1902 Encyclopedia > Linen Manufactures

Linen Manufactures

LINEN MANUFACTURES. Under this term are comprehended all yarns spun and fabrics woven from flax fibre. The cultivation and preparation of the fibre, and its treatment till it reaches the market as a commercial product, are dealt with under FLAX, vol. ix. p. 293.
From the earliest periods of human history till almost the close of the 18th century the linen manufacture was one of the most extensive and widely disseminated of the domestic industries of European countries. The prepara-tion and spinning of yarn gave occupation to women of all classes; and the operations of weaving employed large numbers of both sexes. The industry was most largely developed in Russia, Austria, Germany, Holland, Belgium, the northern provinces of France, and certain parts of England, in the north of Ireland, and throughout Scotland ; and in these countries its importance was generally recognized by the enactment of special laws, having for their object the protection and extension of the trade. The inventions of Arkwright, Hargreaves, and Crompton in the later part of the 18th century, benefiting as they did, almost exclusively, the art of cotton spinning, and the unparalleled development of that branch of textile manu-factures, largely due to the ingenuity of these inventors, gave the linen trade as it then existed a fatal blow. Domestic spinning, and with it hand-loom weaving, immediately began to shrink ; a large and most respectable section of the operative classes in western Europe found their employment dwindling away, and the wages they earned from their diminished labour insufficient to ward off starvation. The trade which had supported whole villages and provinces entirely disappeared, and the linen manufacture, in attenuated dimensions and changed con-ditions, took refuge in special localities, where it resisted, not unsuccessfully, the further assaults of cotton, and, with varying fortunes, rearranged its relations in the com-munity of textile industries. The linen industries of the United Kingdom were the first to suffer from the aggression of cotton; more slowly the influence of the rival textile travelled across Continental countries ; and even to the present day, in Bussia, and in other regions remote from great commercial highways, the domestic manufacture of linens holds its place almost as it has done from the earliest period. In 1810 Napoleon I., with a view partly to promote Continental linen industries, and partly to strike a blow at the great British manufacture of cotton, issued a proclamation offering a reward of one million francs to any inventor who should devise the best machinery for the spinning of flax yarn. Within a few weeks thereafter Philippe de Girard patented in France important inventions for flax spinning by both dry and wet methods. His inventions, however, did not receive the promised reward, and were indeed neglected in his native country. In 1815 he was invited by the Austrian Government to establish a spinning mill at Hirtenberg near Vienna, which was run with his machinery for a number of years, but ultimately it failed to prove a commercial success. In the meantime, however, English inventors, stimulated rather than daunted by the success of cotton machinery, had applied themselves to the task of adapting machines to the preparation and spinning of flax. The foundation of machine spinning of flax was laid by John Kendrew and Thomas Porthouse of Darlington, who, in 1787, secured a patent for " a mill or machine upon new principles for spinning yarn from hemp, tow, flax, or wool." These machines, imperfect as they were, attracted much notice, and were introduced in various localities both in England and Scotland into mills fitted specially for flax spinning. By innumerable successive improvements and modifications, the invention of Kendrew and Porthouse developed into the perfect system of machinery with which, at the present day, spinning-mills are furnished; but progress in adapting flax fibres for mechanical spinning, and linen yarn for weaving cloth by power-loom, was much slower than in the corresponding case of cotton.

