In the foregoing pages the effort has been made to show how modern machine methods, modern scientific knowledge, and modern competition have changed the character and increased the quantity of textile fabrics on the market. Frequently increase in quantity has meant decrease in quality, cheap production has meant poor material, and haste has meant waste. There is a great variety of excellent materials on the market, materials which compare well with hand-made productions in wearing quality and which excel in beauty of finish. There are also many materials poor in quality, although often attractive, which are the result of this new era of machinery. They are deceptive in appearance, are sold under misleading names, and are not worth the prices put upon them.
The transition from "home-spun" to "factory-made" has not only affected the fabrics on the market, but it has also changed the position of woman in the home. Woman is no longer the producer, but she is more than ever the consumer of textile fabrics. The removal of the textile industries from the home has brought woman out from the home into the factory, or it has given her time to go more into public and has greatly increased the occupation of shopping. The increase in ready-made clothing and household linens, by removing a large part of the sewing from the household, has furthered this change.
In olden times the quality of home-spun and home-woven material was the best possible to be obtained from the materials by the methods then known. Woolen cloth was all wool and linen cloth was not half cotton or adulterated with starch. Honest and durable materials were the rule of the day. Modern discoveries, mechanical and chemical, have increased the possibilities of cotton, linen, silk, and wool, so that it is frequently difficult to recognize the material as it appears in the finished cloth.
On the one hand, the field of textile knowledge has grown enormously; on the other hand, women, although becoming more and more the buyers of fabrics, have less knowledge of the quality of materials, because they do not gain that knowledge through the making of cloth, often not even through the making of garments. The result has been that they depend more and more on the word of clerks who are often as ignorant as themselves, until by painful experience they learn some of the things to be avoided.
As the cost of living increases it is likewise important that the woman of the household should know how to spend the family income most economically. Since from ten to twenty per cent of this income is spent on clothing and house furnishing, it is imperative that more thought and careful study should be given to this branch of household economy.
The problem of buying is more complex than many people realize. It is only quite recently that thoughtful women have considered the far-reaching influence which their selection may have upon others. The laws of demand and supply hold for the household buyer just as they do in larger transactions. Every woman, as she buys her day's food supply or her fall gown, does just so much toward setting the standards for the grocer, the garment maker, or the factory worker. The buyer may take her place among the thousands who know not and care not how the other half lives, or she may join the smaller army of those who demand some information about the conditions under which their garments and food are made, and who are slowly making sentiment for better conditions. The protection of the home against foul diseases, as well as the protection of the health of the worker, requires that certain existing conditions shall be done away with. Increasing emphasis is now laid upon the hygiene of clothing; the buyer must consider if the material she chooses can be kept hygienically clean, if it answers the body requirements of removing perspiration, and of protection from heat or cold. The conditions under which materials are manufactured, the hygiene of materials, and color and design will be more fully discussed in later chapters.
Increase in culture demands more artistic clothing and house-furnishing material. The artificiality of modern civilization has increased the number of household furnishings and of clothes, and has replaced the simplicity of an earlier period with a great variety of shades and lines and with numberless designs. The buyer has great opportunity to exercise good or bad taste in choosing materials from such an array.
The economic side of buying should receive the careful study of every woman. How best shall the available money be spent in order that the greatest return in quality and quantity may be secured? Fashion, that lord over all dress, and too often over house furnishings as well, is responsible for an enormous amount of waste. Clothes are not expected to wear any length of time; it is not desirable that they should last more than one or two seasons. The manufacturer does not try to make his colors fast and his materials long-lived, for that is not what the public demands. Variety and novelty are the cries of the day, and in order that these may be supplied cheapness must often go along with them. The woman who does not care for novelty and variety, but is willing to pay a reasonable price for her materials, finds herself confronted with a problem, because she cannot distinguish durable cloth and because the market does not always afford the long-lived materials, at least for those of limited income.
The label attached to a material and the word of the clerk are not always reliable; the price is not necessarily an indication of quality; even an intimate knowledge of materials sometimes fails to detect a hidden weakness. Chemical tests are not available in every household, and cannot be applied to the ready-made garments. A high power microscope distinguishes one fiber from another, but, again, the microscope is within reach only of the few. Until the law requires the labeling of textiles as it requires the labeling of food, knowledge of the character of materials and of the methods used by the manufacturer for the adulteration of these materials, together with eternal vigilance, must be the protection of the buyer. In the study of the individual fibers certain characteristics were mentioned which aid the manufacturer in increasing the luster or the weight of different materials - instances of imitation silks, of made-over wools, of the use of one fiber to adulterate another. It may be well in this chapter to review these devices for increasing the apparent value of materials. Each fiber will be considered separately and then a summary given.