Among vegetable fibres, the first place must be assigned to cotton, because it supplies by far the largest amount of material for the clothing of mankind, and can be manufactured into an almost unlimited variety of. textures, suited for almost every possible purpose, whether for use or ornament.
The cotton fibre holds an unusual place in the order of vegetable textile fibres, because it is obtained from the plant by the simple process of picking when the boll or seed capsule is open and ripe, while most other vegetable tissues are procured, not from the fruit or seed, but from the stem and branches or leaves of the plant.
Cotton may be described as a vegetable down or wool composed of numberless minute and woolly fibres, which envelop the seeds contained in the boll.
From its great resemblance to sheep's wool, it was called by the ancients "the wool of trees." And although it differs greatly from the animal fleece, the term is still retained. The Germans call it tree wool, and the French give it a name which answers to the English term cotton wool.
Cotton may be classed as of three kinds: the tree, shrub, and herbaceous species. Of these, the most useful is the herbaceous species, which is extensively grown in the southern part of the United States.
The best variety of the herbaceous species is that known as sea island cotton, which is of long staple, its fibre being much longer than that of any other kind or sort, and of a fine, silky texture.
It is principally cultivated in the low, sandy islands which lie along the coast of Georgia and North and South Carolina.
The herbaceous species of cotton attains a height of from eighteen to twenty-four inches. Its leaves are a dark green color. The blossom, which resembles a hollyhock, is at first a pale yellow color; it then turns white, and then a pinkish purple, when it falls off, and a pointed triangular pod or boll appears. This gradually increases to the size of a large filbert, and becomes brown as the woolly fruit ripens.
The expansion of the wool causes the boll to burst, when there appears a ball of snowy white or yellowish down adhering to the seeds. See Illustration No. 106.
ILL. 106. - Cotton Ready to be Picked.
Great care is bestowed in the United States upon the cultivation of the cotton plant. The seed is sown by hand in March, April, or May, according to the season; it begins to blossom in June, the bolls commence to mature in August and September, and when open they resemble the woods in winter after a fall of snow.
The operation of gathering the cotton requirer wool care. The usual method is to take away the seedshichd cotton, leaving the empty husk on the bush. The gathering is always performed in fine weather, after the morning dew has disappeared, as any moisture would make the cotton mouldy and cause the oil of the seed to spread over the wool.
As the cotton does not all ripen at the same time, the pickers have to go over the same plantation many times.
The cotton fibre is not, as it appears to the eye, a solid, cylindrical, gossamerlike hair, but when shown under the microscope, is a flattened, hollow ribbon, twisted several times throughout its length, and with its outer edges indented. See Illustration No. 107. Owing to this natural twist, cotton is easily distinguished from every other variety of animal and vegetable fibre, and its appearance can be readily detected in any material by the use of the microscope.
After cotton is picked, it is valued according to, first, length of fibre; second, smallness or fineness of diameter; third, evenness and smoothness; fourth, elasticity; fifth, color; sixth, strength.
The Cotton Fibre.
The native home of cotton is the East, India and Egypt being the oldest cotton-producing countries. Cotton is now grown in the United States, India, Egypt, and Brazil. Of these four countries, the United States produces by far the greater part. In fact, it is estimated that three-fifths of all the cotton grown in the world is grown in the United States.
Preparing Cotton foe the Market.
After the cotton is picked, it is separated from the seeds by being run through the cotton gin; it is then baled and shipped to the manufacturers.
When the cotton reaches the manufacturers, it passes through a number of processes before it is ready for weaving, the first of which is mixing and opening.
Naturally the fibres which compose the different crops, of even the same class of cotton, will vary more or less in character; therefore the only method by which perfect uniformity can be secured is by mixing the bales together and freeing the cotton from as much sand and dirt as possible. For this purpose, machines with rapidly revolving cylinders are employed, which, coming in contact with the cotton, knock it into light flakes, while the impurities drop through bars situated under or facing the beater; it is then ready for the second process, known as scutching.
This is only another form of opening, the scutcher converting the loosened cotton into a continuous roll or fleece. The next process is carding.
In carding, all the fibres which are in a bent or crossed direction are straightened out and placed parallel with each other; they are then called slivers.
The next process is drawing. By this process the slivers are passed to the drawing machine, where all irregularities either in weight or thickness are taken out and several slivers are united into one.
The next process is roving. The roving machine reduces the sliver in thickness by means of revolving spindles, and winds it spirally upon bobbins.
It is then ready for spinning. Here the cotton is twisted sufficiently to stand the strain to which it may be subjected in manufacturing it into cloth.
In making thread, the yarn is doubled and twisted more than for weaving into cloth, as greater strength is required. It is then wound on spools and graded according to the thickness. The finer the thread, the higher the number. Each spool holds two hundred yards.
The principal cotton materials are:
Gingham, a cotton dress goods woven of plain dyed yarn, usually in checks, plaids, or stripes. Varieties of gingham are Madras and zephyr ginghams.
Muslin, a cotton cloth suitable for underwear and sheeting; in some parts of the United States called "cotton cloth." It was originally so called from Mosul, a city on the banks of the Tigris, which was once the chief centre of its manufacture. Varieties of muslin, many of which derive their names from their place of production, are India muslin, Swiss muslin, Madras muslin, book muslin, ordinary muslin, bleached and unbleached.
Calico, cotton cloth with a figured design printed on one side. The word calico has a queer origin. Many centuries ago the first monarch of the province of Malabar, in Hindustan, gave to one of his chiefs, as a reward for services, all the land within the limit of which a cock crowing could be heard. The town that grew up was called Cal-icoda, afterwards Calicut, and from this place the first cotton goods were imported.
Cambric, a fine white linen or cotton fabric, first made at Cambria, France. It is frequently printed on one side.
Batiste, a fine all linen or cotton fabric; the French word for lawn. Either printed or white.
Sateen, a cotton fabric with a glossy surface somewhat resembling satin. It is made in light weight for dresses and linings, and in heavier qualities is used for shoe linings and corsets.
Dimity, a sheer, cotton fabric with very fine cords running lengthwise.
Pique, a heavy cotton fabric that has a corded surface running either lengthwise or crosswise.
Mull, a thin, wiry kind of muslin.
Velveteen, or cotton velvets; a cotton material having a loose nap or pile on the surface.
Corduroy, a cotton material resembling velveteen, but woven with a ribbed effect.