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This article was printed in a Fall River newspaper 23 November 1887, and explains many of those  occupations claimed by our ancestors that were unique to working in the mills. Click here to see some pictures of the mill machines and workers.

THROUGH A COTTON MILL
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THE PROCESS OF MANUFACTURE FROM START TO FINISH

Spinning. Weaving. How many associations, classic and modern, are suggested by the two words representing the principal processes of the manufacture of textiles. Penelope, faithful, weaving at her loom; the puritan maiden, Priscilla, singing at her spinning wheel; or more prosaic, the suggestion of Croesus-like wealth that English novel literature has given to the very name of cotton spinning, now thrown romantically in the shade of departed years; the New England maidens framing fiction and prose as they stood at their looms in the Lowell mills, with many a romance in their own toiling lives. Not less romantic, not less interesting is the modern mill, with its long vistas of ceaselessly toiling machines with their human attendants. Under the guidance of a gentleman well versed in the mysteries of cloth making, a reporter made a tour..., the results of which are set forth below. 

Leading the way along the plank walk from the office, by the great mills, that roared and hummed like immense bee-hives, to a circular building, in whose interior cotton bales piled in neat rows rose to the roof, the gentleman began his explanation. He said: "This is the cotton just as it comes in from the South. These .are compressed bales, weighing from four to a little over five hundred pounds each." Every bale has its weight, number of invoice and date of the arrival marked on a tag, and each invoice is piled by itself. When an amount of certain quality of cloth is made, orders come from the office for so many bales of such a description, according to the judgement as to what combination will best make the cloth desired. The bales are then taken from the cotton house to the picker room, where we are now going. The cotton in the picker room is taken from its bagging, and thrown, all the different kinds together, in a bin. Then it is ready for the first process.

Of course, the first object of the manufacturers is to get rid of the seeds and dirt in the cotton, and this the "picker" performs, and at the same time mixes the different grades of cotton, and begins the work of drawing out the fibre, which is the object of all the processes, till the cotton is spun into yarn. The cotton taken from the bin is laid on the apron of the "picker" and, drawn in by the rolls, it is carried against the beaters, transverse arms of steel, that beat the fibers out from their matted condition. From the beaters a strong current of air from a blower carries the cotton against a wire-covered cylinder where it is held, while the seeds and dirt, having greater weight, drop down to the bottom of the machine. The cotton is taken from the wheel by a second similar cylinder, and the same process goes on through the machine of three cylinders, till the cotton comes out at the end through the rolls in a sort of a felt, and then the cotton at the end of its first stage becomes a "lap."

Now, in order to mix the different grades of cotton, and to clean it still more, three of the laps from the first picker are put on the next machine, and the process repeated, and two of the laps from the second machine are put on the third.

At the end of the third machine the cotton is thoroughly mixed and clean, but the fibres are placed in every direction and it would be impossible to do anything with it before those fibres are straightened out. So into the cards it goes. In the carding machines, the lap is fed by rollers against a wire cylinder with rows of teeth that hold the fibre; wire combs, covering the under side of the boxing of the top of the cylinder, comb the fibres out straight, as they pass around, and the straightened fibres run off at the other side of the cylinder, in a thin gauzy sheet that is gathered together and runs down on an endless rubber belt. The cards that straighten the cotton of course get loaded with lint, and are cleaned by the stripper that works over the top of the carding machine, cleaning each comb in succession.

The cotton as it runs on the rubber belt in this closed box becomes a "sliver," and is on its way to the "railway head." The railway head consists of two sets of rolls, the rear pair running slower than the forward. The rolls are driven by cone pulleys that by an ingenious arrangement of weights vary the speed of the rear rolls. If the sliver is heavier than a certain weight, determined by the weights on the machine, the rear rolls run more slowly, and the sliver is drawn out more; if the sliver is light the rolls run faster and the sliver goes through without being drawn at all.

The sliver, now being uniform in consistency, goes from the railway head to the drawing frames, where the first processes in direct preparation for spinning take place. The principle of the drawing frames and of almost every machine till the cotton is made into yarn is the same; two sets of rollers, the rear ones, draw the fibres of the cotton out.

In the first drawing frame the single sliver is drawn out, then three slivers from the first frame are put in the second and two from the second drawn in, in the third. The sliver has now reached such slight tenuity that further drawing out would be impossible, as the fibres would all separate. To hold it together, it must be twisted and it goes to a slubbing frame that, with grooved rollers, revolving at the same speed, gives the sliver a twisting that greatly increases the strength, and winds the sliver on "spools" for convenience in handling. From the "slubbing frame" the cotton, now become "roving," goes to the intermediate and fly frames, which repeat the action of the drawing frames, the rollers taking first one strand of yarn, then three, then two, and all the time drawing out the fibre between sets of rollers revolving at unequal speeds. A second twisting is now given the yarn, and then it goes upstairs to the spinning frame.

The roving is now divided; a part of it goes to the ring spinning frames to be spun into the warp or longitudinal threads of the cloth; the rest run into the "mule" spinning frames, where the weft or filling is made.

The spinning is the continuation of the intermediate frames, and with a drawing out and twisting motion the mules and ring spindles finally prepare the "yarn," the former to go direct to the looms, the latter to go through further processes. In the course of its journey through the mill the fibres of the cotton have been drawn out until a single yard of cotton on the apron of the picker has lengthened to the "warp" many thousands of yards in length.

The warp as it comes from the ring spindles is wound from the bobbins on large spools each containing several thousand yards, and goes to the "warper" room, where it is placed on large racks that are wound off on the "warper beams," the number of threads on which determines the number of threads to the inch in the cloth. The warp, not being strong enough to stand the strain of weaving, has to be strengthened by "sizing," and goes to the "slasher room," where it is marked into "cuts" for the guidance of the weavers, who, as the mark in the cloth is reached, cut it off from the loom.

Before going to the loom, however, the threads of the warp have to be threaded into the "harnesses" that are essential parts of the weaving. Each thread of the warp is threaded by hand through the interstices of the harness and through the accompanying steel combs. Then the warp and the filling go to the loom, where one harness falling as the other rises, the shuttle drawing the weft between the opened threads, the cloth grows inch by inch under the weaver's eye, and the cuts are made. One more journey and that to the cloth room where the cloth is folded...