HNC Autumn School – Day 4

There comes a point in any blog when the writer reflects on whether the subject he or she  is about to write about is lively enough to secure the interest of the general reader. I’ve just reached that point in this on-going resume of a course of study. Six hours of lectures on Textile Technology in one day doesn’t sound very promising to the uninitiated! Well, before today I was certainly very ignorant the world of yarns and fibres and the processes that make them what they are. But it is clear to me now that the essence of creative weaving probably lies in the understanding of the core materials a weaver chooses for a project. It’s not just about colour, texture and quality. The yarn can have properties that effect the very shape of the finished product: it can stretch and expand, take dyes (or not). So whether it is alpaca, viscose rayon or fishing line the weaver benefits from understanding its sources, properties and possibilities.

Our lecturer for this intensive introduction has spent his entire professional life in the world of textiles. Experiencing the journey of wool from an Australian sheep station to setting up textile factories in China (and becoming a specialist in closing down woollen mills down in West Yorkshire) his bringing together of the story of modern textile manufacture was fascinating and comprehensive. He was wonderfully patient with questions from a very attentive class and clearly enjoyed the challenge of keeping us on track with the subject.

Fibres are considered as either natural or manufactured: what exists on or from an animal or plant; what is brought together through the regeneration of a natural organic or produced synthetically through a chemical process. Staple fibres such as sheered wool have a natural length of 30-100mm and require spinning; filament fibres such as silk do not – a single cocoon can extrude two filaments of up to 3km! Manufactured fibres such as polyesters and acrylics are usual extruded in a continuous form and may then be cut and processed through a spinning route. 

Edward's table of fibre and yarn samples

Edward's Table of Yarn and Fibre Samples

We examined fibre structures initially through examining examples of animal and plant fibres. Edward took us through the sheep, goat and camelid types. We got our fingers on cashmire, mohair, alpaca, even yak hair. Discovered the mystery of the double-coated fleece responsible for some of the finest and more expensive fibres. We looked through microscopes at cotton, flax and silk and saw for ourselves the cuticles and scales, cortex structures and the medulla (an air-filled canal) found in alpacha.

Regenerated sources from protein such as corn, milk, seaweed and shellfish we learnt were responsible for a large family of viscose fibres. The synthetic, usually made from petro-chemicals, we discovered were an important constituent of many modern fibres that so often blend different fibre types to lower costs or simply to give a particular natural fibre a special quality such as increased strength.

Yarns we found were thought of in long and short fibre types: the long included woollen, worsted and flax, the short mostly cottons. These fibres types also denote processing systems that can including opening, mixing , carding, combing, spinning, twisting. Cotton processing for example can be used on extruded polyester blending cotton and polyester, and using the special enclosed forms of production unnecessary in the woollen or worsted processes.

We had a jolly video courtesy of the EU about the production of linen. To a musical accompaniment of (mostly) Vivaldi we saw fields of flax in Belgium, the process of retting out in the field, and all the modern machinery that’s required to make the linen cloth we like to wear. 

Raising a Knap

Raising a Knap

The lecture concluded with descriptions of the yarn counts in text, metric and denier and finally (and appropriately) the process of finishing was explained, including the strange business of ‘raising the knap’ illustrated by the teasel in the photo here, although usually managed today with card-wire rather than this ‘natural’ item. We now have to write a report on this journey through textile technology. Well, that’s when making a blog can have its uses as I reckon with this exercise I’m half way there!

There’s a commentary on how this intensive introduction has informed my work with textile fibres over the next 2 months. This blog together with the commentary make up the text of my assessed report for Unit 7 – Understanding Fibres, Yarns and Fabrics.

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