( Originally Published Early 1900’s )
Importance of cloth finishing.-Cloth finishing is one of the chief arts in the textile industry. The appearance of the goods is often of first concern, and the appearance of any fabric is largely due to the methods of finishing.
Bleaching is one of the most usual and important among the finishing processes. It has for its object the whitening or decolorizing of the textile fiber to which it is applied. Fibers, as they come from the plant, from the back of the sheep, or from the cocoon, are usually somewhat colored or stained. Some of them, like tussah silk or Egyptian cotton, are highly colored. This natural coloring of the fiber may be undesirable in many fabrics; hence, bleaching is employed to clear the fiber of this color. Again, most fibers accumulate stains of various kinds during the early processes of manufacture as, for example, in the spinning and weaving. This discoloration cannot be entirely removed by simple washing; hence, the bleaching process is applied to clear the fabric. In like manner, when the calicoes or other prints come from the printers, the white background between the colored figures may be soiled, spotted, or otherwise discolored; again, a light bleach is applied, but not enough appreciably to injure the color in the figures.
Bleaching agents.-There are two classes of bleaching substances, oxygen and sulphurous acid. Under certain conditions oxygen destroys the coloring matters entirely. Sulphurous acid probably does no more than change the color to white, leaving the coloring substances still in the textile. An object once bleached white by oxygen is not likely to turn yellow or to change back to its original color; whereas textiles bleached in sulphurous acid quite frequently do change back again after a time, especially when in contact with certain chemicals such as alkalies or soaps.
Grassing.-The oldest bleaching method is that of “grassing,” still used to a certain extent in Europe for bleaching linens. The linen fabrics are laid on the grass or ground for weeks. The oxygen of the air and that given off by green plants slowly attacks and destroys the little yellow color particles in the flax fiber. Slowly the linen becomes whiter and whiter until finally it is fully bleached. The particular value of the grass bleach over all others is its slowness. This guarantees permanence. Furthermore, the “grassing” process is not likely to be carried on a bit further than necessary. The oxygen which attacks the coloring matter may ultimately attack the cellulose in the fiber and does do so in chemical bleacheries unless the fabric is removed at the proper time. A few moments’ delay, therefore, in a chemical bleachery means great damage to the cloth; whereas a few days either one way or the other in grass bleaching makes practically no difference. Cotton also was at one time bleached in this manner, but the more rapid chemical oxygen bleachers have entirely superseded grass bleaching for this textile.
Chemical bleaching.-The principal chemicals used in oxygen bleaching are chloride of lime, hydrogen peroxide, sodium peroxide, and potassium permanganate. All these substances are heavily charged with oxygen. In the bleaching process, this oxygen is set free, and this free oxygen attacks the coloring matters in unbleached goods. The bleaching powder of commerce is chloride of lime, the principal bleaching substance used for cotton and for all other vegetable fibers excepting jute. It is, however, entirely unsuitable for wool and silk. Hydrogen peroxide is the best bleaching substance of all. It may be used on any sort of fiber, for it attacks nothing but the coloring matter. It is frequently used in removing stains and also in bleaching hair. But for general textile bleaching purposes it is too expensive, and is hard to keep in concentrated form for even a short time. It is used extensively, however, in bleaching wool mousselines that are to be printed. Hydrogen peroxide produces a much better result than sulphurous acid, the common bleaching substance for wool. When cheaper means of producing peroxide are discovered, this chemical is bound to take front rank among the bleaching agents. Potassium permanganate is another oxygen-loaded chemical that is sometimes used in bleaching woolens. Sodium peroxide is a compound somewhat cheaper to produce than hydrogen peroxide, and contains a large amount of live, active oxygen. It is a rather new bleaching agent, but is already used to a certain extent on wool and silk, especially tussah silk.
