Sunday, October 31, 2010

Synthetic Fibers - Mans' Attempt to Improve on Nature

Until the 19th century, the only fibers that were available for weaving textiles were nature's own; linen, wool, silk and cotton. A list of some synthetic fibers, and information about each:

Rayon -
The first man-made fiber was produced about 1855 and it was primarily used as a replacement for silk. It went by the name Viscose. This fiber did not actually become commercially viable until 1924 when more modern production methods made it more economical to produce, when it was renamed Rayon. Rayon is technically not synthetic, nor is it natural. It is made from wood cellulose. It remains a versatile fiber for apparel as it has many of the same comforts as natural fibers. Rayon does not retain body heat very well, so it is mostly used in apparel made for hot and humid seasons and climates. It is not only used for apparel, but in bedspreads, blankets, curtains, upholstery, yarn, medical surgery products and other items.

Nylon -
Developed by the DuPont chemical company, nylon began to be manufactured in 1939. It is the first truly synthetic fiber, as it is made entirely of petrochemicals. With the outbreak of World War II, the availability of silk for military applications dropped because most silk came from Asia. Nylon replaced silk in parachutes, and was also used in tires, tents, ropes and other military items. Nylon is used in many applications. A few examples are clothing, carpeting, pantyhose, Velcro, toothbrushes, guitar strings, fishing line, and many more uses.

Acrylic -
DuPont developed acrylic in 1944 and began to commercially produce it in 1950. At first it was primarily used in outdoor applications, but is now used in apparel and carpeting. When used for clothing it is lightweight and warm, very similar to wool. It has been used as a cheap alternative to cashmere.

Polyester -
Yet another fiber created by scientists at DuPont, experimentation with the fiber was shelved with the coming of World War II and the emphasis on nylon. Polyester was introduced to America in 1951 under the trade name of Dacron. Currently, it is the most widely used of any synthetic fiber in the United States. It is used for apparel, pillow stuffing, wood finishing products, bottles, filters, tarps, and a huge list of other uses. Because polyester resists wrinkling, it is many times combined with other natural and synthetic fibers to produce wrinkle-free fabrics.

Micro fiber -
This is a type of polyester that has very thin strands, while retaining its strength. It was introduced in 1986, and can be used to make fabrics and materials that are sheer, very strong, and very absorbent. These qualities make micro fibers very useful in cleaning and polishing applications, as well as combining them with other synthetic and natural fibers to add its characteristics.

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