( Originally Published 1931 )
NEXT to foodstuffs, textiles have the highest frequency on the shopper's list. From sheer-silk hose and delicate handkerchiefs to heavy brocades and rough homespuns extends the broad domain of fabrics. To clothe herself and her family, to make the beds and set the dining table, and to provide the proper hangings and upholstery, the shopper must know her way about this domain.
"It will all come out in the wash" is a bit of philosophy based on common experience with the problem of finding one's way about. The trouble with this attitude is that when disappointments rather than fabrics come out in the wash, it is too late to do anything about it. I have in mind a series of photographs taken of things after their first visit to the laundry. One looks like a picture of a discarded fishnet; it is really the residue of a tablecloth which the shopper had bought as linen and which the laundryman found to be largely paper. Another photograph was of a man's negligee shirt. It raised the question as to whether the owner's right arm had known what his left arm was doing; for this latter sleeve was frayed into a few cords from which the cuff hung crazily. It was a cotton shirt with rayon stripes, and investigation proved that the shirt manufacturer had made this sleeve from a bolt of inferior material which had practically disintegrated in the wash. Still another photograph was of a blanket, which was all right except for one badly puckered section. The trouble here was that the manufacturer had used one bobbin of yarn of a grade different from the rest, and this yarn had shrunk.
To complicate the situation, the modern housewife has delegated to others not only the manufacture of the fabrics she uses but also their cleaning. When textiles which she has chosen without full knowledge as to their material and workmanship return from the cleaning which she has not directly supervised, it is difficult for her to know whether to blame the manufacturer or the laundryman. Generally it is the vogue to blame the laundry. If the washing is done at home, one decries the stupidity of the modern servant; if it is sent to a commercial laundry, one blames the gears and cogwheels. Meanwhile the fault may very well be in the fabric itself. In this connection it should be emphasized that the modern washerwoman really ought to be a practical chemist and know the peculiar properties of the various animal, vegetable, and synthetic fibers and dyes which are common in present day textiles; for the average weekly wash of a modern family may well contain cotton, wool, silk, linen, and rayon, each with its special laundering problem.
THE BASE OF FABRICS
Even to list with the briefest possible descriptions the many fabrics already on the market would require the best part of a book. If this were done and the book published today, there would be no assurance that to-morrow would not bring the announcement of some new textile with a name which might or might not give some clue to its general nature. In a day and generation which lays so much stress on the latest novelty, the shopper will want to know about it. She cannot turn to any book for an unbiased description of it, but she can train herself so that, with a little re-search, she can make any fabric confess its true story.
On the one hand there is no limit to the variety of textiles which can be produced through combinations of fibers and modifications of weave. On the other hand there is no fabric which can escape being some combination of fiber, yarn, weave, finishing, and dye. Each cloth can be reduced to these first principles, and if the shopper knows these principles she can read the story of any fabric just as surely as if it were in print. Let us consider them in the above order.
Until comparatively recently all textiles were made from natural fibers of either the animal or the vegetable kingdom. The most common of the textiles from the animal kingdom are silk, wool, goat's hair, and camel's hair; and from the vegetable kingdom, cotton, flax, and rhea or ramie.
There have now been added to this double list two artificial products of vegetable matter. The more important of the two is rayon, which has already out-stripped the annual production of natural silk. Invented and first developed in Europe as artificial silk, rayon is in reality the result of special chemical and mechanical treatment of either wood pulp or cotton linters (the small cotton fibers which stick to the seeds after cotton has been ginned). The only reason that the products classed as rayon are so commonly associated with silk is that they possess an even higher luster than natural silk. Refinements in the production of rayon have made it an important factor in the textile business and it has already established itself firmly in several lines of the trade.
The other artificial product which has crept into the textile business is our old friend, paper. We have already seen that, properly treated, paper has small but useful niches in such fields as porch furniture and floor coverings; but when it comes to fabrics any friendship for paper ceases. Used as filling, paper yarn may be treated in such a way as to give a fine appearance and it is therefore used by some unscrupulous manufacturers of shirtings and table linens; but once it gets into the washtub, it becomes just so much mush.
Tensile strength in a fabric is a matter of the greatest importance to durability and is therefore used here as the best basis for comparing the various textile fibers. It depends very largely on length of fiber. The best grade of natural silk comes off with the highest honors in the strength test, and we get this order:
Silk: An animal product made from the fine filaments spun by the silkworm. It is prized for its luster and for its "feel." It is expensive. It is attacked by light and by high temperatures; but it loses little, if any, strength when wet. Silk can absorb moisture up to 30 per cent of its weight without feeling wet. Its elasticity makes it particularly adaptable for knitted wear. It is susceptible to the chemical reactions of perspiration, and for this reason immediate rinsing after use of silk underwear and stockings will greatly prolong their life.
