STITCHES IN TIME
A brief history of textiles, from the Paleolithic era all the way to today’s high-tech uses
C. 32,000 BC The earliest fabrics that we know of were made by human hand using fibres from flax plants. C. 5,000 BC Earliest known depiction of a boat with a mast, dating from this period, has recently been found in the Persian Gulf. Cloth sails meant longer voyages. C. 4,400 BC The first looms were developed in Egypt. C. 4,000 BC Silk was developed in China, where they managed to keep the secret and retain the monopoly on its production for around 5,000 years. C. 800 BC The ancient Greeks developed the warpweighted loom, using weights made of clay or stone to build up fabrics thread by thread. C. 100 BC The Silk Road, a map of trade routes that had started around 300 BC, flourished, bringing fabrics from all over the East to the West. 12TH CENTURY Wool became Britain’s most valuable commodity, creating fortunes for some and even being used to pay the ransom for the return of Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade. 16TH CENTURY Lace became the most potent status symbol of the European aristocracy, so much so that laws were passed prohibiting commoners from wearing it. 18TH CENTURY The Industrial Revolution was about more than coal and steel, as over the course of a century the spinning jenny, the water frame, the power loom and a host of other inventions exponentially increased the rates of textile production. 1858 It may have grown on Earth for between ten and 20 million years, but, finally, a senator from South Carolina proclaimed ‘Cotton is King’. 1862 Britain was home to two-thirds of the world’s mechanical spindles and almost half of all the country’s exports were yarn or cloth. 1951 The singer Bing Crosby wore a denim tuxedo made by Levi’s, unintentionally paving the way for the denim jacket and changing the course of fashion. 1969 Gore-tex was created by the American firm W.L. Gore and Associates from a finely stretched Teflon bonded to nylon or polyester, allowing for clothes to be breathable and more durable in extreme conditions. 2008 The global average for days spent wearing jeans was reported to be three and a half per week. 2015 Google developed jeans with Levi Strauss & Co that function like a touchscreen. Smart fabric has been heralded as the wearable tech of the future.