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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Textile Fibers
Historical Sketch Of The Textiles
Mechanical Devices For Preparation Of Textiles
Cotton Production
Cotton Marketing
Cotton Manufacturing
Geography Of The Cotton Trade
Prices Of Cotton Goods
Classes Of Wool
Production Of Wool
Wool Marketing
Manufacture Of Wool
Geography Of Wool Production
Mohair, Its Nature And Uses
Raw Silk Porduction
Silk Manufacturing
Silk Waste
Imitations Of Silk
Construction, Color, And Finish Of Cloth
Dyeing And Printing
Cloth Finishing
Care Of Textiles
Textile Tests

The Textile Fibers

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The demand for clothing.-Food, clothing, fuel, and shelter are four primary needs of the human being. With respect to the importance placed upon clothing there is much difference among the various races. It has been estimated that there are about 1,500,000,000 people living at the present time. Of this number about one third are fully clothed, according to our civilized standards; one half are partly clothed; and the remainder, or about 250,000,000 people, are almost entirely without clothing. Among civilized people clothing occupies a position close to food in importance; custom and fashion have even caused us to rate clothing above mere actual physical needs and comfort.

To supply the articles of clothing of civilized life many objects from all parts of the world are drawn upon, including the common textiles, leather, rubber, fur, feathers, bark, paper, grasses, and so on. But in quantity used and in commercial value the most important are the textiles. In entering upon the study of textiles, then, we take up a subject of the greatest practical importance, one that merits more careful attention than has yet been given to it by either tradesmen or consumers.

The textiles.-The textiles comprise all materials that are spun into threads, cords, or yarns, and then woven or knit into cloth. There are many such substances. They are almost invariably of fibrous or hair-like structure however; hence the raw materials are generally spoken of as textile fibers. `

The textile fibers of industrial and commercial importance are naturally classified according to their origin as vegetable, animal, and mineral.

Vegetable.-The more commonly used vegetable fibers include cotton, flax or linen, jute, hemp, manila hemp, ramie and China grass, sisal, pineapple fiber, New Zealand flax, coir, Cuba bast, paper mulberry, Tampico fiber, palmetto fiber, straw of wheat, rye, barley, or rice, split palm leaves, osier willow splints, rushes, wood pulp, paper, grasses, seaweed, barks, moss, cotton wool, cotton silk, vegetable silk, and several others.

Animal.-The animal fibers comprise sheep's wool, goat's wool or hair, mohair from angora goats, cashmere from Thibet goats, alpaca from llamas, vicuna, hair of rabbits, beaver, cat, dog, horse, cow and camel, mulberry silk, and the wild silks.

Mineral.-The mineral fibers include gold and silver threads, tinsel, spun glass, slag wool, and asbestos.

The common vegetable fibers.-The vegetable fibers of greatest importance in textile manufacture are cotton, flax or linen, ramie, jute, and hemp. The ease with which cotton fiber can be transformed into yarn and its suitability for all forms of woven, knit, and lace fabrics, together with its cheapness of production, have caused it to take the leading place among textiles, until its production now about equals that of all other fibers put together. A little over a hundred years ago, flax was the most important textile in civilized lands; today it ranks fourth. Cotton, wool, and jute lead by large amounts.

Ramie.-Ramie and China grass (similar in quality and usually considered to be the same, but really two different plants) are fibers of unusual serviceability. They possess great strength, luster, and the appearance that fits them admirably for dress goods, table linens, linings, fish lines, upholstering, and in fact for whatever purposes linens are used. Ramie has entered commerce through English manufactures in hosiery, knit goods, and to a certain extent in the manufacture of incandescent gas mantles. Recently, fabrics known as ramie linen have sprung into great popularity. Very fine yarns can be made from the fiber, although most of it is made up into coarse fabrics at present. In England and Germany, ramie is used rather extensively in the manufacture of union silk goods.

The chief drawback to ramie is the cost and difficulty of its production. No cheap or easy process has as yet been established for separating the fibers from the woody stems of the plants. At present the fibers are separated by hand, and although labor in the countries where ramie grows is cheap, the process is still too laborious and expensive. When mechanical devices shall have been perfected to do this work, we may look forward to a big development in ramie as a clothing textile.

Jute.-Jute is one of the cheapest fibers of all. Most of the world's supply comes from Bengal, India, and there its production is increasing rapidly. Its chief use is in the making of gunny sacking (especially used for covering cotton bales), burlaps, cordage, and matting. Some of the finer qualities are used in making shirtings and coat linings, and it is often mixed with wool, cotton, and flax in making the cheapest clothing materials and curtains. It is also mixed with silk in making cheap satins, velvets, and plushes.

