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Mercerizing is a special type of treatment of cotton fiber that was invented my chemist John Mercer in 1844. To read more on this subject please click this link.

When cotton has been mercerized, the cotton thread or fabric takes on a lustrous sheen and becomes softer to the touch. The process for mercerizing cotton was discovered by John Mercer in 1844 when he began looking for a way to make cotton stronger and easier to dye. The process Mercer developed involved exposing cotton fibers to sodium hydroxide. This exposure resulted in the individual cotton fibers swelling which both strengthened the textile and made it easier to dye; while at the same time shrinking the fabric.

Mercerized cotton did not really take off until the 1890s when the technique was improved upon by H. A. Lowe who discovered that by not allowing the textile to shrink during mercerization the cotton would become lustrous and shiny. Mercerized cotton is still used today particularly in the production of thread used for crochet projects.