35. A Stitch in Time

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Fibers have been used for making cloth for thousands of years. Many of them are still used today to make fabric. Linen, for example, is the oldest textile fabric. It comes from the flax plant. It was used in prehistoric times and in ancient Egypt. We have learned that linen was woven in England as early as the year 400. Today this fiber is used in many ways around the home. In fact, the word “linens” has come to be used as the name for household textile goods, such as sheets and towels.

Wool, also, dates back as far as Bible times. Much later, in the 15th and 16th centuries, sheep form Spain and England were brought to the American colonies. Spanish explorers brought sheep with them from California to Florida. Thus, wool came to be used here in America.

Another leading fiber is cotton. It was woven into fabrics in India as early as 1500 years before Christ. Cotton was also used for candle wicks in England as far back as the 1300s. By the 1400s, cotton fabrics were being manufactured in central Europe. In 1793 in the southern United States, Eli Whitney invented the “cotton engine.” This name was later shortened to become the “cotton gin.” It was used to comb seeds out of cotton fibers. This machine removed a major delay in the processing of cotton. Because of it, cotton became the South’s most important crop.

The production of silk began with the ancient Chinese. Legend says that a Chinese empress saw a silkworm spinning its cocoon. The empress wondered how she would look in a gown made of such fine material. Silk weaving soon spread. It was seen in many other countries. But silkworm raising remained wholly Chinese until the sixth century. At that time, the art spread to other parts of the Middle East.

The fibers that have been mentioned so far are all natural. But today there are many man-made fibers in use. Some of these were made for a certain need. Others were discovered mostly by chance. Production of man-made fiber was chiefly a United States industry until the 1950s. After the 1950s things changed. Foreign production grew until, by 1960, this country made less than half of the world’s man-made fibers. Rayon and nylon are just a few examples of today’s man-made fabrics.

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