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The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History

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From colorful 30,000-year-old threads found on the floor of a Georgian cave to the Indian calicoes that sparked the Industrial Revolution, The Golden Thread weaves an illuminating story of human ingenuity. Design journalist Kassia St. Clair guides us through the technological advancements and cultural customs that would redefine human civilization—from the fabric that allo From colorful 30,000-year-old threads found on the floor of a Georgian cave to the Indian calicoes that sparked the Industrial Revolution, The Golden Thread weaves an illuminating story of human ingenuity. Design journalist Kassia St. Clair guides us through the technological advancements and cultural customs that would redefine human civilization—from the fabric that allowed mankind to achieve extraordinary things (traverse the oceans and shatter athletic records) and survive in unlikely places (outer space and the South Pole). She peoples her story with a motley cast of characters, including Xiling, the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk, to Richard the Lionhearted and Bing Crosby. Offering insights into the economic and social dimensions of clothmaking—and countering the enduring, often demeaning, association of textiles as “merely women’s work”—The Golden Thread offers an alternative guide to our past, present, and future.


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From colorful 30,000-year-old threads found on the floor of a Georgian cave to the Indian calicoes that sparked the Industrial Revolution, The Golden Thread weaves an illuminating story of human ingenuity. Design journalist Kassia St. Clair guides us through the technological advancements and cultural customs that would redefine human civilization—from the fabric that allo From colorful 30,000-year-old threads found on the floor of a Georgian cave to the Indian calicoes that sparked the Industrial Revolution, The Golden Thread weaves an illuminating story of human ingenuity. Design journalist Kassia St. Clair guides us through the technological advancements and cultural customs that would redefine human civilization—from the fabric that allowed mankind to achieve extraordinary things (traverse the oceans and shatter athletic records) and survive in unlikely places (outer space and the South Pole). She peoples her story with a motley cast of characters, including Xiling, the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk, to Richard the Lionhearted and Bing Crosby. Offering insights into the economic and social dimensions of clothmaking—and countering the enduring, often demeaning, association of textiles as “merely women’s work”—The Golden Thread offers an alternative guide to our past, present, and future.

30 review for The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    This is history for textile geeks, like me. It stretches from ancient Egypt to the Space Age, which is not bad for a 300-page book, and I’ve learned quite a bit from it. Linen was a divine textile to the Egyptians; a gift from the Gods growing out of the earth. The layers of it wrapping each Russian-doll sarcophagus were every bit as sacred as the tombs themselves – something not understood by early archaeologists who simply cut and discarded them. They must bear the ancient curse. The book covers This is history for textile geeks, like me. It stretches from ancient Egypt to the Space Age, which is not bad for a 300-page book, and I’ve learned quite a bit from it. Linen was a divine textile to the Egyptians; a gift from the Gods growing out of the earth. The layers of it wrapping each Russian-doll sarcophagus were every bit as sacred as the tombs themselves – something not understood by early archaeologists who simply cut and discarded them. They must bear the ancient curse. The book covers the rise of the Silk Road; the importance of the British medieval woolen trade; and the subsequent dominance of cotton with its slavery-sullied reputation before putting the entire world into denim jeans. These trades were so important that they had the power to make or break the economic survival of entire continents. Most people take their clothes for granted but we are clothed animals who would struggle to survive without our second skins. St Clair makes the case that the Norwegians beat Scott to the South Pole because they were more appropriately dressed in furs and seal skins. The British were in woolly jumpers and Gabardine. Modern textiles are feats of engineering contingent on war, sport and space travel. Polyurethane swimsuits give such frictionless advantage they have been banned as ‘textile dope’. And I had no idea that there are still so many unresolved problems with space suits. Travel to Mars is out of the question. All good stuff, but a historian has to be as good a storyteller as a novelist and that quality is missing here. Kassia St Clare has been thorough in her research but her writing style is rather plodding. My deep interest in the subject kept me going but this is not page-turning history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard Reese

