Beginning in 1991, AATCC published a regular column in its monthly journal called “I Remember When.” These memories of makeshift dye recipes and serendipitous discoveries are even more interesting now that technology and computers have replaced many of the older practices. Read on for a few of these stories.
During World War II, at least one manufacturer of tallow-type finished would drop a silver dollar in each 55-gallon drum of the mixture before it solidified. There is no telling how much of that compound went down the sewer as some workers jockeyed to get the dollar within reach on their shift.Herbert T. Pratt (February 1991)
*Editor’s note: Topsy is a character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. When asked if she knows who made her, she says “I s’pect I growed. Don’t think nobody never made me.” The phrase “growed like Topsy” (later “grew like Topsy”; now somewhat archaic) passed into the English language, originally with the specific meaning of unplanned growth, later sometimes just meaning enormous growth.
The old-time finisher was a master at solving all of his finishing problems with a corrective addition to the formula, and, in time, with these additional items, the formulas grew like Topsy.* Once, when I looked at the formula for a back-filled finish, I startled the finisher by asking, “Is this your formula or an inventory of the starch house?” When I became plant superintendent [at Duchess Bleachery], I pursued an energetic campaign to simplify all formulas to the three or four basic ingredients to do the job.A Durfee Damon (September 1991)
In 1959, when I was a master’s student working for C. L. Bird in the color chemistry department of the University of Leeds in the UK, I visited the southwest of Ireland on vacation. I stayed in a small inn on the Kerry Peninsula and on learning of my interest in dyes, my innkeeper suggested I talk to an old lady who was a national indigo dyer. I never saw her actually dye anything since the visit was made during the daylight hours. She told me that no indigo dyer worth his or her salt would ever dye indigo under any other conditions than under the darkling moon. This leads me to speculate that she had decided, discovered, or inherited useful, practical information about the influence of photo-accelerated oxidation on indigo dyeing—but “sure and begorra” she had never had a lesson in chemistry in her life.J. R. Aspland (December 1993)
In the early days of the marketing of surface active agents, a number of nontextile uses were found. I remember one in particular, a sulfonated butyl oleate wetting agent used in fire-fighting equipment water tanks, Its purpose was to make the water “wetter,” thus enabling the stream of water to penetrate difficult fires such as paper, waste bales, cotton bales, etc. Its use was short-lived, however, when it was found that the residual wetting agent caused the all-cotton fire hoses to rot. With today’s polyester, hose-rotting would not be a problem.Leander Ricard (February 1996)
A collection of more than 150 anecdotes is available from AATCC, while supplies last.
Do you have your own memories about the textile industry or AATCC? We’d love to hear them! Email your stories to AATCC News today.