It should be stated in passing that burlap may be made of jute, flax, hemp, or manila. The name burlap is a general one that is used for several kinds of coarse textile materials such as those used for merchandise wrapping, for upholstering, and for floor coverings; the finer grades are often used for wall decorative purposes.

The jute plant has a tall slender stalk something like that of hemp. The fiber comes from the inner bark. It is easy to remove and to spin into coarse yarns. It is not, however, a very strong fiber and does not bleach readily like most other textiles. Furthermore, when exposed to dampness, it soon begins to rot. Were it not for this, jute would be used much more than it is for ropes and for other coarse textile purposes.

Hemp.-Hemp is the fiber used chiefly in the manufacture of rope and cordage. Like that of jute, the fiber comes from just inside the outer bark of its plant. This plant grows to a height of six to ten feet with stems up to an inch thick. The fiber is stronger than jute and stands the effects of water better than any other textile fiber; hence it makes a splendid rope material for use outdoors or in water. There are many varieties of hemp plants, and there is considerable difference in the quality of the fiber produced. Russia produces more hemp fiber than all other countries combined, but Italy produces the finest quality. In this country, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, and California lead in its production. Wisconsin produces a small but increasing amount each year, and the soil and other conditions of the state promise considerable increase in its production. The process of extracting the fiber is similar to that used in treating flax, as described in detail in the chapter on flax and linen.

Sisal.-Sisal or henequen is a fiber valuable for rope and cordage, and comes from the agave, a plant growing in Mexico and Yucatan. The century plant, which is known to many, belongs to the agave family, and is similar to sisal. The fibers come from the large, fleshy leaves and are easy to remove. Sisal is used extensively in the manufacture of binding twine in this country. It makes a strong rope, but salt water destroys it rapidly; hence it is not used in ocean shipping.

Miscellaneous fibers.-Tampico fiber, sometimes called istle, is another hemp product used in making coarse cordage, brushes, and baskets.

Manila hemp is the strongest rope fiber in common use. It comes from the stem of a plant or tree belonging to the banana family, and is not a true hemp at all. The fibers, the longest in commercial use, are used in making rope, cordage, and the best grades of binding twine. A small amount of the finest fibers are made up by the natives of the Philippines into a cloth called "abaca." Practically all manila hemp comes from the Philippine Islands.

New Zealand flax, obtained from a plant belonging to the lily family, produces another good rope fiber, as do also the Mauritius hemp, bowstring hemp, pandanus, yucca, and aloe.

Pineapple fiber, obtained from pineapple leaves, is frequently used in the making of coarse cloths and cordage in China, South America, and certain parts of Mexico. The finer fibers are used by the native races in making a beautiful cloth of silk-like texture which they call "pina."

Coir is the fiber obtained from the outer husk of the cocoanut. The coir fiber runs in length up to ten inches and is of varying thickness and strength. The coarsest and stiffest is used in making brushes, the longest in making rope and cocoa matting, and the short curly fiber is used for packing material and upholstery stuffing. Coir rope is of value because it is not affected by salt water. It is not so strong as manila rope.

Cuba bast is sometimes used for wrapping cigarettes and far packing cigars.

The paper mulberry of Japan is put to the ordinary uses of paper.

Straw finds an important place in the manufacture of straw hats, matting, and, in certain countries, as for example China, in the making of shoes and sandals.

The grasses, particularly the swamp wire grasses, have come to have a very important commercial place in the production of grass rugs suited for dwellings and porches. They are especially adapted for summer uses. Grass rugs are neat, cleanly, and cool in appearance. No floor covering has so great future trade possibilities as grass rugs. A considerable amount of this class of goods is made in Wisconsin at Oshkosh, Superior, and Racine.

Vegetable silks.-The cotton and vegetable silks are obtained from about fifteen varieties of plants and trees which yield fibers, generally attached to the seeds, as seed hairs. The largest group, including at least nine varieties, comprises the so-called "cotton trees" or Bombax cottons. These grow in Central America, Brazil, South Asia, the West Indies, India, Java, and certain parts of Africa. The fibers are known commercially in Europe as "kapok" and are worth from nine to sixteen cents a pound. Kapok is used chiefly in the manufacture of mattresses and pillows, and in upholstering. According to trade reports it has recently been spun and woven into cloth with excellent success.

Another group, the asclepias cottons, also growing in the tropics, produces seed hairs or fibers that have a very high silk-like luster, but these are so brittle as to be of little use in any textile that must stand wear.