    As I write these words, I’m wearing sweatpants and an old faded shirt. I suspect that most readers are also wearing clothes. Oddly, humans are the only animals that make and wear clothing. Our ancestors evolved in the tropics of Mother Africa, where it was so warm that many folks preferred the comfortable and practical bare naked look. Evolution spent several million years fine tuning our bodies for life on the savannah, and the result was an excellent design. After humans migrated out of Africa, As I write these words, I’m wearing sweatpants and an old faded shirt. I suspect that most readers are also wearing clothes. Oddly, humans are the only animals that make and wear clothing. Our ancestors evolved in the tropics of Mother Africa, where it was so warm that many folks preferred the comfortable and practical bare naked look. Evolution spent several million years fine tuning our bodies for life on the savannah, and the result was an excellent design. After humans migrated out of Africa, and colonized tropical Asia and Australia, some folks decided to wander north. It was a cool place to live, and the farther north they wandered, the cooler it got. In snow country, tropical primates were like fish out of water. Brrrr! They wrapped themselves in animal hides, lived in protective shelters, and huddled around warm campfires. Over time, they learned how to cut and sew hides into custom tailored clothing that provided better protection for both humans and body lice. Eventually, they learned how to spin plant fibers into thread, which could be used for stitching seams together. In the Republic of Georgia, researchers have found spun and dyed fragments of flax fibers that were 34,000 years old. At some point, folks learned how to weave thread into fabric. We aren’t sure when. Cloth made from natural fibers is perfectly biodegradable, leaving few clues for modern archaeologists. Kassia St Clair wrote an interesting book about fabric, The Golden Thread. It’s not a comprehensive history, but a collection of snapshots — linen wrapped mummies in Egypt, the silk monopoly in China, wool production in medieval England, slavery and the rise of cotton, synthetic fibers, and so on. My great-great-grandmother, Sarah Cleaton Rees, was a handloom weaver in central Wales, and so were many of her female kinfolk and neighbors. Flannel was made from wool produced by herds of sheep grazing on the surrounding deforested hillsides. Prior to power looms and factories, millions of women spent much of their lives spinning, weaving, and sewing in their homes, where they could also tend to their children. I learned about St Clair’s book by reading a fascinating essay, No Wool, No Vikings. My ancestors also include Vikings from the west coast of Norway, where the homesteads were scattered across numerous rocky islands. Boats were how they got around. Sheltered deep water harbors were not common, so boats were designed to ride high in the water, so they could stop in shallow places, or on beaches. Early boats were propelled by paddles or oars. Sails were not used until clever folks learned how to add keels to boat bottoms. Keels made wind powered sea travel possible. Large, sea worthy, shallow draft boats with sails set the stage for the Viking era — several centuries of rowdy raiding, pillaging, bloodshed, and colonizing that rocked northern Europe. These new boats totally surprised many communities that had formerly been safe and secure for centuries. In A.D. 98, Tacitus wrote about the Suiones, who lived along the Swedish coastline. For them, the sea provided an invincible defensive barrier. It was impossible for enemies to attack them by water. For the first time, Viking ships made many safe places vulnerable to violent surprise attacks. While history recorded the names and sagas of some heroic male warriors, it disregarded the hard working women who made the Viking era possible. The adventurous lads were attired in wool from head to toe, slept under wool blankets, and traveled long distances in boats with woolen sails. This required large numbers of sheep, and enormous amounts of tedious human labor. The wool of 18 sheep was needed for each blanket. It took two highly skilled women more than a year to make a typical square sail. Viking sails were another revolutionary turning point in the human saga. They enabled Scandinavians to cross the Atlantic and establish settlements, like L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada. In Viking times, most of humankind spent their entire lives fairly close to their place of birth. Imagine gaining the ability to sail to unknown lands more than a thousand miles away. This was a mind-blowing possibility. It rubbished the traditional perception of space and limits. Long distance sea travel flung open a ghastly Pandora’s Box. Sailing ships enabled aggressive conquerors to colonize vast regions around the world. Environmental history is loaded with horror stories of pathogens delivered by long distance sea travel — potato blight, anthrax, Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, white-nose fungus, bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, influenza, and countless others. Millions of unlucky indigenous people were forcibly absorbed into oppressive alien systems. Anyway, wool was a life preserver in snow country. The notion of “no wool, no Vikings” can be expanded to “no wool, no Britons, Saxons, Scots, Picts, Teutons, Gauls, Vandals, etc.” Prior to the nineteenth century, clothing was the product of extremely labor-intensive processes. For hardworking common folks, clothing was precious, and carefully kept mended and patched. Many likely owned little more than what they were wearing. Like moon explorers, wool space suits enabled tropical primates to survive in chilly life-threatening environments. In the eighteenth century cotton began displacing wool. Large cotton plantations emerged in the American south, where legions of slaves enjoyed miserable lives. Power looms and cotton gins sharply reduced the labor needed to produce fabric. Cotton remained the dominant fabric until the 1970s, when synthetic fibers rose to dominance — rayon, nylon, polyester, and so on. In recent decades, polyester clothing has shifted from cruddy, stinky, and creepy to comfortable, practical, and very cheap. It’s made from petrochemicals, which arouse the snarling displeasure of Big Mama Nature. A lot of the apparel sold at stores in your community is made by poor women who work long days, in nasty conditions, and maybe earn $37 per month. The apparel industry is the world’s biggest employer of women, of whom only two percent earn a living wage. As the human herd grows, more folks enter the consumer class, and clever marketers wickedly accelerate the pace at which super-trendy styles suddenly become horribly uncool. So, the demand for new clothing accelerates. “In 2010, for example, it was estimated that 150 billion garments were stitched together, enough to provide each person alive with twenty new articles of clothing,” according to St Clair. “For the first time in human history, the vast majority of fabric being made has become disposable, something to be consumed and thrown away within weeks or months of being made. Synthetic fibers made this possible.” Marc Bain reported that the future of clothing is plastic (synthetic). Wool has become an endangered fiber. Cotton production experienced modest growth since 1980, and has now plateaued. Polyester zoomed past cotton in 2007. In 1980, its production was 5.8 million tons, rising to 34 million tons in 2007, and is projected to soar to 99.8 million tons by 2025. It’s daunting to contemplate the future of clothing. Wool production is limited by the availability of grazing land, and the need for much manual labor. It seems impossible that the huge human herd can go back to dressing in wool. Cotton production requires cropland, fertilizer, extra-large doses of pesticides and water, and lots of energy-guzzling machinery. The human herd recently zoomed past 7.7 billion. Should current cropland be used for producing more food, more fiber, or more urban spawl? Oil is a finite nonrenewable resource, and the mother of polyester. The easy to extract oil is about gone, and what remains is increasingly expensive to produce. Resource limits guarantee that the plastic clothing era has an expiration date. All industrial scale apparel production is ecologically unsustainable. On the bright side, neither cotton nor polyester biodegrade when buried in landfills. So, the latest fashions in coming decades might be mined from dumps. Will climate change solve this challenge by transforming snow country into a toasty tropical nudist colony? Our ancestors once lived like the San people of the Kalahari, in a time-proven low impact manner. Their way of life was leisurely compared to the workaholics of snow country. The San had no need to spend much of their lives spinning and weaving. They had no need to construct sturdy warm cottages. They had no need to produce and store surplus food for consumption during the icy months. They had no need for herding livestock, or planting crops, or mining minerals, or building cities. Imagine that.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anwen