Sulphur bleach.-Sulphurous acid bleach is applied in the form of either a gas or a liquid. The gas is produced by burning sulphur in the air. The fumes that arise from burning sulphur are sulphurous acid gas. The liquid is produced by saturating water with this gas. Sulphur bleach is used mainly for animal fibers (wool and silk) and jute. The most common method employs the gas rather than the liquid. Rooms called sulphur chambers are built out of brick especially for this purpose. The fabric or yarn is brought into this chamber and hung up damp in loose folds while sulphur is burned in pots on the floor. The rising fumes saturate the damp textiles, the dampness materially assisting, and the fibers gradually whiten. In large wool bleacheries the cloth is run through the sulphur chamber on rollers, bleaching on the way. The process is inexpensive and results in a beautiful white. Its tendency to make wool harsh is corrected by washing in soap and water. When the wool is mixed with cotton there is danger of the cotton’s being destroyed by the acid. The sulphur bleach is ordinarily used for wool and silk.
Chloride of lime.-In cotton bleaching, chloride of lime is the most common chemical used. Cotton is generally bleached in the piece or fabric form. The usual exceptions are sewing cotton, absorbent cotton, and jeweler’s cotton. The last two are bleached in the state of loose fibers. When the cotton comes from the looms it is still in the natural color, although somewhat altered by the sizing in the warp and by the dirt; grease, and dust accumulated in the machinery. The cloth is now said to be “in the gray.” It is, however, more of a dirty yellow than gray, and presents a soft, flabby, fuzzy, unattractive appearance. It is now ready for the bleaching process.
The bleaching process.-The cloth is first run through a washing machine to remove as much of the discoloration and dirt as possible. Next, most fabrics are either sheared or singed; that is, they are run through machines which either cut off or burn off the fuzziness that is always found on cloth direct from the loom. The shearing process is performed by a machine that works on the same principle as a lawn mower, cutting all loose ends and fibers very close to the body of the cloth. The singeing is done by very quickly passing the cloth over a line of gas jets, or over a red-hot plate, where the heat burns off the fuzz but has no time to burn the fabric itself. Recently, singeing has been successfully performed by electricity. Cloth is sometimes singed on both sides, sometimes on only one. The shearing and singeing processes leave the cloth apparently smooth.
As a rule, cotton cloths are then bleached. There are four common methods, or “bleachers” as they are called: “madder bleach,” “Turkey red bleach,” “market bleach,” and “rapid bleach.” Of these the madder bleach is the most thorough. The others differ from the madder bleach mainly in degree of thoroughness. Goods to be dyed in deep colors need less whitening; hence, they are given, for example, the Turkey red bleach. Goods to be dyed black need almost no bleaching; for these the rapid bleach is sufficient. The market bleach is really the rapid bleach with the addition of blueing and other substances to cover up defects in the process.
The bleaching industry.-Cotton bleaching is often conducted as a separate industry. In England this is quite the rule. The cloth is sent from the weaving concerns to the bleacheries to be bleached on commission or at so much a yard. Sometimes the products of the loom are purchased by converters who hire others to do all the finishing processes, including bleaching. Occasionally bleachers buy the cloth in the gray, bleach it, and again market it. In this country bleaching and dyeing works are usually associated, and both are frequently under the same management as the cotton mills. This joining together or integration of related industries is typical of American business organization, not only in the textile industries, but also in many other great businesses, such as steel production and meat packing.
How the bleacheries handle cotton goods.-Piece goods arrive at the bleacheries in bolts or rolls of an average length of fifty yards. Each of these is stamped with the owner’s name, the length of the bolt, and other necessary particulars. The ends of several hundred rolls are first stitched together to form one long sheet sometimes as much as twenty-five miles long.
Moistening and bowking.-When all is ready, the cloth is moistened, run through a six-to eight-inch ring to rumple it and form it into the shape of a rope, and in this form if is laid away in coils for several hours in bins to soften the sizing in the warp. Next, the cloth is turned into a covered tank called a kier, in which is a weak solution of caustic soda or milk of lime. The liquid is kept moving through the tank by means of pumps. Here the cloth is stirred for about eight or ten hours, a process which removes all fats and wax found in the cloth, such, for example, as the natu ral wax found around the cotton fibers. All of this must be thoroughly removed before bleaching if the cloth is to be made snow white. The mixture in the “kier” is called the “lime boil,” and this particular part of the process is called “bowking.” The process concludes with a thorough washing in pure, fresh water.
