The cloth which comes from the loom is far from being a finished product; in fact, so much is yet to be done that there are establishments whose only business is finishing woolen and worsted cloth. These finishing processes convert a coarse, rough, dull-looking material into our most beautiful broadcloths or worsted suitings.
Here again a distinction must be made between woolens and worsteds, for their surface is as different as the thread from which they are made. Woolen with fibers crossed in many directions in its threads may have the ends of these fibers raised on the surface, matted together, sheared, pressed, until the threads of the weave are completely hidden by the felted surface. Worsted, on the other hand, has gone through a long series of processes in order that it may be a smooth, regular, and perfect thread which weaves into a firm, regular cloth. Therefore its surface shows each thread, and any finishing process has for its object polishing and bringing out the individual threads. For this same reason variety and interest are given to the different kinds of worsted cloths by carefully worked out diagonal and pattern weaves, while woolen is ordinarily woven with a plain weave. When the cloth comes from the loom it must be thoroughly examined, defective places darned if necessary, knots tied, and ends cut off. All woolens, as well as worsteds, when they come from the loom need to be thoroughly washed. Washing has more than one purpose; it not only removes the oil and dirt gathered in the mills, but also shrinks the cloth. Shrinking is increased by the application of heat and pressure, especially pressure exerted with a rubbing motion from side to side. Such a process is employed in finishing woolens and is known as milling or fulling, and produces a very close, compact surface.
Teasling, so called because of a small vegetable cone or teasle most commonly used in the process, consists in picking up the nap of the surface loose ends. This nap is then brushed, sheared, pressed, polished, steamed, and given various treatments to increase its luster, its evenness, and its smoothness. In some materials whose finished surface is rough, most of these processes of brushing, steaming, pressing, etc., which follow teasling are omitted and the nap is left uneven.
When the material has been felted, had its surface raised, and other modifications in its original texture have been made, it is prepared for the market by a stretching process known as tentering. The cloth is stretched to a uniform width on tenter hooks arranged in rows on beams, which may be adjusted to the desired width of the cloth.
A final light sizing and pressing prepare the cloth for folding, baling, and sending to the wholesale dealer.
Mohair is a material made from the long, lustrous hair of the Angora goat, and is woven usually with a cotton or silk warp. It furnishes a smooth, hard-surfaced material, which wears well, sheds the dirt, and is inexpensive. Alpaca, which somewhat resembles mohair, is made from the wool of the domesticated alpaca, and is stiffer than mohair.
Aside from the different varieties of wool used for cloth, and the adulteration of wool by cotton or by sizing, there are certain wool substitutes whose use has grown very rapidly in the last generation. These substitutes are classed under the name shoddy. The term shoddy has come to be applied to any inferior goods or material which pretends to be better than it is. Technically speaking, however, shoddy means made-over wool, and more strictly one particular grade of made-over wool.
For a hundred years the manufacturer has made cloth, either entirely or partially, from old rags pulled apart, respun, and rewoven into cloth. The industry has grown steadily, and the proportion of shoddy to the new wool produced has increased until now it is about one-third as great as the new wool industry.
The rags bought up by the rag man are sent to the larger rag dealer, then to the shoddy manufacturer. Here they are sorted into different grades according to composition, all wool or mixed goods, according to color and to quality. These rags are then dusted, washed, and pulled to pieces by rollers set with teeth.
Fibers from worsted rags or knit goods are longest and best and are called shoddy. They may be mixed with new wool or with cotton and woven into new cloth, or they may be woven alone.
Fibers from woolen cloth that has been felted are naturally shorter and more broken when separated, and make an inferior grade of material, known as mungo.