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Clothing Fabrics - Cotton

( Originally Published 1924 )



The United States produces about three-fourths of all the cotton in the world. Egypt is somewhat of a rival in this industry, but her product is used largely in hosiery, underwear, and the other fancy knit goods.

The Cotton Plant

The hollyhock, which occasionally we find in old-fashioned gardens, and the marshmallow, whose pink blossoms grow among the sand wastes of the New Jersey coast, belong to the same plant family as cotton. Cotton, however, thrives only in warm climates, where she adds to her attractiveness the quality of being "financially independent."

The flower of the cotton is at first a pale yellow, turning into pink, and finally into a deep red. After the blossom falls a tiny fruit, called a boll, appears in which the packed seeds are surrounded by the cotton fiber. This boll bursts open when ripe, al-lowing the cotton to be easily picked.

The best cotton grows on islands off the coast of Georgia and Florida, from which it quite logically takes the name of Sea Island cotton. The fiber of Sea Island cotton is about three inches in length, while that which grows in the Uplands of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama is from three-fourths to seven-eighths of one inch; that of the Gulf sections of Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia is seven-eighths to one and three-eighths inches in length. Texas cotton fiber ranges in length from one and one-eighth to one and three-eighths inches, and Mississippi bottom cotton is one and one-half inches in length.

Sea Island cotton is to-day considered the aristocrat, and is therefore chosen for the manufacture of the highest grades of cotton cloth, not only in the United States but in other countries as well.

It is interesting to note here that the seeds of the long Egyptian cotton, which is next to the Sea Island cotton in length and quality of fiber, have been planted in the reclaimed, formerly arid, sections of Arizona and California, and their successful growth is prophesied.

This brave little plant has many enemies, how-ever, and one perhaps most to be feared is the boll-weevil. This insect, which is about a quarter of an inch long, punctures the boll and lays its eggs there-in. The larvć grow and feed on the interior sub-stance of the bolls. The insect, a native of Mexico and South America, crossed the Rio Grande in 1893, and has since spread northward until it seriously threatens the entire cotton industry. Cotton fabrics would be much cheaper if there were no insect enemies. Scientists are diligently seeking a prevention of the annual destruction occasioned by this insect pest.

There has never been a successful machine for picking cotton, so of necessity it is picked by hand. Since the migration northward of the negroes, who were accustomed to do this work, it has become difficult to get the crops harvested at all, and the price of such labor has thereby greatly increased.

Before the invention of Eli Whitney in 1793, the seeds had to be separated from the cotton fiber by hand. But the machine invented by Mr. Whitney, called a gin, can do as much work as several hundred people.

Cotton Weaving

After the seeds are taken out the cotton is packed into bales by powerful presses. These bales weigh about five hundred pounds. When they arrive at the spinning mill the bales are opened and the raw cotton is passed through the blowing-room, where a machine, known as an opener, tears and cleans it in preparation for spinning. When the cotton comes out of the opener, it is rolled by a cylinder press into long sheets of snowy white fibers. The sheets are then passed through a machine called a scrutcher, so called because "to scrutch" means to beat or roll out. Card comes from an Anglo-Saxon word which means to cleave or divide. From the scrutcher the cotton goes to the carding machine, from which it comes out as a sliver, a long rope or strand. Several slivers are put together and pass through a drawing machine which makes all the strands uniform in thickness and the fibers parallel. The strands of cotton, carded in huge cylinders after drawing, are wound on bobbins through a process called slabbing. The bobbins, of which there may be thousands, are wound with the strands of cotton fiber and are then arranged on machines, called speeders, which begin to twist the fibers into yarns.

There still remain processes of bleaching, dyeing, weaving, and the final finishing through which the cotton must pass before it is ready to go into the consumer's hands.

Dyeing in the yarn is more satisfactory than dyeing in the piece. Gingham, chambray, madras, kindergarten cloth, seersucker, and some crępes are woven from dyed yarns.

There are different kinds of weaving. The simplest is the tabby weave—the straight underand-over process found in such materials as muslin, voile, Panama cloth, and brilliantine. Variations of the tabby weave are found in the basket and rib or cord weaves, in which groups of two or more filling yarns cross one, two, or more warp yarns. In weaving these fabrics it is impossible not to leave space between the threads. Because of this, the plain weaves are well adapted for summer dresses and underwear.

The diagonal is a twill weave which always forms a diagonal line across the fabric, as in serge, whip-cord, gabardine, denim, and foulard. The satin weave is derived from the twill weave, and if examined closely the diagonal may be distinguished. This weave makes the firmest and most durable fabric.

Sometimes the tabby and twilled weave are combined, the Jacquard loom making many novelty effects possible.

