Paragraph 1. Very important. textile fibers come from the vegetable kingdom; while there are several that contribute slightly, cotton and flax are the only ones worthy of consideration from a practical standpoint. Cotton is by far the most important fiber from which clothing is made. Just how long cotton has been used in the production of clothing is not exactly known, although history records the use of cotton clothing as early as 445 B. C. The invention of the cotton gin and other modern machines has made possible. a very wonderful development of the cotton industry.
In order that any fiber may be woven into serviceable textiles that fiber must be possessed of sufficient strength to be spun, and it must have a physical structure which will permit a number of fibers, when spun, to cling so securely as to produce a continuous thread of considerable tensile strength. All the varieties of cotton have these requirements.
Cotton fibers consist of seed hairs; the cotton plant reaches maturity varying from three to six feet in height and produces a cotton boll which contains the seeds. This seed boll splits open and presents a white mass of seed hairs, each being attached at one end to a tiny seed. The seed is picked and run through a cotton gin for the purpose of separating the seed hairs from the seed. The seed is preserved for the oil which it possesses, while the fiber is taken through the various processes of producing cloth.
When the cotton fiber is dried it is perfectly smooth and each tiny fiber is ribbon shaped, but as it dries it twists in an irregular spiral or screw-like band, having from three to five hundred twists per inch. It is this peculiar twist that makes the cotton fiber valuable for textiles, for this is the property which makes it possible for cotton fibers to be woven into a strong thread. The other spinning qualities of cotton depend upon the length as well as the fineness of the fiber. Cotton produces a very strong thread but not as strong as silk, or even linen, although it has greater strength than the same sized thread made of wool.
Cotton is used more than any other material because of its cheapness, and because it is so serviceable for a great number of practical purposes. It will stand rather high temperature, and is not harmed by strong alkali, soap and other cleaning materials; it can be bleached, scrubbed and cleaned in various ways without suffering damage. It wears well under hard use, and looks neat and clean when laundered.
Cotton takes dye readily, thus making it possible to produce pleasing color effects in various kinds of cotton cloth. It does not retain its color, however, as well as wool.
In order to add to the appearance of cotton it is sometimes mercerized to produce a glossy silk-like finish. There are a number of ways in which this mercerizing process is carried out; the cloth is usually treated with a strong caustic alkali and then .carefully dried, stretched and pressed.
The following kinds of cotton cloth are in most common use.