What you should know about the "Miracale" Fabrics
You can’t tell the new test-tube fibres without a program. So here’s a consumer expert to steer you through the maze from Acrilan to Terylene. He answers such questions as: "Will it wash?” "Will it wrinkle?” "Will it melt in the sun?”
RECENTLY I looked over some suits in the men’s department of a leading Windsor, Ont., store. I picked one out and asked an elderly salesman what it was made of. He fished around for the tag. It carried only the manufacturer’s coined trade name.
“This is what it is,” he said. “It’s good material.” Maybe it was. But the trade name had no relation to the actual fibre contení, which was partly one of the new synthetics.
The salesman studied the label on another suit. “This one is viscose,” he announced. He had no idea that viscose is rayon, nor would most of his customers know.
The confusion of this willing hut mystified clerk illustrates the dilemma in which Canadian shoppers are finding themselves. All kinds of new materials
UPHOLSTERED CHAIR-NYLON CUSHION-NYLON
DON - NYLON-TRICOT SHIRT DACRON TIE
RAYON AND ACETATE SUIT
LILLIAN-NYLON AND SILK DRESS NYLON STOCKINGS
RUG RAYON AND WOOL
about the“Miracle” Fabrics
are bein' thrown at them these days, but if even the peojie selling them don’t understand what they are, how can the consumer?
Actualy, a fundamental change in what you wear and how you will look in it is being wrought by the ncreasing availability of synthetic fibres: Orion, Acrilan, Dacron (also known as Terylene), Dynel, aid a few other names which are strange to the tverage consumer now but soon will be rolling df his tongue like household words.
For nen, there are pants that can be worn for weeks without pressing. For women, permanent pleats in skirts and blouses that need little ironing. For children, garments that resist mud. For the house, covers and curtains that stay fresh-looking longer aid save housework.
Like layon and nylon, the dramatic new syn-
thetic fibres are products of the chemical laboratory. In fact they are industrial byproducts of coal and lime, natural gas and hydrocarbons, and oil-refinery gas. Various chemicals derived from these raw materials are catalyzed and the resultant substance is forced through a spinneret to form a thread, much as a spider extrudes a glandular secretion to make the strands of a web.
The new group of fibres are all made from basically the same or related chemicals. But they are engineered in different ways to acquire their own special characteristics. For example, a benzine product is used in the chemist’s brew for Dacron to make that fibre comparatively hard to bend. From that simple twist of chemistry’s brave newworld, you get pants that resist w-rinkling.
The new man-made fibres have been slower in
appearing in Canada than in the U. S., because the limited production so far has been consumed right in the States. But production is rising in the U. S., which now has more synthetics for export. A factory for producing the British Terylene i Dacron' is being built at Kingston, Ont. With each season, Canadian st ores have more suits, coats, sweaters, blouses, curtains and other products made from these revolutionary new fibres.
For consumers, they are full of surprises, not all of them pleasant. You’ll have the delightful experience of wearing a suit that stays wrinkle-free a long time. But you’ll get the shock of your life if you carelessly (lick a cigarette and see a hot ash melt an irreparable hole in your miracle pants. Your jacket may not get threadbare so quickly at the cuffs. But it may tend Continued on page 95
LA-OKLON AND COTTON DRESS WHITE SHEER CURTAINS DACRON PATRICK - NYLON AND WOOL PANTS ARMCHAIR SPUN SARAN
OCCASIONAL CHAIR NYLON CORD
IESPUN ACETATE RAYON TIMOTHYRAYON PANTS
NYLON AND ACETATE PUCK SHIRT
Continued on page 95
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 23
to form queer little fibre balls. You may emerge from a sudden summer shower with your suit still in press, and it may dry quickly on your back. But your underclothes and skin may be soaked.
As any woman can testify after watching her easy-to-launder nylon curtains rot in sunlight, “miracle fabrics’ don’t always turn out to be quite a complete miracle, certainly not for all purposes. Men who paid twelve or fifteen dollars for the early nylon shirts, proclaimed to need no ironing, can testify they did need ironing and that while they were easy to rinse out, they had their own idiosyncracies, like shifting at the seams and turning out to be quite hot on a muggy day.
The fact is, the new synthetic clothes and materials can be a big help to almost any family if wisely selected for that family’s particular needs. But their advantages are not the same for all people and purposes.