Ramie or Rhea : A vegetable fiber grown in Egypt and the Orient and becoming an increasingly import-ant basis for textiles. It is practically as strong as silk and is lustrous, but has not the elasticity of silk. It is frequently combined with wool and because of its strength and luster is sometimes used in place of silk. It is recognized as the best substitute for flax and shares with cotton superiority in laundering qualities. Another point in its favor is its resistance to mildew.
Flax: A vegetable fiber which is the basis of linen. It makes a fabric which is stronger and more lustrous and pliable than cotton but less elastic. Also, it is less subject to damage from sunlight. Because water evaporates more rapidly from linen than from cotton, linen makes for cooler garments. Because of the smoothness of its fiber, germs will not collect as readily. It is there-fore more sanitary than cotton. It is stronger wet than it is when dry.
Cotton: A vegetable fiber which has become the staple fabric for its many good qualities rather than for any one excellent property. It is cheap and fairly strong. It takes dyes well and it launders well. By treatment with caustic soda under tension, it becomes mercerized; and in this state it has added luster and strength. Treated with nitric acid, it may be made to look like wool; treated with fibroin it acquires a silky luster. It is stronger wet than dry.
There are wide divergences in cotton standards due both to source and to condition at time of picking. For years the Sea Island cotton, grown off the Carolina coast, held the highest place in the market; recently the ravages of the boll weevil have caused its practical disappearance and now Egyptian cotton is the best obtainable. The available supply is used either in producing mercerized cotton or for such special purposes as making the cords for automobile tires. The American product is graded into Gulf, Texas, and Upland; but much depends on weather conditions during the growing season, and a drought in, say, the Gulf region will produce a fiber which is inferior to the Texas or even the Upland grade grown under better weather conditions. Also, the state of the cotton at the time of picking determines the excellence of the yarn and of the fabrics which can be made from it. Good cotton fiber when examined under a microscope will look like a twisted ribbon. If the cotton is picked before it is ripe the fiber will be flat and will not twist well into the thread or yarn that is made from it; if the cotton is dead when picked, the fiber will be tender and brittle. In either of these two cases the yarn spun from such fiber will be weak and its presence in the finished textile may often be spotted by the undue number of knots made in the cloth when the yarn snaps during the process of weaving.
Peruvian Cotton: This is an important product, but it does not figure in the regular cotton textile market because practically all of the crop is used with wool in making merino yarns, as the crinkly woollike fiber of this cotton lends itself particularly well to this combination.
Rayon : This is the artificial product which has al-ready been successfully added to the natural textile fibers and which gives every indication of being developed into an even finer product. It is more lustrous than silk and a great deal cheaper. On the other hand it is a coarser fiber than silk, has less strength, and may lose up to 65 per cent of its strength when wet. Also some types of it will deteriorate more rapidly if subjected to too great heat. For these reasons much care must be exercised in washing and ironing rayon fabrics if damage is to be avoided. In its early development rayon was highly inflammable, but improvements have been made and it is now about on a par with cotton as to inflammability.
Wool: An animal fiber which is one of the oldest and most important staples in the textile industry. Its most valuable property is its warmth; its greatest weakness is that it shrinks easily. Wool is worked into fabrics either as woolen yarn, which is composed of short fibers that have only been carded and are not parallel, or as the better worsted yarn, which is composed of long fibers that have been combed until they are parallel. Either of these yarns and the fabrics made from them will shrink easily. Felted wool is also produced for certain purposes by a special process combining heat, moisture, pressure, and an alkali soap; this product will not shrink as readily as the yarn products for the good reason that considerable shrink-age takes place during the process of felting.
There is also on the market an unshrinkable or chlored wool which is likewise the product of a special process. It loses weight, tensile strength, and elasticity, but gains a greater affinity for dyestuffs. It is frequently used in making "unshrinkable" underwear; the trouble here is either that the fabric does shrink, or that the process is carried too far and the fabric does not wear.
Because it is comparatively expensive, wool is some-times imitated in cheaper fibers. We have seen that cotton can be treated with nitric acid to look like wool, and the Germans are developing an artificial substitute. Real wool gives off a distinctive animal odor when wet, and, if burned, smells like burning hair.