The finish often changes the appearance of materials which seem much alike when they come from the looms, such as cambric, nainsook, and muslin. Lining materials may be given a gloss by pressing in mucilage or gum. Fabrics, such as mull, may be softened by oil. Clay may be used to give a solid appearance, as in cretonnes. Dressing with hard pressure may give the sheen of silk, as may the burning off of surface fluff, Non-inflammability and a waterproof quality may be given by chemical processes. By removing wax, oil, and mineral salts, cotton may be made to take on the absorbent quality of linen. By calendering, or a squeezing of twill cotton cloth between tight rollers after glycerine dressing has been applied, sateen is produced. This finish is not permanent, however. Caustic soda printed in narrow strips on cotton causes a shrinkage which gives the effect of seer-sucker. If the whole surface of the fabric is covered with caustic soda and shrinkage prevented, the cotton takes on the silk-like appearance of mercerization. Calendering enhances the effect. If the process of beetling and hammering is added, an almost permanent gloss is attained.

Lisle, which is often mistaken for silk, is made of combed long staple cotton closely twisted and subjected to a removal of fuzz by gasing.

Cotton Tests

The sizing of cheap, loosely woven cotton cloth with starch, gum, glue, china, clay, or marble dust gives firmness, body, and luster to the fabric. All of these qualities will disappear in rubbing or washing. The strength and wearing qualities of cotton are often decreased by injurious chemicals used in sizing.

Since cotton fabrics do not take dyes well and the best dyes are not always used any way, fastness of color can not be depended upon. Samples of the material to be tested should be mounted on a smooth surface, with one-half of the sample covered and then exposed to strong sunlight and weather for a couple of weeks. To test the endurance of color in a wash fabric, the sample should be washed, ironed, and then exposed to sunlight. Comparisons of exposed samples with those which have been kept away from the light will show whether or not the colors are fast.

A test to determine whether fabrics are dyed in the yarn or in the piece is made by fraying the cloth both the warp and the weft way. If dyed in the yarn the threads will be of solid color, if dyed in the piece the color will be irregular. Much duplicate printing on both sides of the material is done which deceives the casual observer into believing that the material is woven from dyed yarn.

Cotton absorbs water slowly and gives it up slowly. For this reason cotton is not as satisfactory as other textiles for underwear, altho the fact that it can be kept sanitary by boiling is in its favor. However, because of the protruding short ends of fibers and because of its oil and wax, cotton collects dirt. Cotton will absorb three times as much dirt as linen; twice the number of bacteria is collected from the skin with cotton cloth as compared with linen of similar weave construction. Mercerized cotton has many of the properties of linen.

Possibilities with Cotton

Let us now consider some of the delightful possibilities of cotton. The spring display of fabrics is always like a living rainbow. Chiffon-voiles, soft in texture and as sheer as a spider's web, are made forty-five inches in width in a wide range of plain colors, including lovely pastel tints. This fabric has the effect of soft Georgette. For the afternoon dresses of women and for dainty best frocks for children, there is nothing more attractive on a summer's day. From the dainty flower tints, lingerie is made. Then, too, there are figured voiles, all in one color in varying tones, or those where the designs are in contrasting colors. Lace-striped drop-stitch, the very thinnest of voiles makes charming afternoon frocks.

Swisses, which are not as suitable for the matron as for the maid, are white with white dots or embroidered designs, white with colored dots or de-signs, or one color in back-ground and design. They come in a large range of color, such as bottle green, shrimp pink, buttercup yellow, tobacco brown—both colors and designs are multitudinous. Another of these play-time fabrics is chenille brocade which resembles the velvet fabric. We find many other captivating cotton fabrics A few are marquisette, challis, organdie, mull, net, and lace. There are many varieties of crępe : waffle crępe, which has puffy squares in raised work on sheer ground; plaided crępes in light, bright colors with a white cord; overplaid and other plaided crępes of quite different effects are like woolen fabrics in dark colors with black crayon-like plaids and are suitable for street and sports wear. Printed crępes in silk mixtures make frocks for formal occasions.

Ratine, in a tweed-like weave, shows big shadowy plaids on a gray or tan background which, with striped and plain, are highly favored for sports clothes and all-day dresses.

So the most intricate weaves of silk and woolen fabrics are reproduced in cotton. These materials are quite a contrast to the lawns of olden days ; and the price, which may be several dollars a yard, is quite overwhelming when compared with the prices of other days.

Cotton shirtings, such as English broadcloth, ratine, and Japanese Crępe, conform to the smart plainness of morning frocks, just as do some of the longer known materials, such as percale, madras, gingham, and Indian head. For children's play-clothes, drilling, seersucker, galatea, kindergarten, are most sturdy. Because cotton shrinks in laundering, it is well to wash it before making it up. Cotton materials for underclothing include nainsook, cambric, crępe, batiste, dimity, and longcloth and satinette which, tho light in weight, does not cling and creep. If one must consider economy more than softness and beauty, she will buy long-cloth or cambric for every-day underwear rather than the thinner, sheerer fabrics, like batiste or nainsook, which cost more and do not wear as long.



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