    unnjustifiably hyped and extremely dissapointing. It is a sad indictment of a so called inteligent society that we are so un aware of the history of such a common comodity, or that on a contemporary level that we know so little of what goes on around us or what we are buying into on a daily basis, that a sream of trivial facts and incosistancies comes as an exiting revalation. It is only due to such lack of awareness that books such as this can get away with skimming the surface of a facinating su unnjustifiably hyped and extremely dissapointing. It is a sad indictment of a so called inteligent society that we are so un aware of the history of such a common comodity, or that on a contemporary level that we know so little of what goes on around us or what we are buying into on a daily basis, that a sream of trivial facts and incosistancies comes as an exiting revalation. It is only due to such lack of awareness that books such as this can get away with skimming the surface of a facinating subject and turning it into an iritaltingly anoying read. Sadly the anachronistic application of present-day perspectives does little to help the reader understand the true role textiles in the past, and lays no firm foundation for a clear understanding of the role of textiles today, sadly the desire to entertain seems to have outweighed that of acuracy.

  4. 5 out of 5

    AnnaG

    I think a more accurate description would be "How History Changed Fabric". The chapters go through each fabric from Linen to Synthetics in a broadly chronological narrative highlighting when and why the fabric underwent the biggest changes in production or usage (eg first imports along the Silk Roads/invention of cotton mills). Fabric is the real focus with the broader social consequences of the changes to the fabric or what had necessitated the development in technology as an after-thought. If I think a more accurate description would be "How History Changed Fabric". The chapters go through each fabric from Linen to Synthetics in a broadly chronological narrative highlighting when and why the fabric underwent the biggest changes in production or usage (eg first imports along the Silk Roads/invention of cotton mills). Fabric is the real focus with the broader social consequences of the changes to the fabric or what had necessitated the development in technology as an after-thought. If you're are looking for a grand Sapiens-esque explanation of history, this is not it, but if you are after an interesting read with a fascinating final three chapters on clothing for Astronauts, textile technology in elite sports and bio-engineering bullet proof cloth, this is the one!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gill

