Artificial Fibers: Regenerated and Synthetic

Figure 1.--

For almost all of human history, even recorded history, man used used natural fibers for clothing. Thee included cotton, flax, fur, wool, and other materials available in nature. Corporatiins in the mid-20th cntury, in part because of World war I shortages began working om regenerated and sythetic fibers. Regenerated fabrics are natural materials that have been processed into new fiber structures. The raw material was primarily cellulose and wood pulp was the primary source, but there were othersources such as milk. Important regerated fibers include acetate, paper, rayon,and terryln. Also important are sythetic fibers, primarily polyestwrs. These unlike the regenerated fibers are made from chemicals, primarily petro chemicals. Important polyester fabrics include materials such as nylon and polyesters. Research on artifical fibers began in the 19th century, but actual commercial products did not appear until after World War I in the mid 20th century. Advabces in chemistry were involved as well as the ipetus created by shortages during World war I. Arificial fibers today re a huge portion of fiber production, including fibers used by the clothing industry. Since the production of Rayon in 1910, many other articial fibers have been introduced to produce clothing and have in many ways revolutionizing the clothing industry. Dupont was the single most important company producing synthetic. Dupont spokesmen triumphed the potential enviromental benefits. "Consider our natural resources," the president of DuPont insisted, "The chemist has aided in conserving natural resources by developing synthetic products to supplement or wholly replace natural products." DuPont's scientists were the world's leading researchers into the processes of nitrating cellulose and were in fact the largest processor of cellulose in the nation in this era. There ere, hwever, significant enviromental consequences. DuPont patented Nylon in 1937 and the polluting wood-pulp paper sulfide process.

Regenerated fibers

Cotton was the linch-pin in the 18th century industrial revolution. By the 20th century, the industrial society that cotton helped create was investigating the use of other raw materials to create +artificial fabrics that could be used in clothing, both natural materials and synthetic fibers. One interesting effort was the attempt in Germany to create paper cloth. The Royal Navy blockade cut German mills off from cotton which by 1916 had brought many mills to a sandstill. Scientists experimented with a wide range of natural materials and found that paper was one of the most promising. Mills actually begun commercial production of paper cloth (Papiergewebe). We do not know much about the actual qualities of this fabric, but have noted a range of products made with it. One example is a child's Leibchen. The cloth was not competitive with cotton and production was discontinued after the War. Otherregerated fabrics have veen developed. British boys are especially familiar with Terreyln worsted which largely replaced flannel short pants in the 1960s. The Terylene mix in the material used in the make-up in British made shorts pants is about 65 percent polyester/35 percent viscose mix, with only a very small variation on this. The heavier, warmer more expensive shorts are normally 55 percent polyester and /45 percet wool. The typical differing in trade and manufacturing names means that clothing produced in South Africa for retail in that country are labelled as Trevira and Viscose (in a 65/35 percent mix).


Acetate was first produced commercially in the United States in 1924 by the Celanese Corporation. This fabric, however, was not extensively used for clothing.


Shortages of wool during World War II gave impetus to research into regenerated protein fibers. One result was the milk protein fiber Aralac. Aralac was produced by the National Dairy Products Corp in the early 1940s and was used for a wide variety of garments as well as hats and blankets. It made the advertising pages of Vogue, but consumers complained that when it got wet it smelled like sour milk!


Lyocell was first produced commercially in he United States during 1993 by Courtaulds Fibers. The reade name was "Tencel¨. Lyocell is the most environmentally friendly of the various synthetic fibers. It was produced from wood pulp grown specifically for the manufacture of Lyocell. A solvent spinning technique is employed in which the dissolving agent is recycled, reducing environmental effluents to minimal levels.

Rayon (Artificial Silk)

Rayon was the first man-made articial fiber. It was first manufactured commercially in the United States during 1910 by the American Viscose Company. There were two different types of rayon, produced by different chemicals and manufacturing techniques: viscose rayon and cuprammonium rayon. Modern rayon production in the United states is all viscose rayon.ayon was a very early development. It was not a synthetic, ar least the dominant process. It was the first manufactured fiber ever created. It was produced from wood or cotton pulp. Manufacturers first called it 'artificial silk'. Swiss chemist, Georges Audemars was the first to create artifical silk. He produced his fabric about 1855. As silk worms consumed mulberry leaves, Audemars worked with mulberry. Audemars dipped a needle into liquified mulberry bark pulp and gummy rubber making threads. This demonstrated the feasibility of the process, but was not a viable commercial process. French chemist Hilaire de Charbonnet, Comte de Chardonnay, in 1884 patented a process for producing artificial silk. His product was a cellulose-based fabric that he called Chardonnay silk. It was an attractive fabric, but very flammable and thus taken off the market. British researchers Charles Cross, Edward Bevan, and Clayton Beadle in 1894 finally patented a process for manufacturing a safe product which the British called viscose rayon. Avtex Fibersbegan the initial American commercial production of artificial silk in 1910. The term "rayon" began to be used in 1924.