The implements used in the preparation of linen yarn in ancient and modern times, down to the end of the 18th century, were of the most primitive and inexpensive description. Till comparatively recent times, the sola spinning implements were the spindle and distaff. The spindle, which is the fundamental apparatus in all spinning machinery, was nothing more nor less than a round stick or rod of wood about 12 inches in length, tapering towards each extremity, and having at its upper end a notch or slit into which the yarn might be caught or fixed. In general, a ring or " whorl " of stone or clay was passed round the upper part of the spindle to give it momentum and steadi-ness when in rotation. The distaff, or rock, was a rather longer and stronger bar or stick, around one end of which, in a loose coil or ball, the fibrous material to be spun was wound. The other extremity of the distaff was carried under the left arm, or fixed in the girdle at the left side, so as to have the coil of flax in a convenient position for drawing out to yarn. A prepared end of yarn being fixed into the notch, the spinster, by a smart rolling motion of the spindle with the right hand against the right leg, threw it out from her, spinning in the air, while, with the left hand, she drew from the rock an additional supply of fibre which was formed into a uniform and equal strand with the right. The yarn being sufficiently twisted was released from the notch, wound around the lower part of the spindle, and again fixed in the îotch at the point insufficiently twisted ; and so the rotating, twisting, and drawing out operations went on till the spindle was full. So persistent is an ancient and primitive art of this description that to the present day, in remote districts of Scotland,-—the country where machine spinning has attained its highest development,—spinning with rock and spindle is yet practised ; and, rude as these implements are, yarn of extraordinary delicacy, beauty, and tenacity has been spun by their agency. The first improvement on the primitive spindle was found in the construction of the hand-wheel, in which the spindle, mounted in a frame, was fixed horizontally, and rotated by a band passing round it and a large wheel, set in the same framework. Such a wheel became known in Europe about the middle of the 16th century, but it appears to have been in use for cotton spinning in the East from time immemorial. At a later date, which cannot be fixed, the treadle motion was attached to the spinning wheel, enabling the spinster to sit at work with both hands free; and the introduction of the two-handed or double-spindle wheel, with flyers or twisting arms on the spindles, completed the series of mechanical improvements effected on flax spinning till the end of the 18th century. The common use of the two-handed wheel throughout the rural districts of Ireland and Scotland is a matter still within the recollection of middle-aged people; but spinning wheels are now seldom seen.

The modern manufacture of linen divides itself into two branches, spinning and weaving, to which may be added the bleaching and various finishing processes, which, in the case of many linen textures, are laborious undertakings and important branches of industry.
Flax, when received into the mills, has to undergo a train of preparatory operations before it arrives at the stage of being twisted into yarn. The whole operations in yarn manufacture comprise (1) heckling, (2) preparing, and (3) spinning.

Heckling.-—This first preparatory process consists not ouly in combing out, disentangling, and laying smooth and parallel the separate fibres, but also serves to split up and separate into their ultimate filaments the strands of fibre which, up to this point, have been agglutinated together. The heckling process was, until recent times, done by the hand ; and it was one of fundamental importance, requir-ing the exercise of much dexterity and judgment The broken, ravelled, and short fibres, which separate out in the heckling process, form tow, an article of much inferior value to the spinner; and the proportion of tow made in the process of hand-heckling varies according to the skill and knowledge of the heckler. A good deal of hand-heck-ling is still practised, especially in Irish and Continental factories; and it has not been found practicable, in any case, to entirely dispense with a rough preparation of the fibre by hand labour. In heckling by hand, the heckler stakes a handful or "strick" of rough flax, winds the top end around his hands, and then, spreading out the root end as broad and flat as possible, by a swinging motion dashes the fibre into the teeth or needles of the rougher or "ruffer" heckle. The rougher is a board plated with tin, and studded with spikes or teeth of steel about 7 inches in length, which taper to a fine sharp point. The heckler draws his strick several times through this tool, working gradually up from the roots to near his hand, till in his judgment the fibres at the root end are sufficiently combed out and smoothed. He then seizes the root end and similarly treats the top end of the strick. The stricks, as finished, are carefully piled up in a regular manner, keep-ing each handful separate for convenience of future treat-ment. The same process is again repeated on a similar j tool, the teeth of which are 5 inches long, and much more i closely studded together; and for the finer counts of yarn \ a third and a fourth heckle may be used, of still increasing : fineness and closeness of teeth. In dealing with certain ! varieties of the fibre, for fine spinning especially, the flax ! is, after roughing, broken or cut into three lengths—the j top, middle, and root ends. Of these the middle cut is most valuable, being uniform in length, strength, and quality. The root end is more woody and harsh, while the top, though fine in quality, is uneven and variable in strength. From some flax of extra length it is possible to take two short middle cuts; and, again, the fibre is occasionally only broken into two cuts according to the judgment and requirement of the manufacturer. Flax so prepared is known as " cut line" in contradistinction to " long line" flax, which is the fibre unbroken. The sub-sequent treatment of line, whether long or cut, does not present sufficient variation to require further reference to these distinctions.

