Threads: plastics wearing well


The word threads has been a slang term for clothing since the 1920s. It also describes the extraordinary variety of textile fibres from which our clothing is made.

From the development of the earliest semi-synthetic fibres in the second half of the 19th century, manufacturers have continued to create and improve the threads from which garments are made. The ability of plastics based fibres to insulate, protect, shape, and enhance the human form is a significant characteristic of the many man-made textiles that exist today.

Threads object details

Innovations in materials in the mid-20th century, such as polyamide and polyester, saw the introduction of easy-care fabrics; those which dried quickly and needed little or no ironing, an attribute which in our busy lives today we still find desirable.

The in-built elasticity of new materials, and the changing image of the ideal body shape led to the creation of supportive, yet comfortable, undergarments. Cheap, readily available, synthetic fabrics meant that high street shoppers were able to emulate the trending silhouettes and styles at budget prices.

New manufacturing techniques and processes have lifted the lid off what is now possible in the clothing industry. Smart fabrics, which help to monitor or enhance the body's performance, are now commonplace, particularly in the area of sportswear. Infusions of minerals and metals provide added protection in the most extremes of environment. Clothing not only offers the body protection from sports injuries and the elements, but also from work based accidents and incidents.

Plastics often have a bad environmental reputation; the textile industry is able to profit from waste by reprocessing discarded bottles into school uniforms and fleeces.

This exhibition looks at some of the uses of semi-synthetic and synthetic fibres over the last century in everyday and specialist clothing.

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