Shoddy: Here is a product which is often much maligned. It is simply reworked worsted or wool fiber and its value is proportional to the length of its fibers. Textile manufacturers and merchants often make a point of advertising their fabrics as "virgin wool" but a good grade of long-staple shoddy is really superior to the poorer grades of the so-called virgin wool of short fiber.
Goat's Hair : Wool is of course a product of sheep, but the hair of certain goats can be made into fabrics which are valuable for certain purposes and which may even be more highly prized than wool. Among these are mohair, a long, strong, lustrous fiber from Angora goats; alpaca, from Peruvian goats; vicuna, also from a type of South American goat, a softer and finer fiber than alpaca and highly prized, and cashmere, an extremely soft, straight fiber from the goats of Tibet. Camel's hair, likewise, has become popular because of its softness and the beauty of its color; and it is practical because of the strength of the fiber.
Yarns or threads are the form in which the fibers are prepared for weaving. The chief factors in deter-mining the strength and wearing qualities of the various yarns are:
Length of Fiber : The longer the fiber, the stronger the yarn; hence the preëminence of silk, because the filaments spun by the worm are seemingly endless.
Arrangement of Fibers: The more nearly parallel the fibers are before being spun into yarn, the more firmly will they bind with each other and the stronger the resulting yarn will be. For this reason fibers are either carded or combed in preparation for spinning. Combing is the more thorough process.
Twisting of Fibers : This is the process whereby the independent fibers are assembled to form a single strand or yarn. The greater the twist the stronger the product. In the textile trade the twist is the number of twists in each inch of yarn. In the coarsest woolen yarns this count or "twist" may be as low as one or two per inch, and in the finest silk threads it runs up to 200. The higher the twist, the harder and glossier the texture, and, in the absence of excessive weighting, the stronger the material.
Twisting of Yarns: (ply yarn). Although most yarns are used in the single strands in which they are spun, two or more strands are twisted, on some occasions, to form a heavier yarn or cable. This produces the ply yarn, which is stronger than the same number of yarns would be if simply arranged in parallel. However, a ply yarn composed of strands of different fibers (for instance, cotton and wool or silk and wool or silk and rayon) may not wear well because of the damage caused by the internal friction between fibers of unequal strength and elasticity.
The shopper can easily determine how the yarn in any fabric measures up under the above headings by unraveling an inch or two from the textile or from a sample and seeing for herself the length, arrangement and twist of the fibers. The twist can be accurately counted with the aid of a counting glass (which is obtainable in most places where optical goods are sold), but she will probably content herself with a general idea of the degree to which the twisting has been carried. Ply yarns are, of course, easily distinguishable.
A good test of the strength of a yarn is to subject it to a steady pull and then to snap it.
Just as important as good fiber and yarn are the type and workmanship of the weave. To be strong, a fabric, like a great suspension bridge, must be designed to distribute its load evenly.
This design has its most perfect form in the plain weave in which both warp and weft are woven from the same yarn at an even tension. Here the weft, or filling, yarn is shuttled back and forth, under and over alternate warp strands which have been stretched on the weaving frame at the same tension as controls the filling. As the shuttle moves at right angles to the warp, the interlacement is complete and the number of strands to the inch warpwise is the same as that weftwise. If the yarn is of a good fiber, well twisted, the result is the toughest fabric possible.
But strength and durability are often sacrificed to get beauty or novelty of texture through changes in the weave. In some cases the filling thread is allowed to jump several of the warp strands before it is inter-laced. This practice is called floating, and the result is a satin finish. By modifying the interlacement, floating affects the strength of the fabrics; furthermore, the floats create a surface which is easily caught or torn. Other types of weave are created by crossing the warp strands on the diagonal; by varying the number of threads per inch (i.e., the count) between warp and filling; by varying the tension between warp and filling so that the fabric will automatically pucker when released from the frame; by producing ribbed effects through the use of a ply yarn one way of the cloth and of a single yarn the other way, etc., etc. Still other effects are produced by combining various types of fiber; as for example by crossing a woolen warp with a silk filling or by weaving rayon stripes into a cotton body.
