This section is from the book "School Needlework. A Course of Study in Sewing designed for use in Schools", by Olive C. Hapgood. Also available from Amazon: School Needlework: A Course Of Study In Sewing Designed For Use In Schools.
Wool is obtained chiefly from the sheep, also from the alpaca, angora, and cashmere goat. It is brought mainly from Australia, South Africa, and South America, but the highest grade is obtained from the merinoes of Saxony and Silesia in Germany.
Wool consists of wavy fibres varying from six to twelve inches in length, and differing in grade. Each fibre is covered with little sawlike teeth or scales overlying each other, and sticking out wherever a bend occurs. The points of the scales are exceedingly small, but when spun, fit into each other and keep the thread from untwisting.
After the wool has been sheared from the sheep, which is done yearly, it is separated according to fineness and length of fibre into sorts, by experienced men called sorters. Then, as it is full of grease and dirt, it is scoured by being immersed in successive vats of hot, alkaline lye, varying in strength, until most of the impurities are removed. After scouring, the wool is dried, and it is then ready for further processes. At this point the question must be decided whether the fabric to be manufactured is to be a woollen or a worsted.
Formerly, woollen goods were made from short-fibred wool with high felting properties, while worsted goods were made from long-fibred wool with poor felting properties, but now, from many kinds of wool both woollens and worsteds can be made, the distinction between them being caused by the different processes to which the wool is subjected.
We will first describe the method of manufacturing woollens. After the wool is scoured, it is passed through a willowing-machine in order to remove any dirt or dust that may still adhere to it, and also to break up the matted pieces. Then it is carded, by which the wool is thoroughly cleaned from sticks and lumps, and the fibres are torn apart and then interlaced with each other, coming out in the form of a loose rope called sliver, in which the separate fibres stand in an infinite variety of positions with reference to each other. If the fabric is to be wool-dyed, the next process is the dyeing, after which it is drawn down by drawing, roving and spinning frames into a woollen yarn.
If greater strength is required, two or more strands are twisted together, making a woollen thread ready for the loom. If the fabric is to be yarn-dyed, the dyeing process occurs at this stage. The yarn is now woven into cloth. It is fulled by being soaked in hot, soapy water, and subjected to heavy pressure, thus causing the fibres to felt together, and the cloth to shrink in width. The fabric is now compact and firm, and is ready for the finishing processes. The fibres are loosened and raised to form a nap, by passing the surface of the cloth over the sharp little hooks of the teasel, which are set in rollers. Teasels are the flower heads of a variety of thistle. Then the cloth is sheared to give a uniform surface, and it is passed between steam rollers in order to receive the smooth, glossy finish that renders it attractive.
The processes used in making a worsted fabric are different from those just described in several respects. The object is to make a yarn in which the fibres shall be drawn out parallel to each other, and then twisted to the required degree.
The wool is put through various machines to straighten out the fibres, and to take out those that are too short for use. Long wools are put through preparers; shorter wools are passed through carding-machines, both of which bring the wool into a loose sliver, which, after being back-washed and slightly oiled, is passed through a combing-machine, where the short fibres, called noils, are combed out, and there is formed a firm, smooth, clean rope made up of long, parallel fibres loosely adhering to each other.
This rope is wound into balls or wool tops, about one foot in diameter. Then follow the processes of drawing, roving, spinning and twisting, care being taken to preserve the substantial parallel relation of the fibres to each other, until a smooth, level yarn is formed ready for weaving into cloth.
After the cloth is woven it is dyed, if that has not been done in the yarn, and it is then ready for the finishing, which differs slightly from the method pursued in making woollens. The cloth is not teazled, and is only slightly fulled, sometimes not at all. It is singed by being passed at a high rate of speed over a hot roller; is steamed, stretched, and pressed between rollers, and is then put up in proper shape for sale.