NATURE has been lavish in the supply of materials that she has placed in the hands of man, from which he may fashion shelter, clothing, implements, and ornaments. We have seen how savage woman learned the use of the reeds and twigs about her, and so perfected their use that civilized man cannot surpass her skill. Primitive woman developed the art of spinning and weaving finer and finer materials, and that development has gone on laboriously through the centuries.
Modern manufacturing industry uses only a small number of fibers, those which have proved most suitable for spinning and weaving, but the energy and skill of designer and chemist have so altered the appearance and quality of these few fibers when woven into cloth that it sometimes requires considerable knowledge to recognize them. As competition in industry becomes closer, and the demand for novelty increases, methods of combining different fibers and of covering defects with the finish of the cloth are constantly improved; and if one is to choose intelligently from the offerings of the market, it is necessary to know something of the character of the fibers and the methods used by the manufacturer.
"In order to be serviceable in a textile fabric, a fiber must possess sufficient length to be woven and a physical structure which will permit of several fibers being spun together, thereby yielding a continuous thread of considerable tensile strength and pliability."1 These characteristics are present in greatest degree in cotton, linen, wool, and silk, and all these may be successfully bleached and dyed. The following simple classification gives the fibers which may be used, according to their origin, and aids in the study of characteristics.
Cotton, linen, jute, hemp, ramie, pineapple, aloe, and many other plant fibers used more or less in different parts of the globe.
Silk, the wool of sheep, alpaca, llama, camel, angora goat, and other hairs or wools of animals used for weaving or felting into cloth.
This group is not very important to the average student of textiles. Asbestos is the common example, and is chiefly valuable for its non-conducting and fireproof qualities. Although the use of asbestos for spinning and weaving is limited it may be mixed with cotton or linen and spun, the vegetable fiber being removed later by burning, or it may be spun alone.
Among the artificial fibers used might be mentioned various metallic threads, but the most important fiber is artificial silk. It is a derivative either of cellulose or of gelatin, and is sometimes used, as the name implies, as a substitute for silk.