Article Courtesy of Pintucks...
When were Synthetic fibers used used?
Synthetic fibers are man-made and are derived from several sources both
natural and chemical. Development of synthetics has occurred for more
than a century, with applications to fiber and apparel as well as many
other products where innovative surfaces or fibers are required.
First on the textile and fashion scene were cellulose based synthetic
fibers that were developed from wood pulp (cellulose). Wood pulp
produces fibers, that perform similar to linen, cotton and ramie. This
means that in apparel, the fabric would feel and wear similar to linen
or cotton. However, early developments were aimed at reproducing silk in
an affordable way. The impact on textiles and apparel would be to
introduce a silky fabric to the masses.
The first synthetic silk was Rayon in 1920. By 1924 use of the term
‘rayon’ for this fiber was used. It also was termed ‘viscose’. This
would be used in women’s apparel, especially after 1929 and the
beginning of the depression. Producing affordable silk substitute fabric
was in big demand. Advertising during this time was important in
introducing this fiber to the consumer. Rayon fabrics will feel silky
and will wrinkle. Silk tends to feel ‘warm’ when crushed in the hand,
and rayon will feel ‘cool’.
Acetate, late 1920’s:
In 1924, Acetate was spun into yarn by the Celanese company. This
invention was followed by commercial development of acetate fabric and
fashions that seemed to be of silk, but were acetate instead. Acetate is
prone towards fading, and may show dramatic color loss at the tops of
shoulders, hems and side seams when exposed to light in closets. Acetate
is also very flammable, and will ‘flash burn’, making it a dangerous
textile, regardless of the fact that it was the most popular textile for
Halloween costumes until recent legislation prohibited its use.
Nylon, as fabric after 1945:
Nylon was spun into stockings in 1937, by DuPont. It was not until 1940
that it was available widely to the consumer as stockings. During the
pre-WWII years it had some other non-textile applications. Nylon was not
available during WWII for public use (which is when we see women using
leg paint). It becomes popular as a fashion fabric following the end of
the war in 1945. Nylon is a petroleum based fiber, so it can have some
problems with stains that are oil or grease based, but it performed very
well in wash and wear use. Knit nylon jersey fabrics were very popular
in the post war and early 1950’s. In conservation the sewing thread of
cotton may have ‘popped’ along seam lines due to fabric stretch.
Sometimes the yarns are cut or torn where the seam line was sewn.
Usually nylon fabrics hold dye color well if not exposed to sunlight. In
fashion, nylon jerseys were still widely worn into the late 1960’s as a
soft alternative to the more expensive (still new) polyester knits.
Polyester, as fabric after early 1950’s:
Polyester was developed for use in 1941 and called ‘Terylene’. Later the
term ‘Dacron’ would come into use (in 1950 by DuPont). As an apparel
fabric, it appears in 1951 with a promise of being crease resistant. In
1953 it comes into use in the US. The term ‘Kodel’ is used by Eastman in
1958. During this time, polyester was blended with cotton to be ‘wash
‘n’ wear’ or crease resistant. It is common in the late 1950’s and early
1960’s to see many cottons that have some polyester. These garments and
textiles can be identified by their resistance to wrinkles. If washed
they can be hung to dry with few wrinkles.
Pure polyester came into popularity in the mid- to late- 1960’s with
double knit fabrics that held their shape without interfacing or starch.
These were popular until their use became too common. Popular traits
with the consumer were the color fast quality of the fiber, wrinkle
resistance, seam line stability (it didn’t unravel), moderate stretch
(stable on grain, some stretch cross grain). Unpopular traits were
difficult stain removal due to its attraction to oils and grease, lack
of moisture absorption, lack of warmth, and ‘hand’ or lack of drape.
The drape effects were improved when Qiana (DuPont) was introduced in
1968. Originally used in couture fashion, this soft fabric was usually
knit in a light weight jersey. It has a silky character, more drape, and
a lighter weight than conventional polyester of that time. Qiana would
continue in popularity through the early 1980’s.
During the 1960’s, synthetic fabrics became so popular that in 1968 more
synthetic fabrics were produced than natural. This is important to know
in determining value of apparel. Fashion garments made from natural
fibers, especially silk, linen or wool would have been much more
expensive to purchase than the mass produced ready to wear where
synthetic fibers were used.
Spandex was invented for apparel in 1959 (DuPont). It would also be
termed Lycra by DuPont. It also is called ‘Elastane’ outside the US.
Prior to this time, elastic fabrics were usually made from a rubber
core, wrapped with a fiber. Natural rubber is sensitive to temperature,
light, moisture, and pollutants in the air and will loose its stretch
Acrylic, early 1950’s
A synthetic wool called ‘acrylic’ was developed in 1950 (DuPont) and was
also called Orlon. This appeared in the 1950’s in less expensive
sweaters and winter textiles. Because it is washable, it gained favor in
children’s wear as well. DuPont had created this synthetic in 1941, but
it could not be made commercial until after the war. Acrilan
(Chemstrand), another synthetic fiber to imitate wool.
Verel (1956, Eastman), Creslan (1956, American Cyanamid), are also
Arnel, a triacetate, in 1954 was in use for about 20 years (Celanese).
Ultrasuede, early 1970’s:
Important to apparel, the big textile development of the 1970’s was
Ultrasuede (by Dr. Okamoto at Toray in 1970). This was the first
microfiber, an ultra fine fiber that would continue in development as it
produced softer fabrics. DuPont later introduced ‘Micro Fiber’ in 1989,
a silky broadcloth with a hand like silk charmeuse.
Fibers of the 1960’s and 1970’s:
1965: typical blends: Dacron polyester and cotton, Kodel polyester and
cotton, Kodel polyester and Avril rayon, Orlon acrylic knit (bonded),
cotton, Antron nylon knit (bonded),
(new blends: Dacron polyester and cotton, Fortrel polyester and cotton,
Kodel polyester and Avril rayon: all in blouse fabrics advertised as
wrinkle resistant, no iron blouses)
1965: Double knit in wool (suit), acetate nylon (blouse), acrylic (lacy
1977: Qiana best selling fabric, Dec. 7, 1977 (LA Times), from
1978: Qiana knit tops and separates: skirts, pants tops, 100% Qiana
interlock knits (dresses and separates)
1980: Qiana fashion skirts (Virgin Islands Daily News)