AIC 41st Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 31, "Emergence of 'Antique' Synthetic Textiles by Ebenezer Kotei"

Ebenezer Kotei, Objects Conservator for the Hagley Museum and Library, provided an informative overview of the history and use of the earliest synthetic textiles. The earliest man-made textiles began with the production of Rayon, a silk-like filament, created in France in 1884 from regenerated cellulose. Rayon and the other early man-made textiles have come of age. Nylon, the first truly synthetic fiber, is now celebrating its 75th year. (An exhibit that focuses on the history of nylon is currently on view at Hagley.)
Although the name nylon was never trademarked, Du Pont produced other polyamide fibers for different uses, among them are Quiana, used briefly for luxury clothing, Kevlar for bulletproof vests, and Nomex, used as a waterproof barrier layer with the ability to transmit  vapor. Nylon fiber textiles are to be found everywhere; from women’s nylons, fine gowns, bed-sheets, children’s clothes, sportswear and uniforms, to parachutes and blood bags. It was by far the most widely used and successful of the first synthetic and semi-synthetics (as compared with rayon, acetate and acrylic).
Mr. Kotei points out that these materials have crossed into the category of antique and that it is time to focus on them and evaluate them more closely to determine how these materials have aged, rather than simply viewing them through the romantic lens of time. His concern is partly due to the fact that many of these early fibers in their very first synthesized formulations were Du Pont company creations, now part of the Hagley collection.  Although acrylic and nylon fibers appear to be quite durable, other textiles have vulnerabilities. Some examples of the problems occurring with man-made fibers are; Rayon is prone to mildew and silverfish; Spandex (polyurethane rubber) is prone to yellowing from heat, light and nitrogen gas.     
An Institute of Museum and Library Services grant has allowed for the evaluation of these early textiles in Hagley collections by textile conservators in order to identify recommendations on storage and care for these early textiles. Researchers may find additional information on DuPont fibers in the Hagley Library.