    A real disappointment - for a dilettante, perhaps, rather than an enthusiast. A chronological approach meant some topics were just not dealt with and others - the rise of knitted fabrics, for example - barely touched on. I am not an expert, though I am interested in textiles, but I felt I knew too much in several sections. My confidence in areas where I knew less, what is more, was badly-shaken by several really elementary mistakes of fact I noticed, which a decent editor should have caught if no A real disappointment - for a dilettante, perhaps, rather than an enthusiast. A chronological approach meant some topics were just not dealt with and others - the rise of knitted fabrics, for example - barely touched on. I am not an expert, though I am interested in textiles, but I felt I knew too much in several sections. My confidence in areas where I knew less, what is more, was badly-shaken by several really elementary mistakes of fact I noticed, which a decent editor should have caught if not the author. Richard 's ransome was not raised by his wife (Berengaria) but his mother, who was the Eleanor he wrote to, whom St Clair refers to as his wife. Early powered textile machinery was water-powered, and references to steam power in the 1790s show a really sloppy approach to fact-checking. And so on. How can I be confident of any facts that were news to me? The style is accessible, though pedestrian, but this was a book screaming out for proper illustration, not stylised chapter-headings. I really would not recommend this to anyone genuinely wanting to learn about the subject.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    Kassia St Clair's second book, The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History, has been variously called 'extraordinary' (The Sunday Times), 'beautiful' (Nature), and 'extremely good' (Times Literary Supplement).  In it, St Clair - a scholar of women's dress in the eighteenth century - explores '... our continuing reinventions of cloth [which] offer an unexpected history of human ingenuity'. First published in 2018, The Golden Thread is split into thirteen separate sections, each of which focus on Kassia St Clair's second book, The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History, has been variously called 'extraordinary' (The Sunday Times), 'beautiful' (Nature), and 'extremely good' (Times Literary Supplement).  In it, St Clair - a scholar of women's dress in the eighteenth century - explores '... our continuing reinventions of cloth [which] offer an unexpected history of human ingenuity'. First published in 2018, The Golden Thread is split into thirteen separate sections, each of which focus on a particular type of fabric or fabric production.  These chapters are loosely chronological, and span from 'The Origins of Weaving' and 'Silk in Ancient China' to 'Suits Suitable for Space' and 'Record-Breaking Sports Fabrics'.  The tome also includes some rather extensive notes, and a thorough bibliography.  St Clair sets out in her introduction that this book is not 'an exhaustive history of textiles', but rather includes 'thirteen very different stories that help illustrate the vastness of their significance.' Our lives are surrounded by cloth - the clothes we wear, the chairs we sit upon every day, the bedding we sleep beneath, the shoes on our feet - but how many of us actually devote much time to considering how these fabrics were produced, and where they came from?  Throughout history, clothing has been used as a tool to denote power, and also one which can show such things as abject poverty. The book begins with humour, but this is not something which has been threaded throughout the book.  In her introduction, St Clair writes: 'If you take your eyes off this page and look down, you will see that your body is encased in cloth.  (I am assuming here, dear Reader, that you are not naked).'  This is not to say that the rest of the tome is entirely serious; rather, the jokes which St Clair makes at times fall rather flat, and add little to the book as a whole. St Clair explores a lot of elements within The Golden Thread: the point at which it is thought humans began to wear clothing; the tools used to produce fabrics throughout antiquity; the weaving process; and the farming methods used to produce the crops used in textile production.  St Clair goes on to discuss the cultivation of silk and how different communities have forced its production for higher yields.  Fabric is also written about throughout as a commodity.  In China, for instance, between AD 9 and 23, 'a plain bolt of silk could be exchanged for around sixty kilograms of rice, while finer silk might be exchanged for eighty'.  This detail all feels quite thorough, and the book has clearly been well informed and well researched. Some of the facts which I learnt from The Golden Thread are quite astonishing.  The most complicated patterns of handmade lace, for instance, required up to six hundred different bobbins to make.  Another which caught my attention is that in 1216, when an inventory of King John of England's possessions was carried out, he owned 185 silk shirts (!).  Like many readers, I am sure, I found some sections of the book more interesting than others.  I very much enjoyed the later chapters - particularly those on clothing suitable for polar exploration and sports - but not so much those at the beginning at the book, which largely seemed obvious, and which I already knew the majority of. The Golden Thread feels rather fragmented overall.  This feeling starts in the book's introduction, which is comprised of several vignettes.  These seem to have been placed entirely randomly, and there is no cohesion whatsoever to be found here.  This structure is then followed into each separate chapter, and whilst a few of the subsections do lead nicely into the next, most are not connected at all. I did find this volume fascinating in terms of its content, but its execution did not work that well for me as a reader. I found the narration rather dry. The somewhat unsuitable structure given to The Golden Thread felt quite journalistic.  As already mentioned, St Clair's absence in linking different subsections together makes the reading process somewhat jarring.  St Clair also makes unhelpful assumptions at times; she thinks that consumers have little knowledge of synthetic fabrics and the process of creating them.  Had she given more attention to fast fashion and the growing demand for eco-friendly fabrics, I feel that my opinions of the book would have been a little different.  As it is, the fast fashion industry is mentioned, but is largely glossed over, as are other interesting details.  Some of the less engaging sections of the book have been written about at length, and do tend to feel a little overdone. In her preface to The Golden Thread, St Clair comments: 'Fabrics - man-made and natural - have changed, defined, advanced and shaped the world we live in.'  However, this claim has not been thoroughly investigated, as St Clair focuses far more upon adaptations of fabrics used for various purposes.  Its subtitle is a little misleading; 'How Fabric Changed History' would be more suitable if amended to 'How History Changed Fabric'.  Whilst advances in fabric production throughout the centuries have had an effect upon how we live, nothing which St Clair explores has been quite big enough to be described as changing history. Overall, The Golden Thread did not hold my attention anywhere near as much as I expected it to.  With a different structure, and the use of illustrations and photographs which would have been very useful at points, such fascinating source material could have been made a lot more engaging.  I have been reassured by other reviews that her first book is far more consistent, so despite having some reservations about The Golden Thread, St Clair's first book, The Secret Lives of Colour, is still firmly upon my wishlist.  