They are stronger and more resistant to wear than most of the older fibres (cotton, wool and rayon). They don’t absorb dirt so readily. What dirt they do collect they relinquish more easily in the tub. They dry faster. They are more stable; they hold their creases better and don’t wrinkle readily. Theoretically you can throw a Dacron or Tervlene suit in a washing machine. Or, as one fellow did in a stunt publicized in the U. S. by the makers of Dacron, you can jump into a swimming pool with your suit on when you want to refresh it.
There’s Disillusionment Too
Yet there are already squawks about the new clothes, a minor counterrevolution against them. In the IJ. S. the National Association of Retail Clothiers found that about half the retailers it surveyed had had complaints about Orion and Dacron suits, largely because the customers expected more from them than they could provide.
The new fibres are sometimes overpromoted, and only their desirable features emphasized. Many merchants themselves have become disillusioned with their unforeseen flaws. “They are advertised too fantastically in the U.S.,” a woman buyer for a Windsor department store told me. “We found them hot in summer and cold in winter. They are promoted to us as easy to wash. But that only means hand washable. The clerks tell the customers they are easy to wash, and women put them in a machine for an hour or hang them in the sun to dry, and the synthetic garments sometimes are damaged.”
Because a new fibre itself is strong
it won’t necessarily be more durable when made up into various types of fabrics, as textile-scientist Jules LaBarthe Jr., of the Mellon Institute, Pittsburgh, points out. The very slipperiness of the new synthetics makes them more prone to yarn shifting and seam failures. Mrs. Michael Humphries, research department head of a large knitting mill in Toronto and textile convener of the Canadian Association of Consumers, explains the trouble this way: nylon certainly is a strong and long-wearing fibre, but what use is a fabric as strong as steel in a
garment with raveled or burst seams?
Further, the old-fashioned fibres have some miracle qualities of their own that should not be overlooked in the furore over new ones. Wool shrinks and bags but it is still one of the warmest, springiest and most comfortable materials for garments. Rayon, derived from wood pulp, can still make a goodlooking dress for a very few dollars.
Most people are going to have to learn a new kind of shopping if they want to take advantage of the new fabrics without disillusionment. A man will no longer simply buy wool pants
for winter, and cotton, rayon or lightweight wool worsted for summer. A woman won’t automatically choose either a rayon or cotton blouse. There will be a choice of a dozen fabrics. Picking the one best suited to a particular need will be a talent as essential to good shopping as knowing the difference between sirloin and chuck roast. It won’t be a simple talent though, for often several fibres are blended. One suit may mix Orion and wool, another Terylene and rayon. The careful shopper will learn to examine the synthetic garments care-
fully to make sure they have been constructed properly, and that the seams are generous and with overcast edges, not merely pinked.
At first it may even be a trick to find out what that new suit is really made of. Many clerks are as puzzled by the new materials as the buyer who comes in off the street. Producers are not required to label the fibre content of clothes, so the public and merchant can’t readily tell what they are buying and selling. Some producers do label voluntarily —but lots don’t.
Here is a candid guide to what you can really expect from the new clothes and fabrics, as garnered from such close observers as the Canadian Association of Consumers, an organization of individual housewives and delegates from other women’s groups; the American Standards Association, a body which develops purchasing standards for U. S. industrial and government use; and the American Home Economics Association, an organization of home economists:
Both Orion and Dacron (Terylene), the two most prominent of the new fibres, keep their shape well and recover well from wrinkles (if not as much as sometimes claimed ). They are easy to wash by hand. They dry quickly and need little ironing.
Dacron is more resilient than Orion. If has a high degree of “wetness stability” so that it keeps its press in dampness or humidity. It is one of the strongest fibres developed so far. A Dacron shirt is about the closest thing yet. to a shirt that really needs little ironing after it is washed, although textile experts say any woven shirt needs at least a little pressing and only the so-called knit (jerseylike) shirts don’t. Dacron also has more elasticity than Orion or nylon and this helps give it better shape-retention. Hatters are now even making men’s hats of a blend of Dacron and felt in an effort at developing headgear that will last longer and not show so quickly the shabby edges of hard wear.
Orion drapes nicely and so is more suitable for women’s dresses. It has more bulk than Dacron; a pound of it makes more material and thus Orion is sometimes less expensive than Dacron. It can be made up to resemble wool for such garments as sweaters. It’s significant that for generations the U. S. Army refused to buy uniform shirts (outer shirts) of any quality less than all-wool of twenty-ounce weight. Now for the first time it has established a new standard for an eighteen-ounce shirt made of a blend of eighty percent wool and twenty percent Orion. Even though a lighter weight, the new shirt is said to he as warm as the traditional all-wool shirt, and less prone to shrink when washed in water.
