This name includes a number of fibers, the downy coverings of seeds of plants or trees. These fibers are not capable of being spun, but are used for stuffing mattresses or cushions. Kapok, or silk-cotton tree, and milkweed are the most common; in France, the latter has been spun with a large percentage of wool to produce a very attractive cloth.
Pina, or pineapple cloth, is made from the fiber obtained from the leaf of the pineapple plant. Woven with silk it makes a beautiful fabric. In the Philippines, where this material is used in large quantities for clothing, the natives separate it from the leaves by a laborious process of scraping.
Coir, or cocoanut fiber, comes from the shell of the cocoanut. It is a stiff, harsh fiber, reddish brown in color, and is used for rope and mats. The fiber is separated from the rest of the shell by soaking in sea-water for several months, when the fruit is rotted and may be easily separated. The separation is sometimes effected by steaming.
Many other vegetable fibers are used in different parts of the world, but are not of great importance to us. We are most interested in those which are used in the markets of this country.
In manufacturing fibers into yarn and cloth there are many processes to be gone through and many machines to carry them out. Each year sees improvements and also new devices of the manufacturer to cheapen the process, and new methods of adding to the product by adulterations of one sort or another. It will be well to study in some detail the manufacture of cloth and some of the stages through which the fibers must pass. These steps may, perhaps, be easier to understand if a general explanation is given first.
All fibers as they are produced by nature are combined with more or less foreign matter which must be removed before the raw fiber is obtained. Cotton must be separated from pod and seeds, wool from dirt and grease, flax from the woody stalks, and silk from part of the gum and the tangled fibers of the cocoon. With the exception of silk, all fibers, when they have been freed from this foreign material, are somewhat entangled and must be straightened out, brushed or combed, until they lie more or less parallel. In some cases the long fibers must be separated from the short, making two or more grades. A rope must be formed, which may be pulled out finer and finer, then given the twist necessary to hold the fibers together, and yarn is the result.
Frequently, before weaving, the yarn must be made more compact or held together by the addition of a starchy mixture, so that it will stand the strain of the loom. Warping and drawing the thread in place in the loom are processes preparatory to weaving, while "finishing" prepares the woven cloth for the fastidious public.
Bleaching, dyeing, or printing gives the desired color to raw fiber, yarn, or cloth, as the case demands.
This, very briefly, is the course through the mill which every fiber must travel. The variations from it are many, and the actual processes are so complicated that only the initiated may understand them thoroughly; but the underlying principles are the same as they were when the Colonial dames spun and wove by the side of the open fire.
Matthews, Joseph M. Textile Fibres. Dodge, C. R. Catalog of Useful Fibres. Hannan, W, I. Textile Fibers of Commerce.