There is no limit to the variety of effects which can be produced by varying the mechanical methods of weaving and the physical properties of the yarns. Some of the results are particularly effective in texture and have become standardized as satin, moiré, piqué, muslin, serge, etc. Other combinations may be worked out and popularized at any time and new names coined for them. Under such circumstances the only recourse the shopper has is to examine any fabric which interests her and analyze the degree to which it departs from the plain weave of a single fiber. Thus she can determine for herself whether the fabric has retained in its structure sufficient strength and durability to perform the service which she expects of it. She will know, for instance, that a cloth combining yarns of wool and cotton will not wash well because it will shrink unevenly, and that a fabric into which stripes of a weaker yarn have been woven can be no stronger than that yarn.
One thing for which the shopper should be eternally watchful is the embossing of cloth to make it appear what it is not. Recently a friend of the writer's bought a coat at one of the smartest Fifth Avenue shops. She was delighted with her purchase because she thought she had a moiré coat of excellent cut at a "bargain" price. In due course she had it pressed and it came back to her as a coat of no particular weave or texture. What she had really bought was a common cloth which had been run through a machine that so stamped it as to give it the appearance of being a true moiré weave. The result was that, instead of getting a distinguished looking coat at a bargain, she had a rather commonplace one for which she paid a stiff price, and which, furthermore, had been weakened by the attempt to "doctor" it into a moiré finish.
Similarly cotton fabrics are sometimes calendered and sold as satin tablecloths.
Selvage. Almost as important as the weave of a fabric is the method by which its edges are bound off, or selvaged. The true selvage is formed by the filling thread passing around the outside warp threads, and the simpler the weave the greater the interlacement and hence the stronger the selvage. Fake selvages occur when a fabric is split in the middle parallel with the warp threads and the cut ends of the filling thread are bound in with warp threads left especially long for the purpose. This often happens in the case of the cheaper bath toweling, which is woven double width on the loom and then split down the center. Unless the binding process is done with the greatest care the fake selvage will be weak and will tend to fray and ravel. In most cases fake selvage appears on only one side of the fabric, the other selvage having been woven correctly along the outside of the loom. Hence, in judging towels, for instance, it is well to compare both selvages.
Once a fabric has been woven it is frequently subjected to one or another treatment before it is ready for the market. In some cases this treatment precedes, in other cases it follows, the coloring or dyeing of the cloth. The most common treatments are:
Bleaching: This is a process to whiten cotton or linen and is often done in the fabric rather than to the unwoven yarn. If the bleaching process is carried to an extreme it may seriously weaken the cloth.
Sizing: This refers to the treatment of cloth (generally cotton or sometimes a poor grade of linen) with a starchy mixture to give the fabric greater weight and body as well as a surface sheen. A modest amount of sizing is legitimate in many cases; however, it is frequently misused to cover up deficiencies in the weave or to give cotton the appearance of linen. In some cases the sizing is so overdone that it flakes off when the cloth is rubbed briskly; in less extreme cases a thorough washing will loosen the sizing and thus uncover the faulty structure of the weave.
Weighting: This is the term applied to the sizing of natural silk. The usual procedure is to apply tin in solution to the fabric. Silk weighted with tin drapes and hangs better than the unweighted product, as a general rule, and for this purpose a certain amount of weighting is proper. However, the process is often misused to give cloth a texture and body which the fabric does not really possess. The same rough tests of rubbing and washing (suggested in the paragraph on "Sizing") may be applied to good advantage.
Napping : This is a purely mechanical process of roughening the surfaces of yarns to produce a fuzzy texture. It is often practiced on cotton blankets to give them the semblance of wool, and it does increase their warmth. The trouble is that this nap mats easily when washed. Some laundries therefore have napping machines through which they run such fabrics after laundering, but there is inevitably a loss of fiber when-ever a cloth is napped and every repetition of the process will further weaken the fabric.
Calendering : This is the antithesis of napping. The fabric is run between heavy rollers to produce a high gloss or sheen, and the process is common where cotton is to be masqueraded as linen. It is one of the things that soon come out in the wash.
Embossing: In this form of calendering the roller surfaces are cut with a pattern to be applied to the fabric. Naturally a pattern so stamped may give an excellent impression in the store, but it will not survive a single washing or even normal use unless the material is specially treated with waterproofing agents. Reference has already been made to a case of embossed "moiré."
Color and striking combinations of color have become an important feature of modern life, and textiles are their most important agents both in dress and in home furnishings.