In the case of heckling by machinery, the flax is first roughed and arranged in stricks, as above described under hand heckling. Considerable variations are presented in the construction of heckling machines, but the general principles of those now most commonly adopted, such as the machines of Combe, of Horner, or of Cotton, &c, are identical. These are known as vertical sheet heckling machines (fig. 1), their essential features being a set of end-less leather bands or sheets /, g revolving over a pair of rollers c, h in a vertical direction. These sheets are crossed by iron bars, to which heckle stocks, furnished with teeth, are screwed. The heckle stocks on each separate sheet are of one size and gauge, but each successive sheet in the length of the machine is furnished with stocks of increasing fineness, so that the heckling tool at the end where the flax is entered is the coarsest, while that to which the fibre is last submitted has the smallest and most closely set teeth. Thus the whole of the endless vertical revolving sheet presents a continuous series of heckle teeth, and the machines are furnished with a double set of such sheets revolving face to face, so close together that the pins of one set of sheets intersect those on the opposite stocks. Overhead, and exactly centred between these revolving sheets, is the head or holder channel a, from which the flax ! hangs down while it is undergoing the heckling process on ! both sides. The flax is fastened in a holder b, consisting of ; two heavy flat plates of iron, between which it is spread j and tightly screwed up. The holder is 11 inches in length, and the holder channel is fitted to contain a Hue of six, eight, or twelve such holders, according to the number of separate bands of heckling stocks in the machine. The head or holder channel has a falling and rising motion, by which it first presents the ends and gradually more and more of the length of the fibre to the heckle teeth, and, after dipping down the full length of the fibre exposed, it slowly rises and lifts the flax clear of the heckle stocks. By a reciprocal motion the whole of the holders are then moved forward one length; that at the last and finest set of stocks is thrown out, and place is made for filling in an additional holder at the beginning of the series. Thus with a six-tool heckle, or set of stocks, each holder full of flax from beginning to end descends.

FIG. 1.—Section of Combe's Heckling Machine.

into and rises from the heckle teeth six times in travelling from end to end of the machine. The root ends being thus first heckled, the holders are shot back along an inclined plane, the iron plates undamped, the flax reversed, and the top ends are then submitted to the same heckling operation. The tow made in the heckling process is cleared from tlie heckle teeth, as they revolve, by doffers I, I, which in travelling upwards are, by passing over special guide rollers e, e, projected out from the line of the heckle teeth. The doffers themselves are cleared by fixed combs d, d, and the tow falling down is collected in troughs k, k on each side of the machine. Tow, which is a much less valuable substance than dressed line, undergoes a some-what different preparing process, and is used only for the lower numbers of yarn.

Preparing.—The various operations in this stage have for their object the proper assortment of dressed line into qualities fit for spinning the different counts or sizes of yarn for which it may be suitable, and the drawing out of the fibres to a perfectly level and uniform continuous ribbon or sliver, containing throughout an equal quantity of fibre in any given length. From the heckling the now smooth, glossy, and clean stricks are taken to the sorting room, where they are assorted into different qualities by the "line sorter," who judges by both eye and touch the quality and capabilities of the fibre. So sorted, the material is passed to the spreading and drawing frames, a series or system of machines all similar in construction and effect. The essential features of the spreading frame are— l\) the feeding cloth or creeping sheet, which delivers the flax to (2) a pair of " feed and jockey " rollers, which pass it on (3) to the gill frame or fallers. The gill frame consists of a series o" narrow heckle bars, with short closely-studded teeth, which travel between the feed rollers and the drawing or "boss and pressing" rollers to be immediately attended to. They are, by an endless screw arrange-ment, carried forward at the rate at which the flax is delivered to them, and when they reach the end of their course they fall uucler, and by a similar screw arraugernent are brought back to the starting point; and thus they form an endless moving level toothed platform for carrying away the flax from the feed rollers. The drawing rollers grip the fibre as it leaves the gill, and, as they revolve much more rapidly than the feeding rollers, the fibre is drawn out through the gill teeth say to twenty or thirty times the length it had on the feeding board, and is con-sequently reduced to a sliver or loose ribbon of correspond-ingly greater tenuity. The sliver from the drawing frame is delivered into a tin can which holds 1000 yards, aud the machine automatically rings a bell when that length is delivered. From the spreading frame the cans of sliver pass to the drawing frames, where from four to twelve slivers combined are passed through feed rollers over gills, and drawn out by drawing rollers to the thickness of one. A third and fourth similar doubling and drawing may be embraced in a preparing system, so that the number of doublings the flax undergoes, before it arrives at the roving frame, may amount to from one thousand to one hundred thousand, according to the quality of yarn in progress. Thus, for example, the doublings on one preparing system maybe 6x 12x12x12 x8 = 82,944. The slivers delivered by the last drawing frame are taken to the roving frame, where they are singly passed through feed rollers and over gills, and, after drafting to sufficient tenuity, slightly twisted by flyers and wound on bobbins, in which condition the material—termed "rove" or "rovings"—is ready for the spinning frame.