  7. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    A fascinating history of textiles from 30,000 year old threads on a cave floor to textiles protecting man on the moon. Thirteen wonderful stories of textiles as well as the history of language influenced by fabric Endlessly fascinating no matter where you pick up the threads!!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Always Pink

    To me this is a missed chance. Too journalistic for its own good. Kassia St. Clair endlessly strings colourful facts together without drawing conclusions, stressing important information or summarizing essences. I foolishly expected something like a concise and stringent, somewhat more scholarly history of "the fabric", which would probably not have fitted into one single volume anyway. Instead this book presents loosely linked chapters on individual historical subjects, which in turn are highli To me this is a missed chance. Too journalistic for its own good. Kassia St. Clair endlessly strings colourful facts together without drawing conclusions, stressing important information or summarizing essences. I foolishly expected something like a concise and stringent, somewhat more scholarly history of "the fabric", which would probably not have fitted into one single volume anyway. Instead this book presents loosely linked chapters on individual historical subjects, which in turn are highlighted by a random selection of archeological findings and events. The result to me feels directionless and strangely cramped - maybe also stressed by the layout of the hardback edition, with its condensed print space, due to an extreme portrait format. All in all the book is too caleidoscopic and cinematographic to really enlighten the reader.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pauline B (Dancing Lawn)

    Comprised of small temporal vignettes, this book explores how fabrics such as linen, wool, lace and synthetics were made, covering a rather large time span (from Ancient Egypt to today). I really enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book, focussing on natural fibers and how their production and use in clothing influenced world trade and communication between people. The last fourth deals with synthetic fabrics used for space travel and sports, which isn't something I'm really interested in. In a lot of ch Comprised of small temporal vignettes, this book explores how fabrics such as linen, wool, lace and synthetics were made, covering a rather large time span (from Ancient Egypt to today). I really enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book, focussing on natural fibers and how their production and use in clothing influenced world trade and communication between people. The last fourth deals with synthetic fabrics used for space travel and sports, which isn't something I'm really interested in. In a lot of chapters however (as was already pointed out in another review here), this book is more about "how history changed fabric" than what is says in the title. I was looking for more on the manufacturing, processing and creation of fabric throughout history and sadly, this angle sometimes fell short and was replaced by historical facts about the period discussed that felt somewhat out of place.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    This was a very dense and detailed history of fabrics and textiles. It took me awhile to get through it but it was truly enjoyable and interesting. I learned a lot by reading this book. I would highly recommend this book to textile lovers.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Grace Machon

    I loved the first half of this book and will revisit certain chapters but the last half bored me to near death (looking at you space suits)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elena