A widely known manufacturer issued a series of printed tub silks for the 1928 summer season. A particularly pleasant red was a feature of the designs. Six samples of these printed silks were taken by a New York store for testing. Although they were advertised to the trade as tub silks, only one of the six samples withstood boiling; and the others showed various degrees of fading when washed with neutral soap at temperatures which went as low as 100° Fahrenheit. In particular, the red, which had been so brave and brilliant in the designs, proved most timid at the sight of water. Likewise, a fading test showed that only two of these six silks could withstand a mere twelve hours in the fadeometer without appreciable loss in color. In other words, these silks which were designed to attract purchasers by their colorful appearance could not begin to hold the color in normal use.
Color, to be satisfactory, must answer with a reason-able degree of effectiveness the particular test or tests to which it will be subjected in actual use.
If it is to be worn, it must not crock easily. An easy test is to rub the colored fabric with a white cloth and see whether any of the color has been transferred.
If it is to be washed frequently, it must not run or bleed. A few hard washings will determine its fastness in laundering.
If it is to be subjected to the action of perspiration, it must not blanch or bleed easily. An easy household test is to dip the fabric in some vinegar and note the result.
If it is to be exposed to bright sunlight (either as a dress or as a hanging), it must not fade easily. Here it must be most emphatically stated that no colored fabric is really "sunfast." At the same time a fabric worth buying should withstand a reasonable degree of sunlight without fading.
Special machines (called fadeometers) have been devised to test speedily and accurately the relative fastness of a color; but they are altogether too expertsive for household use. There is no good reason, however, why manufacturers who are claiming that their fabrics are "sunfast" should not be made to substantiate such claims by reporting the results of the fadeometer test on such goods. At the present time many fabrics which are widely advertised as "sunfast" are inferior to other textiles for which their manufacturers are too honest to make this claim. Certain of the more progressive stores have installed fadeometers and are testing for their own protection at least some of the fabrics which they offer for sale; but this is a responsibility which should rest on the producers.
As the fadeometer test is reported in terms of the number of hours which a fabric can be exposed under a fadeometer without appreciable fading, it is well to have in mind a guide for judging whether the report is satisfactory or not. The following table is therefore suggested as being fair to both customer and manufacturer:
TYPE OF USE MINIMUM HOURS IN FADEOMETER WITHOUT FADING
Window draperies 96
In the case of the window draperies the minimum is based on the color-fastness required to give satisfactory service for a single season. In determining the minimum for fabrics which will be frequently washed, consideration has been given to the exposure to sun-light in outdoors drying. Naturally, the above standards are only approximate, but they are at least a first step toward intelligence in buying fabrics.
Methods of Dyeing : There are three ways in which a fabric can be colored. The first is to dye the yarn before it is woven; this results in complete color permeation. The second is to dye the woven fabrics; this results in fairly complete permeation. The third is to print the color or colors on the surface of the cloth; here, obviously, color permeation is far from complete.
The shopper can readily determine for herself which method of coloring has been used. All that is necessary is to unravel a few strands of the fabric and examine the yarn. Colored yarn will show a solid coloring; piece-dyed will show gaps in the color where another strand has crossed the yarn and prevented the dye from permeating; printing will show a superficial coloration of such portions of the yarn as formed the actual surface of the fabric.
Much is heard in the stores about vat dyes, and the impression is given that fabrics colored in this way are color-fast. However, the shopper should bear in mind two cardinal points: (1) Although most vat dyes are color-fast, a few are not; and (2) aniline or other dyes are frequently mixed with a vat dye to produce a certain hue, the result being falsely described "vat dye." After all, the shopper is interested in the fastness of the color and not in the nature of the dye. What she really wants to know is the result of the fadeometer test, and hence that is what she should ask for.
READY TESTS FOR TEXTILES
It is already obvious that the judging of textiles is a highly complicated and technical problem. The shopper who is buying a few yards of kitchen toweling or a simple summer frock is not apt to spend much time in a meticulous testing of the fabrics; but if she is refurnishing a room or is replenishing an expensive wardrobe, the investment will repay tests of at least those factors whether durability, shrinkage, or colorfastness which are essential to satisfactory service. Thus the various common tests are described below for reference as the occasion warrants; and it is suggested that a casual reading of these paragraphs will help to fix in the shopper's mind a general understanding of fabrics.
In judging textiles the importance of the sample cannot be overemphasized. As a rule a sample is taken merely for the purpose of matching color, but in reality it can be made to give up a complete and most illuminating story of the material from which it has been cut. If it is a small sample it can be basted to a larger piece of white cloth before it is put through its paces in the tubs and under the iron. In any case a portion of the sample should be put aside as the basis for measuring the effects of the various tests. But these refer to the final tests which are carried on in the home; they are preceded by a number of elimination tests which can be carried on in the store.