The preparation of tow for spinning differs in essential features from the processes above described. Tow from different sources, such as scutching tow, heckle tow, &c., differs considerably in quality and value, some being very impure, filled with woody shives, &c, while other kinds are comparatively open and clean. A pre-liminary opening and cleaning is necessary for the dirty much-matted tows, and in general thereafter they are. passed through two carding engines called respectively the breaker and the finisher cards till the slivers from their processes are ready for the drawing and roving frames. In the case of fine clean tows, ou the other hand, passing through a single carding engine may be sufficient. The processes which follow the carding do not differ materially from those followed in the preparation of rove from line flax.

Spinning.—The spinning operation, which follows the roving, is done in two principal ways, called respectively dry spinning and wet spinning, the first being used for the lower counts or heavier yarns, while the second is exclu-sively adopted in the preparation of fine yarns up to the highest counts manufactured. The spinning frame does not differ in principle from the throstle spinning machine used in the cotton manufacture (see COTTON, vol. vi. p. 495). The bobbins of flax rove are arranged in rows on each side of the frame (the spinning frames being all double) on pins in an inclined plane A (fig. 2). The rove passes downwards through an eyelet or guide / to a pair of nipping rollers p, p, between which aud the final drawing rollers c, c, placed in the case of dry spinning from 18 to 22 inches lower down, the fibre receives its final draft while passing over and under cylinders d and guide-plate g, and attains that degree of tenuity which the finished yarn must possess. From the last rollers the now attenu-ated material, in passing to the flyers /, receives the degree of twist which compacts the fibres into the round hard cord which constitutes spun yarn; and from the flyers it is wound on the more slowly rotating spool e within the flyer arms, centred on the spindle S. In Wet spinning the general sequence of operations is the same, but the rove, as unwound from its bobbin, first passes through a trough of water heated to about 120° Fahr.; and, moreover, the interval between the two pairs of rollers in which the draw-ing out of the rove is accom-plished is.very much shorter. The influence of the hot water on the flax fibre ap-pears to be that it softens the gummy principle which binds the separate cells to-gether, and thereby allows the elementary cells to a certain extent to be drawn out without breaking the continuity of the fibre; and further it makes a finer, smoother, and more uniform strand than can be obtained by dry spinning. The ex-tent to which the original strick of flax as laid on the 1 feeding roller for (say) the production of a 50 lea yarn is, by doublings and draw-ings, extended, when it reaches the spinning spindle, may be stated thus :—35 times on spreading frame, 15 times on first drawing frame, 15 times on second drawing frame, 14 times on third drawing frame, 15 times on roving frame, and 10 times on spinning frame, in all 16,537,500 times its original length, with 8xl2xl6 = 1536doublings on the three drawing frames. That is to say, 1 yard of heckled line fed into the spreading frame is spread out, mixed with other fibres, to a length of about 9400 miles of yarn. In the case of fine yarns, by the additional drawings given, the doublings and elongations are very-much greater.

The next operation is reeling from the bobbins into hanks. By Act of Parliament, throughout the United Kingdom the standard measure of flax yarn is the " lea," called also in Scotland the " cut" of 300 yards. The flax is wound or reeled on a reel having a circumference of 90 inches (2| yards) making "a thread," and one hundred and twenty such threads form a lea. The grist or quality of all fine yarns is estimated by the number of leas in a pound ; thus " 50 lea " indicates that there are 50 leas or cuts of 300 yards each in a pound of the yarn so denomi-nated. With the heavier yarns in Scotland the quality is indicated by their weight per " spindle" of 48 cuts or leas; thus " 3 B) tow yarn "_ is such as weighs 3 B> per spindle, equivalent to "16 lea."