The cotton silk tree of India, growing to a height of seventy to eighty feet, produces a seed hair fiber of most beautiful luster, but like that of the asclepias cottons, it is too brittle and weak to be of great use.

Wood pulp finds its place in the textiles principally in the production of certain kinds of artificial silk. It will be discussed in considerable detail under that subject.

Textile use of the animal fibers.-Hair, the natural covering of animals, has from time immemorial been used in the textiles. Certain kinds, such as the wool from sheep and from goats, have special properties or adaptability for spinning and weaving; others, such as rabbit hair or fur, cannot be spun, but can be used as felt. Wool finds its principal uses in five different branches of manufacture: worsteds, woolens, carpets, felts, hosiery, and knit goods. Silk, a product of the larvae of several species of moths, is also classed among the animal fibers. Since both wool and silk will receive full attention in later chapters, they need not be discussed further here.

Gold and silver.-The mineral fibers have the least importance in the field of textiles. Gold and silver threads are used to a limited extent in fancy and costly fabrics, embroideries, and laces, and tinsel in cheaper decorative materials. To supplant the solid metallic filaments, which are difficult to handle and expensive to make, linen or other threads are covered with gilt or silver, and they serve the purpose as well as the solid metallic threads. In times past, say from 1500 to 1750, gold and silver were used much more than they are at present. Gold and silver laces, embroideries, braids, and cloths of gold and of silver were common among the nobility and very wealthy people. So much money was spent for this finery that laws were occasionally passed by different nations forbidding extravagant use of such goods, especially among those not of noble or royal blood. In those days men outglittered the women in gaudy colors, feathers, laces, and embroideries. Not until within the last hundred years have women come to outdo men in such matters of dress and style. Recently metallic textile fibers have been made by dipping cotton or jute threads into a chemical mixture which impregnates them with just enough of a given metal to give the thread a true, fine, metallic sheen. This product is used chiefly in embroideries, and dress-trimming novelties.

Spun glass.-Spun glass or glass cloth is another rather important mineral textile. Common glass is heated until it is as liquid as thick syrup. It is then drawn out into fine threads and, before being cooled entirely, is woven into fabric and given its proper shape. While melted, it may easily be colored and the finished product may be made very beautiful. But its usefulness as a fabric is confined to service where little or no bending is required, since the glass when cooled becomes as brittle as ever, and therefore breaks easily. It has a limited use for ornamental and decorative objects. Spun glass cloth is likewise used as a filter for strong acids which would destroy ordinary filter fabrics or papers. By different kinds of manipulation glass fibers can be made either straight like linen threads or curly like wool.

Slag wool.-Slag wool is produced from molten slag just out of the iron blast furnaces. This liquid slag, a waste product of the furnace, is turned into a closed chamber where strong currents of steam are forced into it, blowing it into fine particles which take fibrous or stringy shapes. These fall to the bottom of the chamber and are cooled in water. The resultant substance looks something like coarse wool. It is used chiefly as packing material.

Asbestos.-Asbestos is the most important mineral used in textile manufacture. It is found as a rock in various parts of the world, especially in northern Italy, northern Spain, and in Quebec, Canada. Most of the American supply comes from Quebec. This rock does not crumble under pressure, but comes to pieces in fine fibers of considerable length, flexible, and sometimes a little wavy. These fibers can be spun into yarn and made into fabric, or they can be pressed into a sort of felt-like cloth. The color of natural asbestos varies from pure white to gray, green, or rusty. It is difficult to dye artificially. The most noteworthy quality about asbestos is that it will not burn; hence asbestos fabrics are usually made up into goods where that quality is desired, such as fireproof theater curtains and scenery, aprons, gloves, packing for steam joints and cylinders, lamp wicks, and lighting rings for oil stoves. The short straight fibers are rather hard to spin. In the manufacture of asbestos yarn, therefore, asbestos is frequently mixed with cotton to give the yarn strength. Later the cotton is removed by burning it out of the fabric, leaving the asbestos uninjured. Asbestos is also a very poor conductor of heat; hence it is frequently used in making table mats for hot dishes, packing for steam pipes and other heating apparatus to prevent the escape of heat where it is not wanted, and packing material for fireless cookers. In a large plant in the East the experiment of sending steam through an asbestos-covered pipe a mile long was tried. The boilers delivered 375 horse power of steam at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. At the end of the pipe the steam had lost only 10 horse power out of the 375-a striking proof of the remarkable non-conductivity of asbestos when properly applied.

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