Brown sour.-The next step, known variously as the “brown sour,” “gray sour,” or “lime sour,” follows the washing. The cloth is passed into tanks of water containing sulphuric or hydrochloric acid, sometimes both. This souring process counteracts the action of any caustic soda or lime that may remain in the cotton fiber from the previous treatment. Here a knowledge of the chemistry of bleaching is absolutely essential. The proportion of acid in the “brown sour” must be just sufficient to destroy the alkali in the fiber. If not strong enough, the alkali will not all be destroyed and will continue to cause trouble throughout the entire life of the cloth. If too much acid is used, then not only will the alkali be destroyed, but the cotton fiber will be endangered as well. Much of the poor cotton cloth in the market owes its lack of strength to poor bleaching methods. Linen is more sensitive to these chemical changes than cotton; hence the difficulty of getting good chemically bleached linens. The acid or souring bath is followed by a washing in pure water.
Lye boil.-In the full madder bleach the cloth after the acid bath is usually passed into a second alkali bath containing hot lye and resin soap. This is called the “lye boil.” After three hours of boiling under pressure, with the alkali liquor forced through every part of the cloth by means of pumps, all of the fats and acids in the fiber have been ex tracted and changed into soapsuds. The invariable washing in pure water follows.
Chemicking.-The cloth is now ready to be transferred into the real bleaching bath, the chloride of lime solution, or “chemick,” as bleachers name it. Through this bath the cloth is passed back and forth, the liquid being forced through every part of it. After one or two hours this part of the process is completed. The cloth is removed and passed between heavy wooden rollers, which press out the excess of the chloride of lime solution. The cloth is then coiled or piled in bins so as to be exposed to the air. It is here that the real bleaching takes place. The chloride of lime absorbed in the fiber has a strong affinity for air and for water. Both are attracted, and in the chemical processes that follow a certain amount of oxygen is crowded out of the air and water, and this free, active oxygen attacks the coloring matters and destroys them. Now again the proportions must be scrupulously adjusted so that not too much or too little oxygen is produced. Too much would result in an oxidation or destruction not only of the color particles, but also of the cotton fiber itself.
White souring.-The chemicking or bleaching is followed by washing in pure water and afterward by treatment in a weak acid bath known as the “white sour.” In this bath all action of the chloride of lime is stopped. Then follows another most careful washing in water to remove every particle of acid, whereupon the bleaching process is ended. The cloth is opened up flat, spread out, beaten, stretched or tentered, and dried over hot rollers. It is now ready for dyeing, for printing, for mercerizing, or, if to remain in the white, for the final finishing processes of sizing and calendering. Dyeing, printing, and mercerizing have already been described; hence, we need only give our attention to the final finishing processes.
Whether the cloth shall be made soft or stiff, dull or glossy, and so on, depends upon the finish applied and the materials used. Certain sizings fill up the spaces between the threads in the fabric, stiffen the fabric, and give it greater weight and body. Other sizing materials give stiffness without adding weight. Some give weight without stiffness. Some help to make the fabric glossy, others to give the cloth some special appearance in imitation of a different fiber. It would take a volume to give in detail an account of how these various effects are obtained. Such a description is not necessary here. A fair idea of the possibilities of cloth finishing can be obtained by a study of fabrics themselves, especially with the help of a small magnifying glass and with such tests as boiling and rubbing.
Dressing materials,-The materials used in cotton finishing or dressing include starches, glue, fats, casein, gelatin, gluten, minerals, and antiseptic substances. The starches give stiffness and weight; glue gives tenacity to the starches and other materials. Minerals, such as clay, are used to give weight. Fats give the qualities of softness and help make the fabric more elastic. Wax, stearin, and paraffin are frequently used to develop a high luster in the calendering or pressing processes. Antiseptic substances such as zinc chloride, salicylic acid, and zinc sulphate are added to prevent the starches and fats used in the dressing from molding or putrefying.
Starches.-The starchy substances commonly used include wheat flour, wheat starch, potato starch, rice starch, and cornstarch. Sometimes the starch is baked until brown before using. In this form it is called dextrin or British gum. Dextrin gives a softer dressing than any other starchy material. Wheat and corn starches produce the stiffest effects. Potato starch comes between the two extremes. Starch is sometimes treated for a couple of hours with caustic soda at about the freezing point. At the end of this time the excess of alkali is neutralized with acid. The result is a gum, called apparatine, which stiffens the cloth and does not wash out so easily as most other stiffening substances. Starch treated with acid produces glucose, and this is used largely as a weighting or loading material.
