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Journey of Weaving: The Detailed History of Fabric

“Rome wasn’t built in a day”, neither was fabric. The history of fabric is actually a history of the gradual development of technology and craftsmanship. To make a piece of fabric, it needs to go through a series of processes, from fiber to thread, from thread to cloth, and then through the decoration of print and dye. Only in this way can a piece of fabric become what you see daily everywhere. It could be said that the history of these processes constitutes the history of fabric.

Fiber: The Begining of Fabric

As early as the Stone Age, also known as the String Age, humans discovered fibers. There are records of early humans using fibers to hold and assemble different objects, such as tying flat stones to tree branches to make axes.

The earliest fibers, bast fibers, appeared about 34,000 years ago and came from naturally growing plants. This fiber grew on the outer stem of plants such as flax, hemp, jute, etc. As the roots of these plants are not as strong as those of trees, it took longer for humans to obtain only tiny amounts of fiber from plants by using tools made of bone or stone.

Also as a natural fiber, animal fiber arrived a little bit later, nearly 10,000 years ago, after plant fiber. Humans in southwestern Asia discovered that domesticated sheep had coarse wool, which they shed in batches every spring. People gradually found that this “useless” fur may have other uses for human beings. Therefore, animal fiber is also in the human application range.

Thread: Genius Creation of Neanderthals

However, rough fibers alone cannot be made directly into fabrics. Almost all, except silk, which is considered a luxury, plant fibers and animal fibers, even the ones with the best natural properties, are short, weak, and disordered. They simply cannot be used directly in the manufacture of human clothing or other objects.

Only if it were possible to combine these scattered fibers in some way… Yes, this was the genius creation of Neanderthals. Historians have discovered the oldest threads known to humans. By twisting several fibers together clockwise into a bundle of a certain thickness, Neanderthals managed to invent threads, using them for clothing, rope, and more.

Nevertheless, the process of combining fibers was not as simple as it sounds. It actually required relatively in-depth knowledge related to numbers. For example, you needed to know a certain number senses about counting, bundles, and so on – which at the time was relatively advanced knowledge!

Cloth: The Application of Fabric

Literally, clothing cannot be made without cloth. To create cloth is to create fabric by interlacing threads. At this point, the history of fabric was taking shape.

Early hand-weaving techniques were practiced from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age (approximately 6000-2000 BCE). However, the technology was not yet mature, and it was both physically and mentally demanding. The making of cloth usually requires the cooperation of a whole team in order to produce a suitable cloth for human use.

Therefore, early cloth, or even a yard of fabric, was precious. The cloth was even used as a unit of measure in many areas where early commerce was in its infancy, and there is much evidence that cloth was used as currency in these areas. Even more, laws were broken, conflicts occurred, and wars were fought over cloth in many areas.

Dye: Let There Be Color

Undoubtedly, monotonous cloth is just a practical object and doesn’t make fabric much of a dazzling decoration. However, the arrival of dyeing technology allowed color to enter the world of fabric, adding beautiful hues to countless garments.

It is said that more than 5,000 years ago in China, people began to use the secretions or bodies of plants and insects as natural dyes. Also, in Europe, there are legends of Phoenicians using sea snails to dye purple robes. All of these historical records show that the initial dyeing techniques originated from the serendipitous discovery of natural organisms.

Although these dyes came from nature at the time, they were less environmentally friendly than one might think. When natural organisms were used to dye, they emitted a rotting-like odor. It also required a large amount of water and smelly ingredients. That’s why, at that time, colored fabrics were usually supplied to people of status to make clothes.

Print: What Makes Fabric Fancy?

It’s now only one step away from the fabric you know today – that’s right, the pattern. The proper pattern can make a garment look lifelike, giving it countless possibilities because of the myriad of patterns. So, when was printing technology first applied to fabric?

The method of printing on fabric can be traced back to China as far as 220 B.C. Craftsmen of the time drew designs or patterns on a large wooden board and then printed them on fabric. Of course, there were no second chances with this immature technique. Once a printing error was made, the patterns or motifs of this garment could only be rendered in the wrong way.

Similar to the color, due to their rarity and production difficulties, patterns or motifs at the time were regarded as symbols of power and prestige.

Man-Made Fabric: A Scientific Attempt

However, all the craftsmanship mentioned above were limited to the natural fabrics. The well-known man-made fabrics, such as nylon and polyester, were not included – simply because they hadn’t been invented yet.

The breakthrough didn’t come until the 20th century, when an American chemist, Wallace Carothers, discovered a new substance that was analog to silk. Later he published an article titled “Polymerization” and introduced a “synthetic silk”, which was considered a “new landmark”. From then on, the man-made fabric began its own history.

In the following decades, the performance of synthetic fabrics evolved better and better and gradually became an indispensable part of people’s daily lives. It should be noted that despite the relatively decent quality, producing man-made fabric could do significant damage to the environment.

3D Printing Fabric: A Future Trend?

In recent years, 3D printing fabric is becoming more and more popular, giving rise to fashion in the fabric world. Actually, even though the roots of 3D printing can be traced back to the 1980s, it wasn’t until the 2010s when the level of technology was high enough that it became relevant to the fabric.

Since then, a number of designers have embraced the trend, utilizing 3D printing to create a variety of stylish and avant-garde customized garments. Also, scientists have been experimenting with 3D printing in an attempt to invent environmentally friendly materials. The research was aiming to solve the environmental problems associated with traditional fabric manufacturing.

Although digital fabrication techniques are not yet significantly developed, production is also limited to a small range of attempts, let alone large-scale production. However, with the current speed of technological development, 3D printing fabric might one day become a future trend.

Conclusion

This post presents a structured perspective on the history of fabric in terms of its components. By tracing the history of its components, including fiber, thread, and cloth, as well as the dyeing and printing processes, you can understand the history of fabric from a more specific and detailed perspective. The post also introduces man-made fabrics and new 3D printing fabrics to catch the latest news. In the history of fabric, silk is one of the most unique presences. If you need to manufacture silk products, please get in touch with Sinosilk for high-quality silk at any time.

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