French and English Black Broadcloth.

Scientific American 49, 23.8.1851

It is well known that English boardcloth, at one time, carried all before it - none other could compete with it. It is not so at present; the French and Belgian are the favorites in the American Market, and the English cannot be sold. The French cloth retains its color until it is worn threadbare, the Engish grows white in those parts exposed to friction. The superiority of the French cloth is due to the invention in dyeing and finishing, made about twenty years ago. The improvement gives the  cloth a silky lustrous surface, soft to the touch, wish the nap laid close and smooth, and impervious to dust which can be removed by merely wiping with a handkerchief; moreover, it neither spots with rain nor shrinks by heat; and these qualities continues to exist so long as the fabric hold together. When French cloth began to obtain a footing in the American market, the Englishh maker, instead of attempting to excell in the beauty and durability of the article, endeavoured to compete in cheapness; the evil was thus rather increased than otherwise, for in order to lower the price, inferior materials were necessarily employed in the manufacture, and likewise in the dyeing of the cloth, and thus additional discredit was thrown upon the English fabrics.

The principle of woolen dyeing is very simple, a great deal more so than cotton.

The first step consist in the cleansing and preparation of the wool to receive the coloring matter. Wool, when intended to receive a black of the best quality, is not in the first instance dyed of that tint, but receives preparatory dye from either woad or indigo, or a mixture of both, this gives the wool the foundation for a permanent color; the after dyeing black by a salt of iron serving, as it were, to modify or determine the tint. The permanency of the black depends upon the depth of color given by the woad or indigo; and here, as well as the finish of his cloths, the English manufatucrer has permitted his continental competitors to outstrip him; not from his inferior skill but from devoting his energies to the production of a cheap instead of superior article.

In England indigo is chiefly employed, but, from its comparative expence can be used but sparingly. Now, as the permanency of the black depends upon the firmness and depth of the blue tint, and as the black derived from iron is in itself extremely attackable by chemical agents, it follows that black cloths in which the blue foundation color has been imperfectrly produced, are liable to be affected by exposure to the atmosphere, light and heat. It is found that cloths dyed in France and Germany, where the woad is more used, are but slightly influenced by these chemical agents which arecapable of entirely removing balck color from the ordinary English cloth.

It appears, then, that there are two capital points in which the British manufacture have permitted themselves to be rivalled by the French and Germans, viz., with respect to the finish and permanency of the color of their cloths.

Within a few years some of the English cloth manufacturers have devoted much attention to improving the cloth, and with that stamina which is peculiar to them they will no doubt be successful. They have got machines from finishing from both France and Belgium, and have and will make improvements on them. We have see some samples of the cloth manufactured at Leeds by the improved machinery, and by a superior system of dyeing. The samples were soft, smooth, and of a brilliant black not liable to spot by water. It will be some time, however, before the English cloth manufacturers can win back the good nae they have lost. In mechanical and manufacturing operations, it is impossible to be successful unless the utmost attention is given to push along improving.

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