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.
Worsteds. In the 15th century the production of woolen fabrics was a source of great wealth to many towns in eastern England, each town usually striving to excel in some special line or grade of woolen material. A sort of woolen yarn took took its name from Worstead, in Norfolk county, where it was first made. This yarn had a closer and harder twist than any woolen thread then made, and could be woven into cloth of special fineness. For 400 years this yarn has retained its identity, possessing now the same distinctive features as then. " Worsted" yarn, as explained under the head of Wool, is spun in a different way from "woolen" yarn. Throughout the process of worsted yarn manufacture, the fibers of which it is composed are mechanically arranged according to one regular order of parallelism, producing by this method a more symmetrical thread than the pure woolen, in which the fibers project from the main body of the yarn on all points of its circumference. In the former the fibers of wool are combed out as near straight as possible; in the latter the wool is carded, and the fibers are short and crossed in every direction, so as to assist in the fulling of the cloth after it is woven. Those cloths manufactured from worsted yarns which are figured, are woven in various kinds of looms, but in the main by the Jacquard. Plain kinds are woven in looms similar to those used for woolens. When worsted fabrics leave the loom they require only a slight dressing, and in this respect differ much from woolen cloths, which require elaborate finishing processes. [See Teasling, Fulling] Manufacturers of worsted (in its widest signification,) are classified according to the materials of which they are composed, viz: (1) Fabrics composed entirely of wool; (2) fabrics composed of wool and cotton; (3) fabrics composed of wool and silk; (4) fabrics composed of alpaca and mohair, or the same mixed with cotton or silk. The first of these classes includes the fabrics so well known under the head of merinos, serges, bunting, reps, and a large proportion of the heavier fabrics used in men's clothing, notably all those in which the weave effect forms the most prominent feature of the pattern. The second class includes many names used in the all-wool class, with the prefix of the word "union;" also vestings, linings, boot and shoe cloths, toilinette, valentia, etc. The third class includes the rich poplins made chiefly at Dublin, paramatta or Henrietta cloth, pongee, bombazine and tammy cloths. The fourth class includes alpaca and mohair mixtures, lusters, alpaca poplins, braids and laces.
The unique structure of worsted yarn makes it invaluable in the production of textile fabrics. Luster and uniformity of surface are its distinguishing characteristics. The method on which it is formed causes it to be capable of sustaining more tension, in proportion to size and thickness, than the pure woolen yarn; this characteristic, combined with its lustrous quality, gives it a pre-eminent position in the manufacture of fine coating. There is no other textile thread so highly adapted as the worsted to this important branch of weaving, inasmuch as a finer cloth, possessing a brighter and clearer surface is without doubt producible with worsted than woolen yarn. The method of adjusting the fibers in the formation of woolen yarn is such as to produce a thread with a somewhat indefinite and fibrous surface, which neutralizes the character of the weave, or destroys to a certain degree the pattern-effect in woven goods, due to crossing the warp and weft at right angles with each other. As the fibers are prepared on a different system in worsted yarn construction, a class of weave ornamentation of a decided or marked type may be obtained by employing this kind of thread. There is, in a word, more scope for pattern-production, for the level and regular structure of worsted imparts a distinctness to every section of a pattern; and from this peculiarity arises the great variety of effects seen in worsted trouserings, coatings, and dress fabrics, both in highly colored patterns and in piece-dyed fabrics of one shade throughout. The advantages which the worsted possesses over the woolen thread may be summed up as two-fold: (1) a smarter texture, that is, a clearer surface; and (2), a more definitely-pronounced weave effect. As to the carded thread (woolen), it is more suitable for cloths in which the colorings of the pattern require to be well blended, the texture fibrous, or the fabric well fulled; as, for example, fancy tweeds, cheviots, overcoatings, doeskins, meltons, kerseys, beavers and napped goods.