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Friday, May 31 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Textiles) Emergence of “Antique” Synthetic (Textiles)

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After the Du Pont Company came out with nylon and gave birth to the synthetic polymer fiber industry the world was presented with an alternative raw material for clothes-making that did not involve the use of natural fibers or come from natural sources. Little did the world know about the intense research that went on behind the scenes, and the resultant accumulation of artifacts that document the road to that giant step. Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware is the depository for the autoclave in which Wallace Carothers invented nylon, his research notebooks and the myriad of sample fibers, the first spools of fibers to roll off the mills, the first nylon shirt ever made, women’s slip made out of parachute grade nylon, pre-production wear-tested dresses and more. The collection tells the story of how to produce brightly-colored fabrics out of “plastic” fibers that would not accept the dyes of the era, struggling to spin the new fiber on mills that were designed for spinning wool and cotton, and how to romanticize “wrapping ourselves in plastic” as it were.

Synthetic fibers posed a strong challenge to the reign of King Cotton yet the king held its own. But synthetic fibers fought back and proved to be just as supple, attractive and comfortable as silk; hail the arrival of Qiana nylon. Since that first discovery, several new and contemporary crude oil based textile materials have revolutionalized the textile industry.

Now, these unlikely collectors’ textiles are rapidly filling museum storages the world over. They are being collected because they were worn by movie stars and pop stars, famous leaders and princesses, or were designed by some of the world’s renowned fashion designers. To most of us conservators, antique clothing means clothing made of natural fibers. So where do synthetic clothing fall in the complex admixture of textiles worth preserving? What are the conservation issues regarding synthetic fibers?

Some clues to their preservation may lie in their manufacturing processes. Knowledge of the nature of, and the timeline for the emergence of important synthetic clothing items such as Lycra, Orlon, Dacron, Qiana, Nomex, will help to access their condition. It will be good to examine the methods and techniques of the original inventors of these materials. The collection at Hagley can help shed some light on these issues.

avatar for Ebenezer Kotei

Ebenezer Kotei

Conservator, Hagley Museum & Library
Ebenezer Kotei is the General Objects Conservator at the Hagley Museum & Library in Wilmington, Delaware. As the only Objects Conservator, he is charged with the conservation and preservation of over forty thousand objects in the museum’s collection. This ranges from heavy industrial... Read More →

Friday May 31, 2013 11:00am - 11:30am EDT
JW Marriott White River Ballroom C-D 10 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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