Acrilan, one of the newest synthetics, is similar to Orion and is being used in wool blends also.
The disadvantages of the new fabrics are these:
Dacron tends to “rough up”—form little pills of fibre. By themselves the synthetics have a glossiness and transparency which is undesirable, especially in men’s clothes. As noted above, a spark melts a hole in t hese fabrics. Nor do they absorb perspiration readily—a defect they share with nylon. For some uses like socks, underwear and shirts, that offsets their virtues.
Independent tests at Pennsylvania State College found some of the new materials don’t always hold their dyes. That makes it important to get a guarantee of color-fastness when you buy a colored fabric of these new fibres.
Chief complaints received by the LJ. S. clothiers were that the miracle suits wrinkled and bagged more than
customers expected, and resisted efforts to remove spots.
One reason for some of the disillusionment is that some manufacturers have not used enough of the synthetics in blends with other fibres. Recently an executive of the U. S. duPont company, which makes several of the “miracle” fibres, admitted that nylon has not yet been found successful in giving wrinkle resistance to a fabric, although a blend of ten or fifteen percent nylon does make rayon clothes more durable. At small extra cost summer suits of rayon-nylon have been found to be more satisfactory than the older all-rayons. Fifty percent Orion or Dacron increases wrinkle resistance when blended with wool or acetate, a first cousin of rayon, but it takes seventy-five or eighty percent when blended with viscose rayon. So don’t expect much benefit when there is just a bit of a new synthetic in a fabric.
They Do Cost More
Why must there now he all these blends instead of simple, straightforward wool, rayon, Dacron and so on? What the textile experts are aiming at is to obtain some of the advantages of several fibres in one material, and minimize their disadvantages. For example, a blend of Orion or Dacron with rayon achieves some of the wear resistance and stability of the new fibres, but at rayon’s lower cost. A little nylon in a wool sock—even five or ten percent—saves the wool from its notorious habit of rubbing out at toe and heel, while making available wool’s ability to absorb perspiration, which the synthetics lack. In a sweater, a blend of wool with Orion or Acrilan has Orion’s virtue of dirt resistance and washability without shrinkage and with no reblocking necessary, while the wool in the blend adds more “give” to the synthetic fibre. In a shirt, a blend of Dacron and cotton provides a neater appearance and more comfortable feel than the glossy, somewhat slippery and transparent all-synthetic shirts.
The new fabrics are costlier than most of the older ones. It is impossible to he specific about the relative prices hut, especially in clothing, you can usually figure that Dacron (Terylene)
and Orion are most expensive, nylon is next, Dynel and a good wool like wool worsted are next in line in cost, and cotton, rayon and acetate are least expensive. Orion and Dacron products often cost two or three times their equivalent in rayon, acetate and cotton, and will cost a little but not much more than good wool fabrics and Dynel, which are close to each other in price. Nylon products will often run from thirty to fifty percent more than the rayon articles they replace.
Why are the new fibres so expensive? The chief reason is that up to now production has been limited. Just as with nylon, as production increases—both of the fibre and finished goods made from it—the price will drop. Besides that, manufacturers emphasize the new desirable features at first. When the novelty wears off they start promoting on a price basis and prices slide, as those on nylon articles have. In the U. S., producers of the new synthetic fibres have started cutting prices already and finished products have started downward. This year pleated skirts made of Orlon-and-wool flannel were slashed from about ten dollars to five dollars as mills, garmentmakers and stores all started cutting the miracle down to fit the purse of the average woman. Orion and Acrilan, which are much alike in their qualities, are now starting to compete with each other in price reductions.
It is all-important to select the new materials on the basis of the individual buyer’s individual needs. An Orion or Dacron blouse (or blend with rayons) may be wonderful for a business girl who wants to wash it out at night for next day’s wear and not spend much time ironing it. But it will he of less use to a housewife who wears a blouse only occasionally and has time to let it dry and give it its occasional ironing. A man who wears a suit once a week won’t have as much use for a Dacron blend as a man who wears it daily. If won’t have to be pressed very often anyway, and even an inexpensive rayon suit will last years with such moderate use.
