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.
Worsted Yarn, as has been explained, is made from long wool fibers brought as far as possible into a level parallel condition. The first operation consists in forming a long uniform sliver, somewhat similar to the lap of carded cotton, except that the fibers lie more nearly parallel and not crossed and mixed as in the latter. The sliver as delivered from the combing machine, is then subjected to the operation of drawing, the purpose of which is still further to equalize the strand of fiber, and to bring it into a sufficiently attenuated form for spinning. The principle of the drawing consists in running the sliver to a pair of rollers, which pass it on to a pair which revolve somewhat faster than the first, and to that extent draw out the sliver to smaller and finer proportions. Supposing the wool to pass through 6 such drawing frames, 6 slivers may be fed into the first and drawn out to to the dimensions of 1; the same may be repeated in the second; 5 slivers may be reduced to 1 in the third, 4 to 1 in the fourth and fifth frames; and in the roving frame, in which a little twist is given to the sliver before it is wound on the bobbin 2 slivers may be elongated into 1. Thus we have any length of sliver drawn out 6x6x5x4x4x2=5,760 times its original length. Treating the slivers in 9 drawing frames, we may have 8X6x5X5x5X4x3x2x2=288,000of extension. The bobbins of elongated and slightly twisted yarn is now ready for spinning on the throstle spinning frame, on which it is simultaneously drawn out to its ultimate length, twisted and wound on a bobbin. The doubling and subsequent treatment of worsted singles are the same as in the case of woolen yarn singles from the mule frame. [See Spinning]
The bleaching of wool fiber by "sulphuring" is applied to yarns and woolen goods only when they are intended to be finished white or light bright colors. The method of "sulphuring" is to expose the goods in a closed room to the vapor of burning sulphur. The goods are hung on poles and when the room is full, a quantity of sulphur placed in very flat and broad dishes is allowed to burn away gradually on the floor of the room, every aperture by which the vapor can escape being closed tight, so that it may permeate into every crevice of the goods. After exposure to this sulphurous acid vapor from six to twenty-four hours the goods are removed; and if to be finished a clear white, they are run through a bath containing some indigo carmine, which increases the brilliancy of the white. When they are to be dyed, they are treated with dilute sulphuric acid, thoroughly washed and dried.
The bleaching of wool is not so complete as the bleaching of cotton or linen, by chlorine. In the case of cottons and linens the color is completely destroyed, but in wool the sulphur merely combines with the coloring matter of the fiber, and produces a colorless compound, from which the original color can again be revived, either by soaking the goods in a dilute acid or a dilute alkali, such as soda. Hence it is that new woolen cloth or garments, such as flannel, blankets and underclothing, though almost colorless when bought, yet after being washed several times, return to their natural yellow; for the washing soda used, or the soap which contains potash or soda, destroys the colorless compound produced by the sulphuring process and revives again the original color.
It is roughly estimated that the world contains at least 600,000,000 sheep, producing about 2,000,000,000 pounds of wool annually and contributing in wool to the wealth of mankind every year about $300,000,000. More than a hundred million sheep roam the vast plains of Australia. As many more are in the Argentine Republic and Uruguay. Sheep were first introduced into this country at Jamestown, Virginia in 1609, and in 1633 the animals were first brought to Boston. Ten years later a fulling mill was erected at Rowler, close by Boston, where first was begun cloth-making in the Western world. These first importations soon increased into considerable flocks, and America was well provided with sheep in 1801, the year in which the first Merinos were brought to this country. Merino sheep were for a time highly popular, and were imported in large numbers, more than 15,000 being brought over in 1810-11. [See Merino] The principal breeds of sheep now raised in the United States, are the (so-called) Natives, the Spanish and the Saxon Merinos, the New Leicester, the Southdown, the Cotswold, the Cheviot and the Lincoln. Taken altogether there are in the neighborhood of 50,000,000 sheep within the confines of the United States. What are known as the Saxon Merinos originated from a flock of 200 Spanish sheep imported to Saxony in 1765. They were bred with great care, and improved over the original quality of wool. The celebrated Ercildoune sheep, whose wool has taken the gold medal at all the international European exhibitions for thirty years, are descendants from the Saxon Merinos which were transplanted to Tasmania in the early part of this century. By skillful crossing and selecting, and the rich pasturage afforded on the island of Tasmania, a large improvement has been made in the size of these sheep and in the quantity and quality of the fleece. The wool is clean, soft, elastic and carries a beautiful luster. It is bought by silk manufacturers to mix with silk and as a combing wool for the best fancy dress goods is unsurpassed. It can be used for pure white goods or dyed the most delicate shades, and is unequalled for the finest billiard or broadcloth. Ewes of the Ercildoune stock are valued at $1,000 to $1,200 each. The finest and most valuable wool used in worsted manufactures is English luster wool, produced in Nottingham, Lincoln and Shropshire counties in England. [See Mohair] This lustrous wool is not only of very fine grades, but of very light shrinkage, only about twenty per cent. It costs the American manufacturer under the present duty rates, thirty-seven cents per pound. Pulled wool is the name that is given to the wool that is pulled from the skin of a slaughtered animal. Factories are almost entirely dependent for wools of this description on our own production, as the importation is very small. Formerly the major part of pulled wool was produced in the East, but since sheep began to be slaughtered in the West, instead of being shipped alive, the industry has rapidly declined in all eastern cities. Armour and Swift, of Chicago, pull about 8,000 skins a day, the wool from which is nearly entirely consumed by the factories of the Middle States.
Wool is distinguished from cotton, flax, and hemp by dipping the sample in a boiling solution of caustic soda (eight degress B). Let it remain for two hours at a steady boil and all the wool will be dissolved, leaving the vegetable fiber unchanged. For further tests see Silk, Linen, Fiber.