    I read "The Golden Thread" as an assignment for my book club, and was unexpectedly entranced by the sweep of history, how entangled we are in the history of textiles. I am usually unimpressed by popular history, but here we get a fresh approach that has real merit. I already had a bit of an inkling from the "Odyssey": How the few compliments that misogynistic Homer gives to women typically involve their skill at weaving; a mortal like Penelope and even a goddess like Athena get admiring nods for I read "The Golden Thread" as an assignment for my book club, and was unexpectedly entranced by the sweep of history, how entangled we are in the history of textiles. I am usually unimpressed by popular history, but here we get a fresh approach that has real merit. I already had a bit of an inkling from the "Odyssey": How the few compliments that misogynistic Homer gives to women typically involve their skill at weaving; a mortal like Penelope and even a goddess like Athena get admiring nods for their talent with textiles...But my normal understanding of history was from metallurgy, the bronze age, iron age, etc. Kassia St. Clair traces textiles back tens of thousands of years, to traces of linen thread found in caves...and metal was not necessary for weaving. Just manual dexterity, which women are more likely to have than men. And the ability to develop the complex steps for harvesting and processing flax into durable, twisted threads. So instead of a Stone Age, Bronze Age and an Iron Age, we get the ancient Linen era and the Silk era...Kassia St. Clair was able to see through the cliches of the so-called Silk Road, and realizes it was many roads, and trading was usually over short distances...Most impressive, she documents the enormous amount of time and skill devoted to textiles such as lace, efforts that are mostly not remunerated in keeping with the work involved to produce a fabric doesn't keep you warm. Throughout history, the motivation for things like lace has been primarily the aesthetic experience. The charm of the chapter on lace is overwhelmed by the tragic story of cotton in the American South, and its role in the history of American slavery. And the history of rayon is just deplorable. So I am back to buying linen sheets and clothing, a fabric that is gentle on the earth, and more beautiful than cotton or synthetics. I have a new appreciation for the sophisticated and skilled women living in caves 30,000 years ago. In the age of Google, Wikipedia, with the assimilation of data from advanced archeological techniques, popular history texts are starting to open up new insights. And as we know, the word "Text" is derived from "Textile."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Eden

    2020 bk 340. I began this book so long ago that I think it was pc (pre-covid). It is a book that lends itself to that - reading it slowly over time. There are chapters, and then there are small bits. the author begins with pre-historic textiles and takes us all the way up to the newest techno fabrics and their uses. It would be too much to sit and read in one setting. The book is crammed full of interesting interludes - silks, astronaut suits, different weaves and fibers. Way back before kindle 2020 bk 340. I began this book so long ago that I think it was pc (pre-covid). It is a book that lends itself to that - reading it slowly over time. There are chapters, and then there are small bits. the author begins with pre-historic textiles and takes us all the way up to the newest techno fabrics and their uses. It would be too much to sit and read in one setting. The book is crammed full of interesting interludes - silks, astronaut suits, different weaves and fibers. Way back before kindle and nook and other ebooks - in the days in which we spoke of hypertext and hyper books, this would have been perfect for the idea of hyper books. Tidbits of knowledge linked directly to the museum showing of the particular fabric or process. Instead, this book has no pictures of textiles, textiles that beg to be seen. Instead, I read it in this manner: 1) read a tidbit 2) go to my computer and look it up, find a museum, etc. and re-read while looking at the item (and don't say look at it on my smartphone - the image is too small to savor) 3) Go off and contemplate the one item some more before reading the next bit. Now do you see why it took so long? I learned a tremendous amount of information with this read - it is not contained in a block in my head, but rather in those flashes of text and image. In the days of Home Economics, this would have been an excellent reference on the library shelves.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Annie M

    Excellent read that forces you to think about the fabrics you encounter in your life and their origins. It covers the full gamut from the natural fibers harvested by our ancestors to the technologically driven fibers that shape our future. I especially enjoyed the time spent on outfitting explorers and astronauts. However, I really wish this book had included images as the author regularly referred to works of art or specific garments.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sophie (RedheadReading)

    Absolutely fascinating!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey Ellis

    As a future textile scholar this book was lovely and written very well. A delight.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Fascinating, and beautifully written.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hilary Nelson

    Well written, educational, informative, but not interesting whatsoever. I tried very hard to get into this book, but I have literally more enjoyed reading world encyclopedias and Webster's dictionary .

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jenia

    I don't know - in general I enjoyed it but I was disappointed that it focused primarily on Europe and America in the end. As long as you don't get your hopes up re it being a more balanced *world* history though, it's an interesting exploration of an oft-overlooked field of history!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Flick

    So much promise but I found this a frustrating read. Some sharp editing needed. Some interesting facts but not enough depth to the stories to sustain interest.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zachary