Terylene is a British trademark name for a synthetic fabric. It was the first wholly synthetic fibre invented in Britain. Gradually after World War II (1939-45), synthetic fibers were introduced in the manufacture of clothing. The most popular fabric in England proved to be Terylene/wool, a blended weave including wool and nylon. A tehnical more precise definition is a polymer (polyethylene terephthalate--PET). It is comnparable to dacron in America. Terylene was produced by polymerizing ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. It was a streachy material characterized by lightness and crease resistance. Terylene fabric had many variesd uses. Manufacturrs used it to produce pants, suits, amd rainwear. It was also used in making heavy shirts. Other non-clothing uses included sheets, ropes, rugs,and sails. It was was was used to produce both short and long pants. Shorts made of this material had a much smarter look as they retained the crease even without ironing. Today the most common material is a polyester/viscose cloth which is entirely man made. The Terylene mix in the material used in British made shorts was generally 65 percent polyester/35 percent viscose mix, with only a very small variation on this. The heavier, warmer more expensive shorts are normally 55 percent polyester/45 percent wool. The typical differing in trade and manufacturing names means that clothing produced in South Africa for retail in that country are labelled as Trevira and Viscose (in a 65/35 percent mix). For school shorts in Britain, Terylene was usually done in grey shades, but any color could be produced. Terylene as used in trousrs is a blended wool fabric often called Terylene worsted. It had a dressy look. They were worn with matching coats in a suit combination or with colored blazers. For every day wear at school Terylene shorts were commonly worn with sweaters called jumpers. A few British schools had summer cotton shorts, but at most schools, Terylene shorts were worn both in the winter ad summer. It was more cotton in New Zealand toi change to cotton shorts during the summer.


Zellglass" was a regenerated artificial used in World War II Germany and afterwards for the manufacture of long stockings when cotton was impossible to get. The major sources of cotton were America, Egypt, and India. The Royal Navy blockade tus made cotton impossible to obtain in Germany in large quanities. The material was apparently a type of "celanese". An example is Netko long stockings.


Triacetate was first produced commercially in the United States during 1954 by the Celanese Corporation. Triacetate has not been produced n the United States since 1985.

Synthetic Polyester

Polyester is a polymer in which the monomer units are liked by the group COO. Polyesters are used in the manufacture of resins, plastics, and textile fabrics. Polyester fabrics appeared before World War II (1939-45), but were not produced in large quanities for civilian clothing until after the War. Many different fabrics appeared, including both regenerated and synthetic fibers. The first polyester was nylon which the American Dupont Corporation (1938). Each has its own characteristics, one of the most important being ease of care. Initially many garments were made in pure polyester fabrics. The garment industry has since developed polyester blends including cotton or wool to obtain the advantages of both natural fabrics and the new synthetic polyester fabrics. Synthetic fibers are made from synthesized polymers or small molecules--thus the name polyester. The raw material used to manufacture these fibers come primarily from petroleum based chemicals (petrochemicals). These chemicals are polymerized into a long, linear chemical that bond two adjacent carbon atoms. Scientisrs have developed fibers with different haracteristics by using various chemical compounds. About half of all fiber usage today (including fibers used for clothing) are syntheyic fibers. The most important are nylon, polyester, acrylic, and polyolefin Polyesterswere first used as pure fibers. The garment industry has since developed polyester blends including cotton or wool to obtain the advantages of both natural fabrics and the new synthetic polyester fabrics.

Micro Fibers/microdenier

Micro fiber was first produced commercially in 1989 by E. I. du Pont. They do not fall easily into the refeneratd/synthetic categories, as both are used and in some cases blended. Today a variety of micro fibers are produced, including polyester, nylon, acrylic, etc. A micro fiber is a fiber with less than one denier per filament. Micro fibers are the thinnest, finest of all the synthtic fibers. It is even finer than the most luxurious. A folicle of human hair, for example, is more than 100 times the dimmeter of many micro fibers.


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Created: April 5, 1999
Last up dated: July 28, 2002