Drawing, the next process, consists in pulling the hackled fibers out into a rope, which may then be drawn out finer and given a slight twist, producing roving. Finally this roving is spun into yarn. Flax spinning is much more satisfactory if done in a moist atmosphere; in fact, the finer qualities can be spun only when wet. The hand spinner of former days kept a bowl of water at hand, in which she moistened her fingers as she spun. Yarn for warp must be harder twisted than that for weft. The warp yarn is also given a light sizing to hold the thread together in weaving.
Fig. 31. A. Yarn Winder B. Flax Hatchel C. Quilling Wheel for Filling Spools.
Weaving linen is rather more difficult than weaving cotton, because the fiber is not as elastic and when there is a sudden strain breaks instead of stretching as cotton does. For a long time fine damask was woven on hand looms, but these have been almost entirely replaced by power looms. Some of the coarser linens, such as Russian crashes and other imported linens, are woven on hand looms by peasants in different countries. Linen bleaching will be more fully described later. If it be done most carefully it requires a combination of many washings, treatments with bleaching powder, rinsings, grass bleachings - processes requiring not only weeks of time, but proper fields upon which the cloth may be spread and favorable weather to do the grassing.
Finishing linen cloth increases the luster, adds sizing, and sometimes produces flat threads. Heavy pressing, calendering, and mangling after the addition of sizing materials give a good finish to the cloth and make it possible to handle the linen in the store without destroying its finished appearance. Beetling is a process of putting the cloth through a machine which beats the threads flat. Heavy clubs fall upon the surface of the cloth, making it closer in weave, increasing the luster, and giving the leathery feel so characteristic of good damask.
Sizing, when added in excess, makes a poor grade of cloth look well, and adds weight to any cloth. This may also make the material stiff, but after washing, this heavily sized material often disappoints the buyer.
Brown finishing is finishing the cloth without bleaching, and many of the most attractive linens on the market are those which are left in the natural colors of tan, brown, or gray. These unbleached linens usually wear better than the bleached, because the fiber has not been weakened by the chemical action of bleaching agents.
Proper methods detract little from the strength of the fiber, but in modern processes the wearing quality of the material is frequently not considered so much as the rapidity and cheapness with which the bleaching may be done.
The difficulty with which linen is dyed limits somewhat the variety of materials which are made from it; yet there are many different effects produced by varying the weave, the size of yarn, the texture, and the degree of bleaching. Half-bleached, three-fourths bleached, and full-bleached cloth of different qualities may be purchased. Linens, from the finest, most delicate lawns to the coarsest crashes, are attractive for many purposes. Its rapid absorption of water makes linen the best material for towels, and its hard, smooth, lustrous surface leaves it unsurpassed for table use, while the fact that it is a splendid conductor of heat makes it a cool garment for summer wear.
The character of linen makes it wrinkle easily in dress material, but that same character causes it to lie smoothly on a table. Because of its resistance to coloring matter it does not stain easily, and the long fibers present few ends in the thread to become fuzzy like cotton. For these various reasons linen is a much valued fiber and commands a high price.
That this high price is legitimate may readily be understood if one considers the great amount of hand work necessary in the different stages of flax production. The culture, harvesting, rippling, retting, and bleaching all require hand labor, while in the preparation for spinning, and in the spinning itself, much less change has been wrought by modern invention than in the manufacture of any other yarn. The price of hand labor in this country is almost prohibitive to the linen industry, and the climate is not well suited to grass bleaching. The high duty imposed by our tariff on imported linens keeps up the price.
The recent efforts to separate the fiber from some of the thousands of tons of broken flax straw, left after the threshing which separates the flax seeds, is a worthy measure for conservation. As has been said before, for the best quality of linen the flax must be pulled before the seeds are ripe; consequently the fiber from the crop grown for seed must be inferior to that grown for fiber. Again, the machine-threshing process leaves the stalks much broken, and the fiber obtained from it is short. Finally, the chemical retting process used will probably make the fiber weaker, so that the finest grades of linen will not be produced by this method. Up to the present time these manufacturers have produced only medium grade towels, underwear, surgeon's lint, etc. The writer has used some very fair towels made in this way.
Union goods of linen and cotton are excellent for some purposes; a linen and cotton towel is, no doubt, better than one of cotton alone, but not so desirable as a pure linen towel. It is doubtful if a mixed linen and cotton tablecloth is any better than a pure cotton one. Mercerized cotton is sometimes sold for linen, but, while a very good material in itself, it has not the characteristics which make linen so valuable. Excessive amounts of starch may give a firm appearance to poor linen.
Linen may be considered with silk a fiber of luxury, although to the housewife it seems indispensable for cc tain uses.
Barker, A. F. Textiles.
Flax Culture for Seed and Fibre. United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Fibre Investigation. Report 10.
Matthews, J. M. Textile Fibres.
Zipser. Textile Raw Materials and their Conversion into Yarns.