The process of mercerisation was developed in the 1880s by John Mercer to increase the dye-affinity and lustre fabrics. Mercer and his contemporaries quickly realised that this treatment had a number of additional positive outcomes, including increased fibre strength, smoothness and resistance to mildew. While most commonly used for cotton, other fibres such as hemp and linen can also be mercerised to improve their aesthetic and practical qualities.
In 1851, John Mercer conducted a series of experiments by which he observed that immersion in caustic soda, sulphuric acid and/or other chemicals causes them to swell, become round and straighten out. Following this, in 1890 Horace Lowe discovered that when Mercer's caustic soda treatment is applied to fibres and fabrics under tension, the lustre and absorbency of the fibre is also drastically increased. As long, staple fibres are more suited to tis process, mercerisation is generally only performed on naturally high quality fibres. Consequently, when comparing mercerised and unmercerised cotton, the superior strength of the former may be partly due to the longer staple fibres of the raw material.
Mercerised cotton can be used for most craft projects including handwaving, knitting, crochet and embroidery. It is commonly used in bedlinen and other home textiles as it is soft to touch, attractive and withstands significant wear and tear. Please note colours may vary slightly on your computer screen.