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Clothing Fabrics - Linens

( Originally Published 1924 )

“In purple and fine linen
My country farm house shines;
The purple on the lilacs,
The linen on the lines.”

To those who love immaculateness, no fabric has a greater appeal than linen. It is crisp, cool, and fine-looking. One who wears linen breathes an atmosphere of calmness and efficiency.

The first industry of the textile trade was in linen. It existed as early as twenty-six hundred years before Christ. Linen is manufactured from flax, an annual plant which grows almost the world over; but for commercial purposes it is cultivated in only very few countries, principally Belgium, Ire-land, Scotland, Austria, France, and Russia. Altho Ireland is the center of the linen manufacturing industry, it can not compare with Belgium in the quality or the amount of its product. Linen grows from a small plant which has pink or bright blue flowers—"Blue were her eyes as the fairy flax.

It grows in fields, like wheat, but is not cut like that grain; it is pulled up by the roots, a handful at a time, so as not to break the long fibers.

No flax equals in beauty and fineness that which is retted in the river Lys in Belgium. Retting is a process of rotting to remove wood and to release the fiber of the flax. After the flax is pulled it is tied in bundles and sunk in water (in the river Lys in Belgium, or in the stagnant pools of Ireland). In Russia, the country which produces the greatest quantity of the plant but whose quality is rather coarse and inferior, it is left on the fields after being pulled, to be retted by the falling dew and the dampness from the ground. Chemicals may be used for retting, but there is a possibility of their harming the fiber.

The fibers after retting and cleaning are hackled. This process is that of combing the fiber with combs of progressively finer teeth, by hand or by machinery, so that it is put in regular order for spinning.

Always, as with reefed silk, long, unbroken filaments are desired. The fibers of the flax used for the finest fabrics can be separated into delicate threads which are freed as much as possible from the waste and tow which are worked and used in the making of coarse cloths. The spinning of flax into a continuous thread costs four times as much as does the spinning of cotton.

Weaving of linen is quite as simple as the weaving of cotton, except for the making of damasks which requires elaborate looms such as the machine perfected by Jacquard for the manufacturing of silk brocades.

Before the linen product is completed, it has to go through processes of bleaching, dressing, pressing, and beetling. These ordeals serve to bring out its beauty. Bleaching was formerly done by spreading the wet cloth on the grass, and repeatedly wetting it when it became dry; such a method is called crofting. The process of bleaching is now hastened by the use of chemicals, but often at the expense of the linen's strength, for if the bath in the chemical fluid is too long, the linen is seriously injured. The finest Irish linen is woven from half-bleached yarn which requires from six to twelve months of crofting to bleach white. We can see why chemical bleaching is employed, since delay is thereby eliminated, as well as the necessity of having broad expanses of grass which are essential to crofting. A trip through Ireland reveals fields white with bleaching linen. A combining of the process of chemical bleaching and of crofting lessens the injury to the fabric.

Linens are graded according to the amount of bleaching done, quarter, half, three-quarters, and full bleach. The less bleaching done, the stronger is the linen, but consumers are usually willing to sacrifice durability to appearance and purchase the full-bleached fabrics.

When linen is very stiff and creases easily it con-tains a dressing, a starchy substance which is pressed into the fabric. After the fabric is washed and the dressing removed, the linen proves to be open in weave and rather sleazy. It will lack durability. The starch can be detected if the finger-nail is pressed against a heavily dressed cloth, for the sizing will come off in flakes. Bluing is added when the linen is washed, to increase the appearance of snowy whiteness. Pieces of the fabric are run through heavy rollers to give an artificial gloss which soon disappears when the fabric is laundered. Beside pressing or calendering there is a process called beetling in which many hammers on a revolving cylinder polish the linen and bring out its luster.

The fineness of linens varies. Linen thread can be spun into the very finest filament whose strength even then is notable; filmy "thread" lace or gossamer cloth woven from it have been kept for centuries. Linen cloth which has been buried in Egyptian tombs for thousands of years have endured laundering.

With the charm of -sheerness, linen combines a luster almost as high as that of silk, a suppleness and an absorbent quality. For handkerchiefs and underclothing, there is nothing daintier than fine linen, especially when it is decorated with the finest hand embroidery and real lace.

Because linen crushes easily and does not take dyes readily, its colors are not fast. For these reasons, colored linens are not so pleasing in dresses as some of the attractive cotton fabrics. But white or cream linen is satisfactory, and there are some weaves called non-crushable linens which remain fresh longer than others. One finds linens, both light and heavy in quality, in white, green, orange, copenhagen, orchid, brown, peach, and other colors with all-over embroidery in white or black.

All who purchase linen should be able to judge its quality. They should know that the best linen has no dressing or very little sizing. This can be tested by rubbing the fabric in the hands. The round-thread, which is soft, made with round twisted yarn, is better than the flat-thread linen. The number of threads per inch is important from the standpoint of economy. This number may be approximately determined by putting the fabric under a small microscope, called a "linen tester." A thread from linen material will be hard to break, and the ends will be uneven.

The safest method is to buy linen at a reliable house where the clerk will tell the truth about merchandise. The consumer should remember that a higher price must be asked for a good quality of any fabric than for an inferior grade.

Tests for Linen and Cotton

Microscopic Test: First boil out all dressing from the fabric. Put the fabric under a strong microscope. Linen has a longer fiber and a greater sheen. Abrupt changes in the thickness of the fiber will be found owing to the hackling. Cotton fiber is short, the yarn is dull, soft looking, and evenly spun, unless it has been prepared to look like linen.

Cochineal Test : Heat a fringed sample in cochineal tincture for fifteen minutes. ' Remove and rinse in a strong solution of sodium chlorid. Linen turns dull red. Cotton changes very little.

Oil Test: Immerse a fringed sample, with dressing removed, in olive oil or glycerin. After squeezing out the excess oil, place against a dark back-ground. Linen becomes transparent, while cotton remains white.

Tearing Test : When tearing linen, the sound will he shrill. Cotton of a similar weight will be duller in sound.

Ink Test : Ink dropped on linen passes quickly into the surrounding fibers. With cotton, it lies on top of the) fabric.

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