First of all, the shopper must have a clear idea of what her need is and of the actual conditions under which that need must be met. She must consider the length of time she will want the fabric to wear, the frequency with which it will have to be laundered and the type of laundry to which it will be sent. If it is a question of material for upholstering chairs, the presence of active young children will have a direct bearing; if it is a selection of summer dress goods, the choice will depend on whether the wearer is an enthusiastic tennis player or prefers to watch others play.
Fashion has roughly classified materials on the basis of their appropriateness for certain uses, but the careful shopper can do a much more intelligent job of it than that. She will go behind the name of the fabric which interests her and find out if it is so made that it will do the work that she will expect of it. Matters of fiber, yarn, weave, and finish control her selection; and her procedure may well be something like this:
Fiber: Examine both the fabric as a whole and individual yarns from both warp and filling to see whether the material is made of a single fiber or a combination.
Silk will have a distinct luster and will feel firm and cool. The fibers in the yarn will seem almost endless and will burn slowly with smell similar to that of burning hair. If wet, it will quickly absorb moisture and will lose little strength. The burning and absorbent tests eliminate fibroin-treated cotton which may be masquerading as silk.
Rayon will be even more lustrous, and equally long.
All but Celanese (which leaves a hard knob) will burn with a flash, and give off a smell typical of burning vegetable matter. If wet, it will continue to feel wet and will break more readily than silk. Rayon will often be found in combinations purporting to be silk and wool, or silk and cotton.
Rhea and ramie will have considerable luster and a fiber several inches in length. The burning test is of no use, as it is vegetable matter and any substitutes for it would be of the same type. This fiber may be found in combination with silk or wool, or as a substitute for linen. It has a coarser fiber than flax, the basis of linen.
Flax will have more luster than rhea but a some-what shorter fiber. Here again the burning test is of no use. It is often adulterated with cotton.
Mercerized cotton will have a lustrous appearance but the fiber will not be more than an inch or an inch and three-eighths in length. It will be weaker than rhea or than flax, but stronger than plain cotton.
Cotton will have no luster and will be readily recognized by the shortness of its fiber, which will average under an inch in length. The cheapest of the textile fibers, it is often used as a substitute for or adulterant of one or another of the more expensive materials. It is, therefore, important for the shopper to become familiar with cotton and its characteristics.
Wool will have some luster but is especially notable for its springiness when compressed and then freed. It burns slowly and with the smell of burning hair. The fibers in the best worsteds may run to three or four inches while those in the poorer woolens and in felting may be only a fraction of an inch in length. Real wool may be most readily told by the burning test from cotton treated to imitate it.
Staple fiber is composed of short fibered rayon, sometimes spun on a cotton spinning machine, often resembling wool in softness of texture and appearance. It is frequently found in hosiery and garments purporting to be "all wool."
Waste silk is composed, as the name implies, of short fibers of waste silk, and is frequently found in combination with wool, the material masquerading as "all wool."
Yarns : Having identified the type or types of fiber composing a fabric, examine the structure of the yarn itself. The longer the fiber of its type the better the yarn, and the same principle holds good in the degree to which the fibers have been carded or combed into parallel lines before they are twisted into yarn. Further, the greater the twist, the stronger the yarn; a medium twist, however, gives the most durability.
Another important point in judging yarn is to deter-mine whether it is single or ply. A ply yarn is composed of two or more single strands twisted together; it is stronger than the same number of strands in parallel.
Weave: Bear in mind that the best fabric, so far as strength and wear are concerned, is composed of warp and filling yarns of equal diameter and strength inter-laced at right angles in a plain weave with the same number of strands per inch both warpwise and weft-wise at the same tension on the loom. This makes for an absolutely even distribution of strength. Theoretically such a fabric will have absolutely no imperfections due to the breaking and consequent knotting of yarns or to skips in interlacement; in practice there are always a few such imperfections in even the finest cloth. Modifications of this basic structure by the combination of different yarns or by the elaboration of the weave may enhance the beauty of the fabric, but will inevitably modify its durability. Each shop-per must balance the durability which she must have to meet certain conditions of use, with the beauty which she wants. Bearing on this double problem are the following considerations:
a. Where warp and filling are of different types and strengths of yarn, the fabric will pull out of shape and the weaker strands will chafe against the tougher ones.
b. Diagonal weaves tend to pull out of shape.
