fledge capable of flying, from Middle English flegge, from Old English -flycge; akin to Old High German flucki capable of flying,
Old English flEogan to fly -- more at FLY
intransitive verb, of a young bird : to acquire the feathers necessary for flight or independent activity

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I don't care if Monday's blue

These jeans are about six months old. They are a certain fancy/schmancy brand of jeans, which even on the ol' Ebay start at over $100 (used). And these cotton-pickin' jeans are fraying at the knee. The fact that they are fraying in a heart shape is a bonus, but a bonus I could do without. I'm not exactly cotton on this cotton.

Have you ever wondered why your favorite jeans from high school are still going strong, while the jeans you bought just last year pill, tear and fray? Or how about your favorite concert t-shirt from the 80s? Why did that last through the decades while this one bought just recently doesn’t last five washings? I recently watched a DVD about finding Nefertiti's mummy. In this hole in a rock were pieces of cloth that were 3,000+ years old. So, fabric can last. 3,000 years, even. Fact is, not all cotton is created equal. It is likely the cotton in your high school jeans and concert t-shirt were made of a longer staple variety cotton and your jeans from last year made of a twill of shorter, fast-growing variety cotton.

Except for outerwear or special occasion dressing, for children’s clothing, most of the material I use most often will be cotton. I know a thing or two about cotton. Or I know person or two who know a thing or two about cotton. “Cotton has been grown on the homeplace in Southeast Missouri since it was acquired in a land grant from President Franklin Pierce,” my dad recalls of the home in grew up in, “That gumbo mud is rich for growing. Until World War II, all picking was done by hand. The most I ever earned from picking cotton was one cent a pound. I tried to pick 200 pounds a day. Why, those cotton burs would get under your nails—I’d rather do anything than pick cotton!” My Aunt Lou still sharecrops a bit of the land and grows cotton. So, if you will allow, I'll write up a thing or two about cotton.

The better quality cotton will be woven of slow-growing cotton. Slower growth allows the cotton blossom fibers, know as staples, to grow longer. Longer staples spun into yarn are stronger and silkier than their shorter staple cousins. The longest staple cotton, Sea Island Cotton, is very expensive and usually found only in the most expensive dress shirts. Egyptian Cotton can be found for a price, as well. (Egyptian cotton was introduced to the United States by the Firestone company to use in their tires and was first cultivated by them in Arizona: So says my dad. See? He knows a thing or two or three about cotton). Most medium quality sewing fabrics will be made of American Upland Long Staple (and "near-long" staple, go figure), which is long only when compared to its shorter cousin, American Short Staple. And then there are Asian varieties that look like fluff.

The yarns of longer staple cottons can be spun much tighter and thinner, allowing for a higher thread count. Many quilting cottons have a lower thread count, for example 160 or 140 threads per inch. For garment sewing, I prefer percale fabrics produced especially for garments, which tend to have a thread count of 200 threads per inch. The warp and weft (weave) of 140 or 160 fiber count cotton is easily visible at a distance of about 10 inches. Higher counts are less visible to the naked eye. (Those 600 and even 1500 thread count cottons, well, those are a bit of a misnomer: Those use a three- to five-ply yarn and count those individual plies as threads. Those silly marketing people).

1. Sea Island; 2. Egyptian; 3. Pima; 4. American Upland Long; 5. American Upland Short; 6. Asian Short. Image via St. Geneve.

There are other processes in textile manufacturing, which will have an effect on quality: Singeing, Mercerizing and ammoniating finishing. Singeing is what it implies. The tiny fibers that stand up after weaving are burned off. These stray fibers are what are often the root cause of pilling. Shorter staple cottons will tend to pill more, so singeing here is important. Mercerizing, named for a 19th Century chemist, John Mercer, is a process of adding chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide, to natural fibers and then stretching and holding the material while the chemicals react. This gives a fabric a more lustrous appearance and improves the material’s affinity for dye. Ammoniating finish is an alternative to Mercerizing, which is less expensive to produce, as well as less polluting. Ammonia treated cotton and rayon fabrics are up to 40 percent stronger than untreated textiles. These textiles are sold under the trade names Duralized and Saforset.

While buying your cotton fabrics, go ahead and rub a corner between your thumb and forefinger and create some real friction. The fabrics woven of better cottons will retain their shape. The lower quality cottons will pucker a bit from the friction. If you purchase your fabrics online, don’t be shy! I ask my online retailers to give me their opinion of the fabric quality. My trusted online retailers are fabric fanatics at heart and are very happy to share their opinion of the fabric quality they stock. Some online shops have live chat. Others will send a swatch for a nominal fee. If I like a print, but the quality isn’t suitable for lots of wash and wear, I’ll purchase it for trim or accent.

In addition, for me personally, if I’m going to invest my time and ideas with these materials, I want to put my hands on the good stuff. Using cheap material can be more expensive in the end. Cheaply made knit fabrics, for one, are simply not worth my time. For example, ever wonder why the side seams of an inexpensive t-shirt twist diagonally after a few washes? A poorer-quality knit will twist along the loop direction, as circular knitting machines are more efficient than the flatbed counterparts. This is also a tip when purchasing knit clothes: Hold the garment up and see if you recognize a slight twist. (Do this with men's neckties, as well).

Stay tuned. I may tell you a thing or two about polluting manufacturing practices, if you are interested.


mooi hoor... said...

oh yes, another way we pay the price for limitless consumption.
Great piece Nancy - keep them coming!

Eva said...

Yep.... more of the good stuff, please!
Qualitywise and informationwise...

jaya pratheesh said...

wonderful article.. gave me a lot of new (to me) information. thank you for taking the time to write this.

Harmony said...

Love this post. Very informative and easy to understand. Thank you.


Related Posts with Thumbnails