January 2005

Needlecraft University's Anniversary

Needlecraft University is now two years old. NU opened its door in January 2003. Since then the site has improved by receiving many new features, classes, and teachers. Best of all, it has received and continues to receive your support. I would like to Thank You for all your support by visiting the web site, taking our classes, and sending us so many encouraging messages. We have wonderful plans for this year. New classes are being prepared, and new teachers are joining our community.

What is Mercerization

We all have seen and used mercerized cotton (especially for crocheted doilies). Have you ever wondered what mercerization means and why mercerized cotton is more lustrous than regular cotton?

As you know, cotton is a natural plant base fiber. It is absorbent but dull. Mercerization is the chemical treatment of cotton under tension with caustic soda solution (Sodium Hydroxide) that improves the cotton fiber in two ways; it strengthens cotton fiber and gives it a silky shine.

John Mercer of Lancashire, England, who was a calico dyer, developed the process in 1844. The process was named after him. He found out that the caustic soda bath causes the cellulose in cotton fibers to swell and be more absorbent. As a result, the fiber became stronger and took dye better than regular cotton. The two draw backs for mercerization were that the fiber shrunk and, at the time, the chemical process was too expensive.

In 1889 Horace Lowe of Germany discovered that if the cotton fiber was stretched during the process and washed with light acidic solution, not only it would go back to its original length, it would have a lustrous shine creating a silk like appearance. Throughout history people have been trying to create an alternative to silk which was very expensive. This discovery and the lower price for its chemical process caused the use of mercerization to grow rapidly, especially that the processed cotton takes dye better than regular cotton.

Later, scientists discovered that the same process works for other kinds of cellulose fibers, such as Linen, Ramie, Jute, and wood fibers. However, since cotton is one of the least expensive and most adaptable plant based fibers, it is the most common mercerized fiber.

Nazanin S. Fard

Needlecraft University

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