c. Ribbed weaves produce raised surfaces which will be subjected to an undue amount of wear and are apt to develop weaknesses where they join with the body of the fabric. Similarly, embroidered monograms create points of undue stress and wear.
d. Certain weaves, either because of the manner of weaving or because of the nature of the yarn, show a tendency to slip. This weakness can be discovered by scraping the surface of a fabric with a finger nail or by stitching a seam in a sample and then pulling slowly and steadily away from the seam.
e. The "floating" of either warp or filling strands to enhance the surface gloss of a fabric is a common practice, notably in producing satins and damasks. This method consists in jumping several strands before again interlacing the floated yarn with the fabric of the weave. The longer the float, the greater the resulting sheen, but also the greater the danger of these strands being caught, frayed, and broken.
f. Surface textures are sometimes produced by using double strands in the warp with more tension on one strand than on the other in each pair. The result is that the fabric is under uneven strain and will be easily damaged.
g. Selvages are an important factor in the strength and durability of fabrics. They frequently carry much of the tensile strain and form the first line of protection against raveling. They should be true selvages, well made and sufficiently broad to meet the anticipated conditions of wear.
h. The looser the weave, the greater the danger that the fabric will shrink or lose its shape or wear out. Weighting or sizing to make up for looseness of weave is at best a temporary expedient; it is just the sort of thing that will "come out in the wash."
Dyeing and Finishing : Textiles are colored, as we have seen, either by dyeing the yarn or the woven fabric, or by stamping the colors on the surface of the material. To determine by which method a fabric has been colored it is necessary merely to unravel a few threads and examine them, as has already been explained.
Every colored textile must meet at least one of these three attacks: sunlight, washing, and perspiration. In the case of dress goods all three are most important. Certain fibers take dyes better than others; certain dyes are better prepared than others. The only way in which a shopper can know anything about the fastness of the colors she is buying is to take one or more samples of the material home and subject them to certain tests:
Crocking test: Rub the sample briskly with a white cloth and note whether any of the color has been transferred to this cloth.
Fading test: Put sample in some place where it will get the greatest exposure to the sun. The difficulty with this test is that it requires a total of at least fifty hours of strong sunlight to be at all effective, and the shopper's patience is apt to fade faster than the color under test.
Bleeding test: Baste sample to a piece of white cloth and wash and iron several times. If unusually strong soap and hot iron are used, fewer washings will be required to complete a practical test. If the color "bleeds," or runs, the white background cloth will show it.
Perspiration test: The effect of fresh, normal perspiration on colored fabrics can be roughly approximated by sewing a sample onto a piece of white material, dipping in a mild solution of acetic acid, drying it, and redipping.
Of equal importance with the coloring of textiles is the way in which they are finished for the market. The finest fabrics need no special treatment, but the poorer products are "doped" to appear better than they are. If silk they are overweighted. If wool they are overfelted. If cotton they are too heavily sized.
The very best check on this doctoring of fabrics is to subject a sample to a series of rigorous washings. A false finish cannot stand up under such treatment and the results will be readily appreciated if a part of the sample has been put aside as the basis for comparison.
Other tests of value in judging fabrics are the crushing test and the shrinking test. In the former case a piece of the fabric is crushed in the hand and then quickly freed. The speed and extent of its return toward normal are measures of excellence, a poor cloth showing practically no resiliency. The shrinking test is most easily carried out by cutting from the sample two pieces of exactly the same size and shape, washing one of them, and then comparing both. Here it must be remembered that an apparently slight distortion in a small sample will be multiplied into a serious error in any large piece of the fabric. And it is the total distortion which is the important thing to watch. Many cloths, when washed, will show a slight shrink-age lengthwise and a slight stretching crosswise. Neither result, considered separately, might be serious; but the two together may produce a distortion which would make the fabric unsuitable for its intended use.
Textiles are produced in such a profusion of types for such a wide variety of uses that the shopper is justifiably bewildered in trying to make intelligent selections. By combinations of fibers and modifications of weave there is no apparent limit to the kinds of fabric which can be produced. The cotton, silk, wool, and rayon industries are all organized on a highly competitive basis to capture as much of the textile market as possible for their separate industries; the result is that the old distinctions have been broken down and each product is widely touted as the universal fabric. Clever advertising, publicity, and salesmanship are combined to put over this, that, or the other textile, which enjoys its vogue until better advertising, publicity, and salesmanship put over some other product. Whatever the fabric that is the fashion of the moment, it will probably prove excellent for certain uses and will create bitter disappointments in others. These are the disappointments which the careful shopper wants to avoid.
