The scrapings from the surface of old linen cloth, forming a very soft absorbent material, peculiarly adapted to the dressing of wounds; for which purpose it is chiefly used. This material is prepared for the use of surgeons, and as an article of commerce, in the following manner. Old linen, or such as has been worn for shirts, sheets, etc. is preferred to new cloth, on account of the great softness of the fibrous matter. Those pieces are selected which are without fracture, or nearly so, and that are 10 or 12 inches broad; these are washed, (or should be,) perfectly clean, and dried, and we then ready to be operated upon by the lint machine, which is generally worked by a woman. This machine consists of a steel knife blade with parallel sides, the edge of which is blunt or dull, but perfectly straight; this knife is fixed in a horizontal position in a frame, which is made to reciprocate up and down, by means of a treadle or pedal. When this pedal is pressed upon by the foot of the workwoman, it causes the blade to descend vertically with its edge across a board or little table, covered with smooth leather, whereon the linen is placed; and on taking the pressure off the pedal, the knife is lifted from the work by the agency of springs.
The linen is rolled very evenly upon a cylindrical stick, with the weft in the direction of the stick; and consequently with the warp threads of the cloth rolled round it. A few inches of the cloth being uncoiled, and a few threads of the weft pulled off at the end, leaving as it were a fringe of the warp projecting, the roller is held steadily with both hands by the operator, who begins by placing the end of the cloth in such a position upon the work board, that when, by the pressure of the foot upon the pedal, the knife descends, its edge shall pass between the first and second thread of the weft, and press across all the warp threads; whilst the latter is thus held down to the table, the operator pulls back the stick towards her, through a space of from a quarter to half an inch; the weft thread is thereby pushed further along the warp threads, and from the latter is scraped the lint, by their being drawn under the edge of the knife. The foot being lifted from the pedal, the knife ascends, and the operator pushes the cloth forward again to take the next thread, which, by the pressure of the knife, and the pulling back of the cloth at the same instant, is moved along the threads of the warp after the first, and raising thereby more lint.
In this manner the operation is conducted, thread after thread, (almost as quickly as a person could count them,) until all the cloth (or all the pieces of cloth sewn evenly together) upon the cylindrical stick is worked off; and thus is produced, when the work is dexterously performed, a continuous tender sheet of thick downy lint. Simple as this operation may appear, it requires considerable practice to obtain the necessary skill and adroitness to do the work well, and enable the operator to get a living by it; it is usually executed by very poor women, who earn only about ten shillings per week at the employment. The difficulty consists in making accurate movements by the hands with great quickness; for if a weft thread is crossed by the knife, the work is checked or spoiled instead of forwarded. The editor has never met with any published description of this operation, but he saw it performed about 20 years ago by a poor old woman, and this account is sketched out from recollection.