This section is from the "Household Textiles" book, by Charlotte M. Gibbs.
Because of the high cost and beauty of silk there have been many attempts to find substitutes for it. Efforts have been made to spin the spider's web and to use the filaments spun by other moths, but so far these have been unsuccessful. A single exception is the byssus of the shellfish, Pinna. This byssus is a tassel-like appendage by which the mussel attaches itself to the rocks, and it may be combed out and spun into a thread which is used sometimes for gloves, purses, and other small articles. The natural color of this silk is olive green or brown.
Chemists have experimented for years to find a substitute for silk, and have produced several artificial silks from different substances. The most successful of these is Chardonnet silk, so called from the man who succeeded ill producing it. This silk is made from cellulose steeped in concentrated sulphuric and nitric acid and dissolved in a mixture of equal parts of alcohol and ether. This solution, collodion, is then forced through very fine capillary tubes, from which it comes in threads, which coagulate in the air. As this cellulose is highly explosive it must be denitrated before being spun into yarn.
Fig. 29. Artificial Silk.
Chardonnet silk has a high luster, considerable tensile strength, and, although yellowish in color, may be bleached with chloride of lime and dyed readily. The greatest objection to the use of it is that it does not withstand the action of water well. It is used, however, for braids, neckties, and for fancy articles which need not come in contact with water. In making beautiful tapestries in a studio in New York, artificial silk has been found satisfactory, as resistance to water is not essential in this sort of material.
Other varieties of artificial silk have been made from solutions of cellulose in ammoniacal copper oxide, or chloride of zinc, and from filaments of gelatin treated with formaldehyde. The Chardonnet and other silks made by practically the same method are, however, most satisfactory, and have partially met an ever-increasing demand.
Thus it is that in the past two or three generations many processes have been discovered whereby the cost of silk has been decreased and the supply increased, or, rather, the supply has been made to go much farther. The unfortunate part of the change is that the wearing qualities of silk have been greatly decreased, but since the public demands quantity and variety at small cost it obtains that which it demands.
Barker, A. F. Textiles. Hurst, G. H. Dyeing and Printing of Silk. Matthews, J. M. Textile Fibres.
Posselt, E. A. Wool, Cotton, Silk, from Fibre to Finished Fabric. Silk. Pamphlet. Nonotuck Silk Company.