The hanks of yarn from wet spinning are either dried in a loft with artificial heat, or, in rural localities, exposed over ropes in the open air. When dry they are twisted back and forward to take the wiry feeling out of the yarn, and made up in bundles for the market as " grey yarn." English and Irish spinners make up their yarns into "bundles" of 20 hanks, each hank containing 10 leas; Scotch manufacturers, on the other hand, adhere to the spindle containing 4 hanks of 12 cuts or leas.

Commercial qualities of yarn range from about 6 lb tow yarns (8 lea) up to 160 lea line yarn. Yery much finer yarn up even to 400 lea may be spun from the system of machines found in many factories ; but these higher counts are only used for fine thread for sewing and for the making of lace. The highest counts of cut line flax are spun in Irish factories for the manufacture of fine cambrics and lawns which are characteristic features of the Ulster trade. Exceedingly high counts have sometimes been spun by hand, and for the preparation of the finest lace threads it is said the Belgian hand spinners must work in damp cellars, where the spinner is guided by the sense of touch alone, the filament being too fine to be seen by the eye. Such lace yarn is said to have been sold for as much as £240 per lb. In the Great Exhibition of 1851 yarn of 760 lea, equal to about 130 miles per tt>, was shown which had been spun by an Irish woman eighty-four years of age. In the same exhibition there was shown by a Cambray manufacturing firm hand-spun yarn equal to 1200 warp and 1600 weft or to more than 208 and 278 miles per lb respectively.

A large proportion of the linen yarn of commerce under-goes a more or less thorough bleaching before it is handed over to the weaver. Linen yarns in the green condition contain such a large proportion of gummy and resinous matter, removable by bleaching, that cloths .which might present a firm close texture in their natural unbleached state would become thin and impoverished in a perfectly bleached condition. Manufacturers allow about 20 per cent, of loss in weight of yarn in bleaching from the green to the fully bleached stage; and the intermediate stages of "creamed," "half-creamed," "milled," and "improved," all indicating a certain degree of bleaching, have corre-sponding degrees of loss in weight. The differences in colour resulting from different degrees of bleaching are taken advantage of for producing patterns in certain classes of linen fabrics.

Linen thread is prepared from the various counts of fine bleached line yarn by winding the hanks on large spools, and twisting the various strands, two, three, four, or six cord as the case may be, on a doubling spindle similar in principle to the yarn spinning frame, excepting, of course, the drawing rollers. A large trade in linen thread has been created by its use in the machine manufacture of boots and shoes, saddlery, and other leather goods, and in heavy sewing-machine work generally. Tire thread industry is largely developed at Lisburn near Belfast, at Johnstone near Glasgow, and at Paterson, New Jersey, United States. -Fine cords, net twine, and ropes are also twisted from flax.

Weaving.—The application of the power-loom to the weaving of linen was hindered by many obstacles which were not met with in dealing with the weaving of cotton and woollen fabrics. The principal difficulty arose through the hardness and inelasticity of the linen wefts, owing to which the yarn frequently broke under the sharp sudden jerk with which the picker throws the shuttle in power-loom weaving. The difficulties in the way of power-loom linen weaving, combined with the obstinate competition of distressed hand-loom weavers, delayed the introduction of factory weaving of linen fabrics for many years after the system was fully applied to other textiles. Competition with the hand-loom against the power-loom is conceivable, although it is absolutely impossible for the work of the spinning wheel to stand against the rivalry of drawing, roving, and spinning frames. To the present day, in Ireland especially, a great deal of fine weaving is done by hand-loom; and the persons who first applied machinery to the weaving of linen damasks in Scotland are yet (1882) alive. Power was applied on a small scale to the weaving of canvas in London about 1812; in 1821 power-looms were started for weaving linen at Kirkcaldy, Scotland; and in 1821 Maberly & Co. of Aberdeen had two hundred power-looms erected for linen manufacture. The power-loom has been in uninterrupted use in the Broadford factory, Aberdeen, which then belonged to Maberly & Co., down to the present day, and to that firm may be awarded the credit of being the effective introducers of power-loom weaving in the linen trade.

