As noted in two earlier posts, artificial yarns are made from a natural substance (e.g., wood or bamboo). In contrast, synthetic yarns come from a man-made (woman-made?) goo that is forced through holes into the air, forming threads. These threads are then plied into yarn.
The first synthetic fiber was nylon (a thermoplastic polyamide), created in the late 1930s by Dr. Wallace Hume Carothers, a chemist at at DuPont. DuPont is an American chemical company originally founded as a gunpowder mill in the early 19th century. As U.S. relations with Japan were breaking down and most silk came from Japan, DuPont was interested in creating a silk replacement.
In 1939, nylon was first pitched, however, to women’s club members, and (non-stretch) nylon hosiery was manufactured to replace silk stockings. Women began to wear “nylons.” In the 1940s, the military began to replace silk parachutes with nylon ones. (For more information about vintage nylon hose and source of 1951 above right, see Inherited Values; source of pic at left.)
Nylon is frequently combined to wool to add durability, but other synthetic yarns popular with knitters and crocheters include acrylic (polymerized from acrylonitrile) and polyester (generally a thermoplastic and refers to polyethylene terephthalate, aka PET, which was originally patented in 1941 by two British chemists). The original manufacturer of polyester fiber was Imperial Chemical Industries or ICI. DuPont bought the U.S. rights in 1945.
Who remembers men’s polyester leisure suits of the 1970s?! (The pictures of these natty double-knit polyester ensembles are from The Henry Ford Museum. Interesting, isn’t it, when you think about the relationship between Henry Ford and polyester clothing!)
Now I am not sure if it’s my mind or my keen olfactory senses, 🙂 but I could swear I catch whiffs of petrochemicals if I wear clothes made from either synthetic or artificial yarns. How about you?