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FIBER AND FABRIC EDUCATION PROGRAM -

Fiber History

Natural fibers have been used for apparel and home fashion for thousands of years, with the use of wool going back over 4,000 years. In comparison, the man-made fiber industry began with the first commerical production of rayon in 1910.

For those old enough to remember the 50's and 60's, this was when there was a great deal of technology happening in the man-made fiber industry. And the technology continues even today. Microfibers, fibers finer than the finest silk, were developed in 1989 and lyocell, was developed in 1993. Today, many man-made fibers, including polyester have been developed into beautiful fabrics that are being used by major designers.

 

Natural Fibers

History of the principal natural fibers used in textiles for apparel and home fashion

EST. DATE
FIBER
BACKGROUND AND PRODUCTION
5,000+ BC
FLAX:
  • Generally considered to be the oldest natural textile fiber.
  • Fine linen was used as burial shrouds for the Egyptian pharaohs
  • Largest producer: Soviet States; other large producers include Poland, Germany, Belgium and France. Largest exporters are Northern Ireland and Belgium.
3,000+ BC
COTTON:
  • Earliest use estimated between 3,000 BC to 5,000 BC.
  • Worn by Egyptians earlier than 2,500 BC.
  • Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793 revolutionized the processing of cotton.
  • The development of the power loom in 1884 brought significant improvements and variations to cotton fabrics.
  • Major producers: United States, Soviet States, China and India. Lessor producers include Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico Iran and Sudan.
3,000 BC
WOOL:
  • Used by people of the Late Stone Age,
  • There are 40 different breeds of sheep, which produce approximately 200 types of wool of varying grades.
  • Major producers include: Australia, New Zealand, Soviet States, China, South Africa, and Argentina.
2,600 BC
SILK:
  • Believed discovered by a Chinese princess.
  • Silk is made from two continuous filaments cemented together and used to form the cocoon of the silkworm.
  • Silk culture began about 1725 BC, sponsored by the wife of China's emperor.
  • Secrets of cultivation and fabric manufacturing were closely guarded by the Chinese for about 3,000 years.
  • There is a story that two monks smuggled seeds of the mulberry tree and silkworm eggs out of China by hiding them in their walking sticks.
  • India learned of silk culture when a Chinese princess married an Indian prince.
  • The major producer and exporter of silk is Japan.

 

MAN-MADE FIBERS

The history of U.S. Production of the principal man-made fibers used in textiles for apparel and home fashion

It is important to understand that all manufactured fibers are not alike. Each fiber has a unique composition and it's own set of physical properties. The U. S. Federal Trade Commission has established generic names and definitions for manufactured fibers, including acetate, acrylic, lyocell, modacrylic, nylon, polyester, polypropylene (olefin), rayon, and spandex. However, all fibers under a generic name are not exactly the same.

Fiber producers have been able to modify the basic composition of each generic fiber, both chemically and physically, to produce variations which provide a softer feel, greater comfort, brighter/longer lasting colors, better warmth/cooling, moisture transport/wicking, and better properties for blending with other fibers. These improved fibers are given a trademark name and are owned and promoted by the fiber producer. The following is a list of producers of manufactured fibers and their trademark names.

DATE
FIBER
FIRST COMMERICAL PRODUCTION
1910
RAYON
  • The first man-made fiber.
  • The first commercial production of rayon fiber in the United States was in 1910 by the American Viscose Company.
  • By using two different chemicals and manufacturing techniques, two basic types of rayon were developed. They were viscose rayon and cuprammonium rayon.
  • Today, there are no producers of rayon in the U.S.
1924
ACETATE:
  • The first commercial production of acetate fiber in the United States was in 1924 by the Celanese Corporation.
1939
NYLON:
  • The first commercial production of nylon in the United States was in 1939 by the E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc. It is the second most used man-made fiber in this country, behind polyester.
1950
ACRYLIC:
  • The first commercial production of acrylic fiber in the United States was in 1950 by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc.
1953
POLYESTER:
  • The first commercial production of polyester fiber in the United States was in 1953 by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc.
  • Polyester is the most used man-made fiber in the U.S.
1954
TRIACETATE:
  • The first commercial production of triacetate fiber in the United States was in 1954 by the Celanese Corporation.
  • Domestic Triacetate production was discontinued in 1985.
1959
SPANDEX:
  • The first commercial production of spandex fiber in the United States was in 1959 by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc.
  • It is an elastomeric man-made fiber (able to stretch at least 100% and snap back like natural rubber).
  • Spandex is used in filament form.
1961
POLYOLEFIN/
POLYPROPYLENE:
  • The first commercial production of an olefin fiber manufactured in the U.S. was by Hercules Incorporated.
  • In 1966, polyolefin was the world's first and only Nobel-Prize winning fiber.
1989
MICRO FIBERS/
MICRODENIER:
  • The first commercial production of micro fiber in the U.S. was in 1989 by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc. Today micro fibers are produced in a variety of synthetic fibers (i.e. polyester, nylon, acrylic, etc.)
  • The true definition of a micro fiber is a fiber that has less than one denier per filament. Micro Fiber is the thinnest, finest of all man-made fibers. It is finer than the most delicate silk.
  • To relate it to something more familiar--A human hair is more than 100 times the size of some micro fibers
1993
LYOCELL:
  • The first commercial production of lyocell in the U.S. was in 1993 by Courtaulds Fibers, under the Tencel¬ trade name.
  • Environmentally friendly, lyocell is produced from the wood pulp of trees grown specifically for this purpose. It is specially processed, using a solvent spinning technique in which the dissolving agent is recycled, reducing environmental effluents.

 

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