Fats.-Among the fats used are tallow, stearin, several different kinds of oils and waxes, and paraffin. These are sometimes added to the starches to reduce the stiffness of the fabrics. Glycerin and magnesium chloride are frequently added for the same reason. Fats may be added to waterproof the cloth, although waterproofing is usually accomplished by rubberizing; that is, by soaking the cloth in a solution of crude rubber or caoutchouc.
Minerals.-The minerals are added for various reasons. China clay increases the weight as do also salts of lime and baryta. Alum, acetate of lead, and sulphate of lead are sometimes used. Adding large proportions of borax, ammonium phosphate, salts of magnesia, and sodium tungstate makes the fabric fireproof.
How the dressing is applied.-The dressing material is usually applied as a liquid paste to the back of the cloth and then run over hot rolls or cylinders in order to dry the paste quickly. Sometimes it is applied lightly to the surface, sometimes it is pressed in deeply by means of rollers. When both sides are dressed, the fabric is passed into and through the dressing material. When the cloth is dry, the sizing or dressing process is complete. If merely a dull, hard finish is desired, nothing further is necessary except to stretch and smooth out the cloth, measure, bolt, and press it. But if any kind of polish is demanded, then the cloth must be calendered, pressed, mangled, or ironed.
Calendering is accomplished by passing the cloth between large rolls, from two to six, under heavy pressure. In the rolls the dressing is smoothed out, and the hard, dull finish becomes soft and glossy in appearance. Heated rolls give a better gloss. When the rolls are made to turn over each other at different rates, there is a heavy friction or ironing effect on the cloth. For the highest glosses not only starch but also fats and waxes are used, and all are ironed into the cloth under heavy pressure and at as great heat as the cloth will stand. When calendered the fabrics are usually dampened first, just as clothes are dampened by the housewife before she irons them. The dampening in a cloth-finishing plant is done by a special machine that sprays the cloth very evenly as it passes through.
The beetle finish.-There are several special finishes possible through variations in the calendering process. Beetling is one of these methods. The cloth is passed into a machine over wooden rollers and beaten by wooden hammers operated by the machine. The beetle finish gives to cotton or linen an appearance almost like satin and is very beautiful.
Watered effects.-Moire or watered effects are produced by pressing some parts of the threads in a fabric down flat while leaving the other parts of the threads in their natural or round condition. The effect is usually that of an indistinct pattern. It is obtained in different ways, sometimes by running the cloth through the calender double, or again by running the single fabric between rollers especially engraved with moire designs. Only soft fabrics are suited to this finish; hence, no dressing except fats is used for moire goods.
Embossing.-Soft fabrics are sometimes stamped with patterns in the manner of embossing by means of engraved calender rolls. This process is called stamping.
Schreiner finish.-Another special finish, known as “Schreiner finish,” is applied in the calendering operation by passing the cloth between rolls covered with great numbers of finely engraved lines. The number often runs as high as six hundred to the inch. Under a pressure of 4,500 pounds these lines are pressed into the fabric. The result is that the round threads are pressed flat, but the lines break up the flat surfaces into little planes that reflect the light much better than an ordinary flat surface would. This peculiar light reflection gives the cloth the quality of a very high luster. Heating the rolls makes this luster more lasting. The effect is very beautiful. Mercerized cotton finished in the Schreiner finish rivals silk in appearance.
Most of the finishes spoken of so far, the result of dressing and calendering, are easily destroyed. Wear destroys any of them in time. Washing destroys most of them. But as long as they last they are highly important elements in the appearance of the fabrics.
OTHER FINISHING PROCESSES
Dressings applied to the various textiles.-Dressings are usually applied in much greater quantity to cotton than to any other textile. Linen comes second, and the principal dressing substance used in linens is starch. Glue, gelatin, dextrin, albumen, and water glass are applied under certain conditions and for certain effects in woolen goods. The common weighting materials added to woolens are short hairs or short wool fibers, sometimes called flocks. Flocks are the ends of fibers sheared off from the surface of wool or worsted cloth. Woolen cloths are padded or impregnated with these in the fulling mills, sometimes adding from one-fourth to three-fourths to the weight of the wool. Such finishing processes as beetling, mangling, moireing, and stamping are never applied to woolens. Silk usually has very little dressing applied to it in the finishing process, and that little generally consists of gelatin, gum arabic, or tragacanth. The other finishing processes are very much the same for silk as they are for cotton.
