. This process is repeated on similar machines each one drawing the thread out and twisting it a little more, until it is finally ready for spinning.
Two systems of spinning are in use at the present time, ring spinning and self-acting mule spinning. The former is done mostly by women and children, and produces a hard, round irregular yarn. The latter machines, operated only by men and very strong women, are complicated, but produce an exceedingly soft and fine yarn.
The thread used for sewing and for the manufacture of lace is made by twisting several fine threads together. Sewing thread is usually composed of from six to nine threads spun separately and then twisted into one. Thread is sometimes passed very rapidly through a flame which burns off the fuzz making it very smooth.
Three operations are necessary in the manufacture of cloth; First, the separation of the warp threads on the loom, so that the shuttle containing the woof can pass through. Second, the movement of the shuttle, back and forth, among the warp threads. Third, the beating up the woof.
The fibers of flax are spun and woven into a fabric called linen. This is one of the most ancient industries known to man. Linen is often mentioned in the Bible and the ancient Egyptians wrapped their mummies in this fabric. It is said that the finest linen of the present day looks coarse beside that from the Egyptian looms in the days of the Pharaohs. The Hebrew and Egyptian priests wore garments made of this fine linen.
Flax grows from two to three feet high, and has a blue flower. A field of flax in blossom is very beautiful.
While it is grown extensively in many parts of Europe, Asia and America, the soil and climate of Ireland, France and the Netherlands are especially adapted to its growth, and it is in these countries that it reaches its greatest perfection.
The fiber of the bark is the part of the plant used in the manufacture of cloth. Linseed oil is expressed from the seed.
The Preparation of the Fiber
When the plant is ripe it is pulled up by the roots and beaten to loosen the seeds which are then shaken out. Next the stems are steeped in soft water and afterward allowed to ferment. They are then dried and passed between fluted rollers which breaks the woody part of the stems which are again beaten to remove this woody part from the fiber. The fiber is then made into bundles and sent to the mill to be spun, where it is first roughly sorted, the longest and best portions being separated from the short raveled ones. These inferior portions are called “tow.”
The treatment of the flax fiber for spinning is similar to that of the cotton, being drawn and twisted and drawn out again, repeating this process several times.
Coarse and heavy yarns are spun dry, but fine yarn must be spun wet. Some varieties of velvet and velveteen are made from linen. Much of the so-called linen cloth of the present day is mixed with cotton or jute. The principles of weaving are the same as that of the cotton.
For many centuries the weaving of linen was conducted as a household industry. The first attempt to manufacture it on a large scale was in England in 1253. It is now one of the national industries. Linen is bleached after it is woven. In the olden times it was spread upon the grass, or lawn, and the action of the sun, air and moisture whitened it, and for this reason it was called “lawn,” and it is still so designated. In the modern process of bleaching, the linen is first singed by being passed rapidly over hot cylinders which makes the cloth smooth. It is then boiled in lime water, washed and afterwards scoured in a solution of sulphuric acid, exposed to the air for a time and again scoured. Lastly, it is boiled in soda-lye water and dried over hot tin rollers. The gloss on linen is made by first mangling, then starching, and finally running it between heavy rollers.
Linen is chiefly manufactured in France, Belgium, Germany, England and the United States. France is noted for the finest kinds of lawn and cambric, while Ireland excels in the production of table linen. The largest portion of the sheeting and toweling is made in Scotland. The linen manufactures of the United States consist principally of toweling and twine.
Wool is the fleecy covering of sheep. It is distinguished by its waviness and the scaly covering of the fibers. The scales are more pointed and protrude more than those of hair. This gives it a tendency to mat or felt. The waviness of wool is due to the spiral structure of the fibers. Next to cotton, wool is the most extensively used of all the textile fibers.
The Romans developed a breed of sheep having wool of exceeding fineness, and later introduced their sheep into Spain. Here they were still further improved, and it was not many years until Spain led the world in the production of wool. The fine wooled Merino sheep originated here. Australia and the United States are also great wool-producing countries.
There are three classes of wool, classified according to the length, fineness and felting qualities:
1. The carding or clothing wool.
2. The combing or worsted wool.
3. The blanket or carpet wool.
Wool on different parts of the same animal varies greatly, that on the shoulders being the finest and most even. All unwashed wool contains a fatty or greasy matter called yolk or suint. This keeps the fiber from matting together and also protects the fleece from injury. The yolk must be removed before the wool is manufactured into cloth. When the fleece is cut from the body of the sheep it sticks together so that it can be spread out like the hide of an animal, and each fleece is tied in a separate bundle. A few years ago sheep shearing was done by hand. This was a busy time, especially on large ranches where thousands of sheep were to be sheared and it required a large crew to do the work. It is now accomplished with much less time, labor and expense by machinery.
Alpaca and Mohair are classed as wools, but the former is produced by the Alpaca goat and the latter by the Angora goat. Cashmere wool comes from the Cashmere goat, found in Thibet, and is very costly, as only the finest parts of the fleece are used. In the far eastern countries beautiful, costly fabrics are made from the long hair of the camel.
When wool comes to the factory in the raw state it must be scoured. This is done by passing it through machines containing strong soap suds, and afterwards rinsing it. After the wool is dry it is mixed or blended. Mixing is an operation of great importance and is done to make the wool of uniform quality. Portions of wool from different lots, qualities and colors are placed in alternate layers and blended. If it is desired to mix other materials with the wool, such as silk, cotton or shoddy, it is added at this time.
The wool is harsh to the touch after it has been scoured, owing to the removal of the yolk. To restore its natural softness it is slightly sprinkled with oil during the process of mixing.
Carding and Spinning
The process of carding produces a thread having fibers projecting loosely from the main thread in little ends which form the nap of the finished cloth. After it is carded it is wound on spools and is ready for the spinning. In spinning the threads are held together by their scales and the waviness of the fiber which prevents them from untwisting. Another valuable feature of wool is its elasticity, which makes it soft to the touch and this is retained in the manufactured goods.
There are two classes of woolen textiles, woolens and worsteds, depending upon the character of the fiber used, and the treatment to which it is subjected. The shorter varieties of wool are used in woolens, while the long fibers are combed out and used for the worsteds. In making woolen yarns the wool is simply carded and very loosely spun, but in making worsted thread the wool is combed out and hard twisted. Owing to the nap of the woolen goods the weaving is scarcely visible, but in the manufacture of worsteds the weave is evident and a great variety of designs is possible.
A variety of effects can also be produced by the character of the finish. Among the principal varieties are:
1. The dress face finish, such as broadcloth and beaver.
2. The velvet finish.
3. The Scotch or Melton finish.
4. The bare face finish, which has the nap completely sheared off.
While the finish may differ, the general treatment of the cloth is practically the same. The first step is called pulling, when the cloth is soaked in hot water and pulled by a pulling machine. It is soaked, pulled and beaten until it is only half its original length and breadth. It is then rinsed and stretched on a frame where it will dry without a wrinkle. At this time the nap is raised by beating the cloth with the spike head of the teasel plant or its substitute. The pile or nap is then trimmed so as to present a uniform surface, when it is wound tightly around a huge drum and immersed in hot water. Finally it is pressed in a hydraulic press, during which time steam is forced through it. This is to give solidity and smoothness to the cloth and also to add luster to the finished fabric.
Now, you know a lot more about textile fibers and fabrics than an average user on Pinterest.