Thursday, 23 January 2014

Scouring and Bleaching Linen

The costuming department at the heritage village requires all interpreters to have their hair covered.   While by the late 1900's day caps weren't really worn in a lot of places, it does keep costuming consistent and hides the modern hairstyles.  I don't mind at all, though it does mean some sewing.  While there are quite acceptable day caps available in the costume department, it's a trip to one end of the park to another and another 15 or 20 minutes of time.  Since I already drive almost an hour, I decided that I
need to make my own day caps.  I've not been able to find the types of fine cottons that many of the extant day and morning caps were made from, nor any acceptable substitutes locally.  I do have a soft, white cotton  that I can use but I only bought a half yard and I think the pattern I was given takes a little more than that.  It's not really an economical use of the fabric, so is probably a modern pattern which makes up to look like a period pattern, rather than a true 19th c. pattern.  However, it looks nice enough, so I'm using it for now.  I do have a good deal of natural linen gauze in the stash though.  This could be perfect if I could get it to bleach out light enough.

  I decided now was the perfect time to do a bit of an experiment in linen scouring and bleaching.   I'd
tried bleaching this particular linen gauze before but got really yellow results.  I didn't however scour the linen first.  According the the book Linen, From Flax Seed to Woven Cloth, all natural linen handspun threads should be scoured before using.  It's supposed to remove those yellow particles, lighten up the linen threads as well as soften them.  I just happened to have the ingredients on hand, soap and sodium carbonate.   I mixed up a triple batch and put it in a scrupulously clean dye pot. I simmered it for over an hour and let it cool.  There was a noticeable lighter in colour.  The water was a horrible, murky, chocolate brown colour.

 There were suggestions for a number of different methods to keep whitening the linen.  These included laying the fabric over fresh snow to bleach, keeping it moist and on the grass - not happening in January, in this part of the world, and finally more modern chemical methods using hydrogen peroxide, chlorine bleach etc.   I put water in the washer, added a bit of oxygen pre-soak and let the linen gauze sit for an hour, agitating once in a while in order to keep the fabric from having too many fold lines.  Then I added about 1/2 cup of house hold bleach and kept the same soaking routine for another hour and a half.  After running the fabric through the entire wash cycle with 2 rinses, I'm quite happy with the results.   This time, no yellow at all!.  The yardage is a bit lighter than the photo shows.  It's almost a half-white colour and will work just fine.    I just wish I'd used a little more yardarge as there was a good bit of shrinkage

1 comment:

Leigh said...

Very interesting post, Nina. That wash water reminds me of scouring cotton lint. Who would have known! Are you going to try the snow technique?