    The majority of people alive today will never see, let alone wear sea silk or cloth of gold. They won't cross seas powered by woolen sails, learn how to make lace or milk goats genetically modified to produce spider silk. And yet textiles of all kinds are intrinsic to our lives and cultures. The history of fabric seems a niche subject of interest. And yet humans' knowledge of and capacity to create textiles is the singular invention, beyond all others, which has enabled us to adapt and thrive in The majority of people alive today will never see, let alone wear sea silk or cloth of gold. They won't cross seas powered by woolen sails, learn how to make lace or milk goats genetically modified to produce spider silk. And yet textiles of all kinds are intrinsic to our lives and cultures. The history of fabric seems a niche subject of interest. And yet humans' knowledge of and capacity to create textiles is the singular invention, beyond all others, which has enabled us to adapt and thrive in so many different and varied climates. Textiles enter into every aspect of our lives, from the clothing we don each day, to the linens with which we cover the places we sleep, sit, and eat, to the furnishings of our homes, the nets and traps we use to catch our food, to the bags we use to carry our supplies across great distances, to textiles' use in burial customs, and more. Textiles are the invention which goes most unnoticed, and yet which play the most profound role in our capacity for survival and growth. This book pulls away the curtain from that which has often gone unseen, unappreciated, unexamined, and dives into an expansive history on humanity's relationship with textiles-their development and the broad scope of their uses. We explore the unlikely use of wool in seafaring which allowed the Vikings to trade with the Americas long before Columbus. We venture into the tombs of the pharoahs to learn of the ways in which the ancient Egyptians used linen to usher their dead into the afterlife. We take a deep dive into mythology and the allure of spider silk throughout the ages up to the present day. And we discover the ways in which textiles denoted status, undermined enemies, and sparked wars. A fascinating and expansive deep dive on the history of an oft-overlooked and yet vital component of human civilization, without which, there would be no civilization. Absolutely worth the hours I spent reading it. My Story | Blog | Patreon | Ko-Fi | Twitter | Instagram | More

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    You don't need to be the least bit interested in textiles to love this book, a remarkable compilation of thirteen well-researched stories illustrating how fabric has changed the course of history and been instrumental in the development of other industries (imagine fishing if thread for lines, ropes and nets had not been invented). This is the sort of book you can read for twenty minutes and then spend upwards of an hour spewing interesting little factoids in the direction of any audience you ca You don't need to be the least bit interested in textiles to love this book, a remarkable compilation of thirteen well-researched stories illustrating how fabric has changed the course of history and been instrumental in the development of other industries (imagine fishing if thread for lines, ropes and nets had not been invented). This is the sort of book you can read for twenty minutes and then spend upwards of an hour spewing interesting little factoids in the direction of any audience you can manage to capture. St. Clair takes her readers from the tombs of Ancient Egypt to the races to reach the South Pole, the top of Mt. Everest and the moon with carefully crafted prose and considerable wit. She gives us flax, wool, cotton, silk, synthetics and an eye-opening tale on efforts to commercialize the silk spiders produce to create webs (the latter funded in part by the U.S. military). Other historians would do us all a service by striving to make history spring to life as well as St. Clair does.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    How much attention to you actually pay to the clothes you wear? How soft? How durable? The color? Keeping you cool or keeping you warm in weather extremes? Starting off with some basic information on textile construction and the origins of the weaving - going back to fragmentary thread remains found in caves that have been dated 19-32,ooo years ago. From there, flax into linen especially as ancient Egypt used it especially in funerary rituals. Early Egyptologists would rip into mummy bodies for t How much attention to you actually pay to the clothes you wear? How soft? How durable? The color? Keeping you cool or keeping you warm in weather extremes? Starting off with some basic information on textile construction and the origins of the weaving - going back to fragmentary thread remains found in caves that have been dated 19-32,ooo years ago. From there, flax into linen especially as ancient Egypt used it especially in funerary rituals. Early Egyptologists would rip into mummy bodies for the small treasures hidden between the layers without any concern for the elaborate wrappings.The pigment of 'Egyptian brown' actually had powdered mummy as a colorant. Silk and the silk roads. Wool from up to a million sheep would be required to outfit a large Viking sail and crew while it became the major export of England as centuries passed. Lacemaking and the introduction of luxury goods. Cotton - domesticated nearly 7,000 years ago - was a major trade item in Africa which lead to the slave trade and in order to keep up with those trade demands, led to innovations in the weaving of cloth. Clothing utilized by those exploring extreme cold areas like the Polar regions and the Himalayas, the layering of natural fabrics to wick sweat away with furs, eiderdown and skins to provide outer insulation. Synthetic fabrics like rayon, nylon, dacron or polyester. The spacesuits that were constructed of over four thousand pieces by ILC (International Latex Company or also known as Playtex) which were forced to endure unsanitary conditions (can't waste the limited weight restrictions by bringing a change of underwear and socks to the moon - ewww). Then the synthetics for the ultimate in sportswear which initially lead to multiple sporting records to fall when first introduced. Then, of course, the final chapter deals with the exotics of spider silk - yes, it exists - and sea silk - there is only one person in the world who knows how to extract and weave the saliva of a Mediterranean mollusk. Finishing up with humanity's fascination with golden fabric from the golden fleece to the elaborate embroidery with thin strands of gold wrapped around floss/thread. Fabric is part of our lives and after reading not only how various types of textiles are constructed perhaps we shouldn't take it for granted. I mean, rayon which is constructed of wood pulp from millions of trees and washed/processed with harsh chemicals which cause caustic skin burns and lung damage to workers. Truly a dark side of the technology which has made available a multitude of 'new' fabrics. But then, natural textiles are making a come back. 2020-013