Unless she is willing to be blown from one fabric to another by the particular "trade wind" of advertising which happens to prevail at the moment, the shopper must know where she wants to go and then stick to her course. To set sail for silk and end up in Belfast linen is poor navigation. The first thing that she must keep in mind is that buying textiles really means buying service in terms of textiles. Beauty and aesthetic satisfaction are legitimate factors in that service, but so is durability under the conditions controlling the use of the fabrics; and she alone knows what those conditions are.
Take upholstery: The mother of several children is going to furnish her living room quite differently from that of an older woman whose children are grown up, even if silk should happen to be the fashion for covering chairs. Take draperies: A room with a southern exposure presents quite a different problem in color-fastness from one with northern light or one shaded by neighboring buildings from direct sunlight. Take summer dress goods: The tennis enthusiast and her friend who merely likes to watch others play live in separate textile worlds.
That this or that fabric is all the rage is of general interest; but the thrifty shopper will think in terms of fiber, weave, and dyes, for the fashion note which is coming to dominate specific vogues is intelligence. Nothing offends good taste more than the use of things in ways for which they are not fitted. The good shop-per is not so much interested in how a purchase looks today as in how it will look on that distant tomorrow when it must still be serviceable.
Another important thing to bear in mind is that integrity in textiles is just as important as personal integrity. Masquerading can last just so long; then comes the unmasking. Cotton is an honest and useful fabric; doctored to imitate wool or silk, it fools no one except the purchaser. Artificial silk was a failure but the same product, developed as rayon, has established a definite place for itself among the fabrics. A good cotton tablecloth is superior in looks and in serviceability to a cotton product which has been sized to imitate linen. Remember that the humble washtub is a ruthless foe of pretense. It all comes out in the wash with a vengeance.
The textile field includes so wide a variety of fabrics that the shopper who is interested in any specific one had best have recourse to a standard encyclopedia, but it may be helpful to include here brief descriptions of a few of those fabrics to which references are most frequently heard.
Broadcloth: Plain, closely woven, fine, two-by-one fabric, having ply yarns in warp or filling or in both, and a smooth, soft, mercerized surface.
Poplin: Lateral ribbed fabric produced by a greater number of warp ends interwoven with fewer filling ends of coarser count. Ply yarns often used in the warp. Cloth mercerized and often dyed.
Percale: Plain, closely woven, dull-finished fabric, bleached, dyed, or printed.
Oxford: Stout cotton shirting woven chiefly with slack twist, lustrous filling, and, in plain or fancy weaves, narrow warp stripes.
Ticking: Heavy twill fabric woven in alternating colored stripes.
Crinoline: Heavily sized fabric in open weave, with hard-twisted warp.
Challis: Extremely lightweight, closely woven fabric composed of wool or cotton or both. Though pleasing in appearance, it is not very strong, Cheviot: Rough-finished, shaggy surface fabric of twill or plain weave in woolen or worsted generally dyed a dark blue.
Kersey: Very heavy, felted, stain-finished fabric of firm yet pliable texture, made with the cotton weave or cross twill for face and the cotton weaves or four-harness satin for back.
Frieze: Coarse, heavy cloth with a thick, heavily napped, curly surface, with a plain, small twill or herringbone weave.
Tweed: Rough fabric of soft texture composed of wool or of cotton and wool in two or more colors. The surface of this cloth does not show a clearly defined pattern.
Rep: Plain-woven, warp-ribbed fabric of wool or cot-ton. The ribs are produced by heavy warp ends or by having an extra floating weft.
Serge: Stout, medium-weight, twilled fabric woven of wool, silk, or cotton yarn and dyed in a variety of colors.
Melton: Thick, heavy, rough fabric with a short nap and plain weave.
Pure Dye Silk: Silk containing no weighting other than the actual dyestuff. This product leaves no noticeable ash on burning.
Bengaline: Lightweight fabric usually made with a silk or rayon warp and soft-spun woolen filling. Some bengalines have a cotton filling instead of a wool filling.
Pongee: Unbleached, soft, wild silk of irregular surface, having a filling of lower count than the warp.
Voile: Plain-woven, sheer fabric generally of hard-twisted, two-ply yarns.
Alpaca: Plain-woven, lustrous, smooth, wiry fabric with cotton warp and rayon filling.
Crepe: Fabric having grain effect or crinkly surface produced by alternate use of right and left twist.