Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/177

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165
COTTON FIBRES AND FABRICS.

fires which so frequently break out in cotton-factories, always originating in the rooms where the raw material is set to dry. The minute quantity of oil contained in raw cotton is also the reason of its turning yellow in store, though it was white when gathered in. The fabric has, therefore, to be lixiviated and bleached before being printed. The process of bleaching begins by washing the cotton in lime-water, after which the fabric is passed through a weak acid solution, in order to remove the lime, which else would burn the tissue. It is then thoroughly washed, treated anew with soda, then with a soap of colophony, and finally passed through water.

The cloth is then free from oily matter, but not yet bleached, and it must yet pass through a solution of chloride of lime, and then through another solution of hydrochloric acid. These last two operations take but a moment, and they constitute the very crisis of the process; for, if the solutions be too strong, the tissues are burnt, and considerably weakened, a thing of very frequent occurrence. Formerly, the cloth used to be bleached in the sun; but this tedious and costly process, where the present one requires only a few days, took up weeks, and yet did not bleach the fabric so thoroughly.

Next the white cloth is sent to the printer, who gives it the figures desired. At first plates of wood with the figures in relief were employed in the printing; this was the infancy of the art. Later, plates of copper were used, having the figures cut into their surface; this was a step in advance. Finally the English, whose industrial genius is most fruitful of useful applications, originated the idea of printing with copper cylinders, beneath which the cloth would pass, receiving impressions ad infinitum.

Dupasquier introduced from England into the Continent this beautiful invention, which is even yet in process of improvement. From that moment printed cottons grew ever cheaper, although the printing was executed far better than formerly; and the fall in prices became simply enormous when machinery took the place of human hands. Then calico came into universal use, without, however, superseding textures of hemp and flax, which were still employed for table and body linen; it was only at a later day, and when prices were still further reduced, that the less opulent classes began to wear muslin instead of linen. This example was soon followed by the wealthy classes, who little suspected the snare that they were walking into, nor understood that, in substituting cotton for flax and hemp, they were selling out to America one of our most abundant sources of wealth, and of agricultural and industrial prosperity.

Such was the state of the textile market in Europe, when the United States war broke out; a war brought about by Palmerston, who wished England to receive the 1,200,000,000 francs annually paid by Europe for cotton. We know too well how far he was successful in his hateful design; for, ever since that time the East Indies share