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Let's face it, Ladies, most of history has been written by men, who focus on war, politics and money. All very well, but then try Kassia St. Clair's utterly brilliant perspective on the world: she examines history through the lens of textiles. So refreshing, so illuminating! From ancient Egypt to NASA, she leads the reader on a marvelous tour. You will learn amazing things about how wool, cotton and lace drove the world's economies, about the woefully inadequate clothing worn by polar explorers, Let's face it, Ladies, most of history has been written by men, who focus on war, politics and money. All very well, but then try Kassia St. Clair's utterly brilliant perspective on the world: she examines history through the lens of textiles. So refreshing, so illuminating! From ancient Egypt to NASA, she leads the reader on a marvelous tour. You will learn amazing things about how wool, cotton and lace drove the world's economies, about the woefully inadequate clothing worn by polar explorers, and about how Playtex - yes, the girdle & bra company - made a vital contribution to the development of the space suit. An enchanting and illuminating read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Hammons

    Much more interesting than I expected! It is a thought-provoking blend of science, history, and sociology with a little art thrown in. How one change bounces off another. How silk was discovered, the history of linen, unwrapping mummies, merchants of the Silk Road, how cotton changed the world, the sociology of lace-making, fabrics used through history for mountain climbing, astronauts, swimmers, and all the interesting side-stories that relate. Who knew rayon had such a dark and dangerous past?

  26. 5 out of 5

    Br. Thanasi (Thomas) Stama

    Fascinating read. Love the length and breadth of what Kassia St. Clair wrote. This is a thought provoking discussion of the very fiber of how we became the technological world culture we are today. Spinning and weaving are as major to creating civilization as the invention of the wheel, learning to control fire or agriculture! St. Clair starts with linen and ends with the challenges with working with spiders' webs. Her section on space suits was eye opening.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Really enjoyed this book, and not just because it was a gift from my lovely daughter. It reinforced learning from the textiles course I attended at the V&A, added new topics such as textiles for sport, for astronauts, and brought in stories about people who had been affected by textiles in various ways. Brilliant. Off now to find pictures of the spider silk cape. Really enjoyed this book, and not just because it was a gift from my lovely daughter. It reinforced learning from the textiles course I attended at the V&A, added new topics such as textiles for sport, for astronauts, and brought in stories about people who had been affected by textiles in various ways. Brilliant. Off now to find pictures of the spider silk cape.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Karen Cox

    I loved this book! The subject is fascinating and the research exceptional. She begins with 30,000 years ago with the earliest examples of fabric, known from impressions of woven material in clay, and ends up with high tech fabrics used in spacesuits and sports uniforms. The final chapter is about scientists trying to develop spider silk.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michael Sparrow

    This is a very good book. I have not had much interest in fabric and picked this us because St. Clair's last book, THE SECRET LIVES OF COLOR was so wonderful. In THE GOLDEN THREAD, she traces the history of fabric, sewing and thread from pre-historic times through the Egyptians, the Silk Road, the Vikings all the way to space suits and sports bras. There was a very moving chapter dealing with ill-fated mountain climbers and Antarctic expeditions whose demise was caused in large part by the garme This is a very good book. I have not had much interest in fabric and picked this us because St. Clair's last book, THE SECRET LIVES OF COLOR was so wonderful. In THE GOLDEN THREAD, she traces the history of fabric, sewing and thread from pre-historic times through the Egyptians, the Silk Road, the Vikings all the way to space suits and sports bras. There was a very moving chapter dealing with ill-fated mountain climbers and Antarctic expeditions whose demise was caused in large part by the garments they wore. Her last book was full of beautiful colors and this one just has a handful of line drawings, but the story St. Clair tells is so well-told and compelling that I really enjoyed it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Farah Mendlesohn

    Truly fascinating book in which the author covers process, economics, social fall out and environmentalism. I learned a very great deal. I used the audio book and just a note that the speed is off. 1x feels stretched, 1.25x feels garbled.

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