This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Umbrella. [From It. ombrello "a little shade."] The umbrella lays claim to a pedigree of the highest antiquity, having had its origin in very remote times in the far East, and in some Asiatic countries it was, and still, is regarded as an emblem of royalty, or a mark of distinction. In ancient Greece its use was familar among women for protection from the sun, and is frequently represented in paintings and sculptures. As a defense from rain or snow it was not used in Europe till early in the eighteenth century. The innovation in England was harshly met at first. The bearers of umbrellas were hooted and jeered at as "Frenchmen," the mode having been directly brought from Paris, and it is a matter of history that a woman was mobbed in the streets of Bristol for displaying such extreme effeminacy, although it could not well be considered a sign of weakness to carry so cumbrous an article as the early umbrella. In the first days of the manufacture, the elaborate structures of gingham or oiled silk, whalebone or cane, were very heavy, sometimes weighing as much as five pounds. Each successive improvement has been primarily devoted to securing lightness, and after that to improve materials and mechanism. For a hundred years after their introduction into Europe there was little or no improvement until alpaca came to be substituted as a covering instead of oiled cotton. In those days the ribs were made of whalebone or cane. If distended when wet, and if permitted to remain until dry, this substance would permanently assume a bent shape, rivaling the renowned Sairey Gamp's gingham. Steel ribs came into use about 1852, and in 1860 the concave Paragon rib was introduced. To describe the process of umbrella making is simply to explain how the component parts are put together. The sticks come from all parts of the earth. They are usually in two pieces, for the ornamental handles are generally parts of rough knotty shrubs, while the main stem requires to be straight, smooth and strong. As they arrive at the factory in a comparatively unfinished state, the first thing to be done is to cut them to the required length, then to fix in the springs which are required to hold the umbrella when open or closed. This operation is performed by a small circular saw, against which the workman presses the stick, and by intuition apparently the slot is made to the exact depth required. The springs are then riveted, and the next process is the adjustment of the frame-work. The frame-work of silk umbrellas consists (usually) of ten ribs and ten stretchers, while cotton umbrellas range from eight rib to sixteen rib. Each have a runner which slides over the stick, and a ferrule which secures the ribs to the stick. The ferrule and runner are slipped over the stick, while each rib and each stretcher have an eye through which wire is passed and drawn up to the runner and fastened. The ribs are secured in the same way to the ferrule, the latter is riveted to the stick and the frame-work is complete. The frames are then handed over to girls, who cover the joints with small bits of cloth. In preparing the covers the first thing is to hem the silk; afterward the portions of the cover are cut and sent to the machine room to be stitched together. When complete the cover is slipped over the frame-work and sewed fast to the ribs, the cap or metal top piece is affixed, and the umbrella is finished. Umbrella silk is of special make and is usually sold by the inch of width for every yard length. All-silk covering sells from 2 1/2 to 5 cents per inch. Piece-dyed cotton and silk covering is made in this country, but yarn-dyed mixtures are imported. Umbrellas range in size from 26 to 36 inch. A "size of an umbrella is one inch in the length of the rib.