Lisle finish.-Several other finishes, or modifications of the finishes just described, are used in cotton goods when it is desired to show special effects. The lisle finish is given yarns that are to be used in the manufacture of hosiery and underwear. The true lisle finish is obtained by using combed, long-stapled, sea-island or Egyptian cotton. The yarns made from these fibers are rapidly but repeatedly run through gas flames until they are entirely free from any projecting fiber ends or fuzz. The result is a very smooth, glossy thread. Another kind of lisle finish is obtainable in a finished fabric, as, for example, in hosiery, by treating with a weak solution of sulphuric or hydrochloric acid and then drying before washing out the acid. The goods are afterward tumbled around in a machine that exposes them to the air and heats them to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. After a time the loose ends and fuzzy fibers become brittle and break off in the tumbling given the goods. When the goods present the proper lisle finish, they are cooled off and washed in an alkaline bath which stops the action of the dry acid and neutralizes it. After thorough washing in clean water, they are dried and are ready for dyeing or any other finishing process. Sometimes the acids are added to the dye bath to cause more speedily the same effect in the appearance of the goods. Some dyes are regularly made up with the acid mixture.
Wool finishing.-The finishing processes for woolens and worsteds are much more laborious and complex than those employed for cottons. A greater variety of machinery is required, and there are more steps in the process. The finishing of wool goods is divided into two main parts: the first is called the “wet finishing,” which includes washing, soaping, steaming, carbonizing, and the use of liquids; the second is called “dry finishing” and includes napping, shearing, polishing, measuring, and putting up in rolls or bolts.
Preparation of wool fabrics.-Woolen or worsted cloth, as it comes from the weave rooms to the finishers, is first inspected for flaws, broken threads, and weak places, and wherever these are found, chalk marks are made to assist the burlers and menders in finding the places. To aid in the inspection, the cloth is generally “perched” or thrown over a roller and drawn down in single thickness by the inspector as fast as he can look it over. A good light is desirable. Inspectors with practice attain great proficiency in finding weak places or imperfections in the cloth. After the bad spots in the fabric are repaired the goods are tacked together; that is, the pieces are fastened together in pairs with the faces of the cloth turned towards each other. The tacking is simply a stitching along the edge, done either by hand or machine. The purpose of tacking is to protect the faces of the cloth from becoming damaged in any way by the heavy operations to follow or from becoming impregnated with any foreign substance difficult to remove, such as short hairs or flocks.
Fulling.-The next step is the fulling. All kinds of clearfinished worsted dress goods for ladies and practically all wool cloths for men’s wear except worsteds are fulled. This is the most characteristic process in the wool industry; no other textile goes through any process like it. The wool fibers, it will be recalled, are jointed and have scales that cause the fibers to cling together readily. This, we have learned, is called the felting quality. By beating a mass of wool fibers, a very hard, compact mass can be obtained, because the fibers creep into closer and closer contact with each other, holding fast because of the scales. Fulling makes use of this principle. Wool cloth is shrunken and made heavier and closer in structure and consequently stronger. Fulled cloth may also take many more kinds of finish than unfulled fabrics. The fulling process is performed in machines that apply pressure, moisture, and heat to the goods. The cloths are soaked in hot, soapy water, pressed, rolled, and tumbled; as a result, the woolen fabrics contract and become closer in texture throughout.
Flocking.-Short wool fibers or flocks are frequently felted into wool fabrics in the fulling operation. A layer of these short fibers is spread over the back of the cloth and matted down by moistening. In the fulling operation these fibers sink into the fabric and therefore help to give the fabric weight and closeness. That this process is not always well done is evidenced by the fact that the flocks in the backs of suitings often wear loose, drop down, and collect at the bottom of garments, especially at points where the lining and the suiting are sewed together. Flocks must from most standpoints be considered as an adulteration of wool although their presence really helps some fabrics, such as kerseys. All crevices are filled up and the fabric is made solid. If the felting has been done well, the flocks perform a good service in the cloth, but otherwise the flocks come out easily and are a decided nuisance to the wearer of the goods. Flocks made from wool waste such as shoddy, mungo, and extract, when applied on shoddy wool cloth are bound to come out. But flocks cut from new wool, when applied to new wool cloth, produce an excellent effect if not too largely used. Adding 25 per cent in weight to the cloth by flocking is not unreasonable, but doubling the weight of the original fabric would be unjustifiable adulteration. Flocking adds little if any to the strength of the cloth.