The various operations connected with linen weaving, such as winding, warping, dressing, beaming, and drawing-in, do not differ in essential features from the like processes in the case of cotton weaving, &c, neither is there any significant modification in the looms employed. Dressing is a matter of importance in the preparation of linen warps for beaming. It consists in treating the spread yarn with flour paste, applied to it by cylinders, the lowermost of which revolves in a trough of paste. The paste is equalized on the yarn by brushes, and dried by passing the web over steam-heated cans before it is finally wound on the beam for weaving. See WEAVING.

For the bleaching and calendering of such linen fabrics as undergo these processes see BLEACHING vol. iii. p. 821; CALENDER, vol. iv. p. 682.

Linen fabrics are numerous in variety and widely different in their qualities, appearance, and applications, ranging from heavy sailcloth and rough sacking to the most delicate cambrics and lawns. The heavier manufactures include as a principal item sail-cloth, with canvas, tarpaulin, sacking, and carpeting. The prin-cipal seats of the manufacture of these linens are Dundee, Arbroath, and Forfar. The medium weight linens, which are used for a great variety of purposes, such as tent-making, towelling, covers, outer garments for men, linings, upholstery work, &c, include duck, huckaback, crash, tick, dowlas, osnaburg, low sheetings, and low brown linens. Plain bleached linens form a class by themselves, and include principally the materials for shirts and collars and for bed sheets. Under the head of twilled linens are included drills, diapers, and dimity for household use ; and damasks for table linen, of which two kinds are distinguished—single or five-leaf damask, and double or eight-leaf damask, the pattern being formed by the inter-section of warp and weft yarns at intervals of five and eight strands of yarn respectively. The fine linens are cambrics, lawns, and handkerchief's ; and lastly, printed and dyed linen fabrics may be assigned to a special though not important class. Numerous local, fancy, and temporary names are frequently attached to linen fabrics ; but in the above list are only included such articles as occupy a standing position in the great markets. In a general way it may be said regarding the British industry that the heavy linen trade centres in Dundee ; medium goods are made in most linen manufacturing districts ; damasks are chiefly produced in Dun-fermline and Perth ; and the fine linen manufactures have their seat in Belfast and the north of Ireland. Leeds is the centre of the linen trade of England.

Linen fabrics have several advantages over cotton, resulting principally from the microscopic structure and length of the flax fibre. The cloth is much smoother and more lustrous than cotton cloth ; and, presenting a less " woolly" surface, it does not soil so readily, nor absorb and retain moisture so freely, as the more spongy cotton ; and it is at once a cool, clean, and healthful material for bed-sheeting and clothing. Bleached linen, starched and dressed, possesses that unequalled purity, gloss, and smoothness which, make it alone the material suitable for shirt-fronts, collars, and wristbands ; and the gossamer delicacy, yet strength, of the thread it may be spun into fits it for the fine lace-making to which it is devoted'. Flax is a heavier material than cotton, but weight for weight it is much stronger, single yarn having proportionate strength in the ratio of 3 to D83, doubled yarn 3 to 2'26, and cloth 3 to 2'13. Of course cotton, on the other hand, has many advan-tages peculiarly its own.

Trade and Commerce.—The application of machine power to the entire range of linen manufactures has greatly improved the position and developed the resources of the industry, so that linen now occupies a well-defined and important position among the principal textiles. Had it not been for the sudden and unprecedented growth of the jute trade, no doubt the coarser and heavier branches of the trade would have attained much greater dimensions ; and the development of the jute industry of Scotland fully accounts for the comparatively inelastic condition of the Scottish linen trade.
The following table indicates the extent of the linen industries in the United Kingdom at the various dates specified :—

== TABLE ==

The number of flax spindles and power-looms in the European factories in 1881 is given in the Annual Report of the Irish Flax Supply Association as follows:—

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In all these returns no account is taken of the hand-looms in use, although in most of the Continental districts hand loom weaving is more common than weaving by power.
The amount and declared value of the exports of linens, linen yarn, &c., from the United Kingdom at intervals extending over fifty years is thus stated from official sources :—

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The principal consumers of British linen manufactures are indi-cated in the following table, showing the exports for the year 1881 :—

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To which add:—

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(J. PA.)

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