Speck dyeing.-After fulling, the cloth is washed very carefully, and is usually given a light dye to cover up spots or imperfections due to foreign matter that could not be taken out before. If not so dyed, all the little specks in the cloth have to be removed by hand, a process called speck dyeing or burr dyeing.
Carbonizing.-Carbonizing is usually performed before the wool is spun into yarn, but in some cases not until the cloth is woven. In this case it takes the place of speck dyeing. The process is the same for cloth as for loose wool. The vegetable matter is destroyed by soaking the cloth in weak acids and then heating in an oven.
Napping.-After washing, stretching, and drying, most goods are ready to receive the finish. In most cases this first involves raising a nap or fuzz evenly all over the surface, and for this purpose machines have been invented. The oldest of such machines use teasel or thistle burrs, whereas the later napping machines use little wire hooks. Some claim that the teasel burr has certain qualities for raising the wool nap that cannot be produced in any steel wire or spring hook or barb. The principle, however, is the same in all inventions for this purpose. The gigs or napping machines all stretch the cloth and then cause it to pass over many fine little hooks of teasel burrs or of steel wire which draw out a multitude of little ends of wool fiber all over the surface of the cloth. In some cases, the napping or gigging is performed on wet cloth; in others, the cloth is dry. Dry napping is in fact now the more common, although the wet methods are still employed for certain cloths and finishes.
The finish of wool cloth depends upon the degree o f napping and upon the variety of fiber. Meltons require only a little napping; kerseys, beavers, and doeskins, a very thorough one. Cloths that must wear exceedingly well must be napped as little as possible, since the process reduces the strength of the fabric. Cassimeres are given several kinds of finish, Saxony finish, for example, or velour finish. Other fabrics are each given their characteristic finish by slightly varying the amount of nap, or the treatment of the nap after it has been raised. Among such fabrics are cheviots, kerseys, meltons, beavers, chinchillas, outing flannels, doeskins, reversibles, thibets, satinets, blankets, and others.
Lustering.-After napping, such fabrics as kerseys, beavers, broadcloths, thibets, venetians, tricots, plushes, uniform cloths, and all worsteds, require another special operation known as steam lustering. Steam is forced through the cloth for about five minutes, followed by cold water. The steam brings out the luster which the cold water sets or fixes.
Stretching and clipping.-The dry finishing processes begin with stretching (or tentering) and then drying the cloth. Special machines accomplish this as well as all the other processes. The cloth now passes through a shearing machine which brushes the nap in the direction desired, afterward clipping it evenly over all the surfaces. The clippers operate like the revolving blades of a lawn mower. Goods that have not been napped are generally singed in much the same manner as cotton fabrics. Next, the sheared fabrics are brushed, and perhaps polished by means of pumice cloth or sandpaper, to make the cloth smooth and lustrous.
Final steps.-Finally the goods are pressed and thereby given a finished appearance. This is usually performed by means of heavy presses, either with dry heat or with steam. The most common present-day method of pressing cloth is by running it between heavy rollers heated by steam. Care must be taken not to get the rolls too hot or the wool will be damaged. The cloth is next inspected again, run through a measuring machine, doubled, rolled, and wrapped in paper, and packed into cases ready for the clothing manufacturer or the dry goods jobber and the retail store.
Worsted finishing.-Worsteds are not generally fulled as are woolens. After burling, worsteds are usually singed and then crabbed. The crabbing process sets the weave so that in the later operations it will not be obliterated. It consists in running the cloth tightly stretched over rollers through a trough containing hot water. After an hour or two of this the cloth is scoured and rinsed and then closely sheared. There are several varieties of worsted, each of which requires its own special finish or after-treatment. Innovations are constantly introduced to alter the appearance a little in one way or another. Among these are the fancy or yarn-dyed worsteds, serges, worsted dress goods, and worsted cheviots.