I know a girl who spends most of her time in slacks. Once in a while she wears a dress for a few hours and needs a slip under it. At that rate her nylon slip will last the rest of her life. Inex-
pensive rayon would do her as well. A Dacron shirt may be handy for a man on a trip, or a bachelor, because he can wash it and let it dry overnight, but not to a man with both a wife and washing machine. Kven if the synthetics outwear cotton by three times, as is sometimes claimeil, you can still buy three cotton shirts for the price of one Dacron.
Orion or nylon undershorfs are mor«1 durable than cotton. But they may have little other usefulness to justify their extra cost, except to a traveler. Kven for him, acetate shorts cost less and have some of the quick-drying quality of the miracle fibres.
For socks the synthetics art* undeniably mon* durable. Men who wear wool socks should consider the merits of Dynel, another new synthetic. It resembles wool in warmth but is washable without shrinking and dries quickly. However, I)ynel socks like t he other synthetics except Vicara don t absorb perspiration readily and some men find them uncomfortable. Blends
with the natural fibres come in handy there. Dynel is also being used for blankets. Since it’s shrink-resistant it can be washed in a machine, which makes it useful for baby blankets requiring frequent laundering.
But don’t accept the much-publicized idea that an Orion or Dacron suit will eliminate dry-cleaning bills. The fabrics themselves are easy to handwash, but a tailored suit has padding and other components that require dry cleaning.
If you do hope for a suit you can rinse out at home, your best bets so far at reasonable cost are unlined Orlonand-cotton suits, unlined nylon-blended cords, unlined cotton suits or the skeleton-lined Palm Beach type suit which has a high degree of sturdiness and wrinkle resistance because of its blend of mohair, nylon and rayon. These types, however, are not as tailored-looking as lined suits.
The new fibres will make changes in home - furnishing habits too. Women have been especially intrigued by the
new curtains of miracle fabrics. Some helpful information on people’s experiences with these has been gathered by Kay Kipling, home planning adviser of Eaton’s-College Street, Toronto:
NYLON curtains were found to have good strength but they rot in sunlight. Average life seems to be about a year and a half.
SARAN net curtains are waterproof. dry fast, have good resistance to sunlight. But they can cause difficulties if wrinkled during washing because they can’t be ironed.
DACRON washes and dries easily. holds pleats well, is not as resistant to sunlight as Orion, but is satisfactory behind glass.
ORLON appears to be the star curtain performer. It has excellent resistance to sunlight and is easy to wash and dry.
It looks as though we’ll all have to be guinea pigs for the emerging clothing revolution. In the U. S., where much of the new materials originate, many
weavers still insert a no-responsibility clause in their contracts for synthetic fabrics on the grounds that knowledge of their performance is incomplete.
While some of the headaches the public and businessmen both are suffering are due to honest experimentation, the textile revolution has its silly side too. One U. S. company has announced nylon bed sheets. They will cost more than twice as much as upper-quality cotton sheets and have the proclaimed virtue of drying in just one hour. Which would seem to be an advantage only if you own just one pair of sheets, or take your own sheets with you when traveling.
While nylon-covered chesterfields are a help with their resistances to soil and wear, especially for a family with children, a nylon cover on a mattress seems less useful. Nylon bath mats emerging from the U. S. seem to be another solution to a nonexistent problem, since dunking a cotton mat in suds once in a while or drying it, is probably the least of your troubles.
Eventually as the new fabrics enter every corner of our lives they may even help Canada’s foreign-trade position. At present, Canada imports all its cotton, much of its wool and part of its rayon. (Canada has enough potential rayon production to be self-sufficient but U. S. makers have been dumping some of their excess rayon materials here.) In fact, imports of fibres, textiles and clothing run close to ten percent of all goods Canada imports.
You’d Better Be Careful
We will always have to rely on imports of cotton since it can’t be grown here. But the British synthetic, Terylene (Dacron), soon will be manufactured in a plant at Kingston, Ont., and most of the raw materials for it are available in Canada. Since U. S. experience indicates Dacron-wool and Dacron-rayon blends will replace much of our present woolen clothing, and with the constant improvement in rayons and encouragement of their use in blends with the new synthetics, Canada may become less dependent on imported fibres.
But the customer’s immediate concern is how to find out what he’s buying. You’ll need to know how much of each fibre is in the suit to know how it will probably behave. An executive of a Windsor store reported that the practice of advertising rayon dresses as silk is notorious in the retail trade, although most good stores do scrupulously avoid such conscious misrepresentation.
The real difficulty is the lack of informative labels on many clothing items. In one of Hamilton’s biggest stores I asked a clerk what a reasonably priced coat was made of.
“Gabardine,” he said. “Wool gabardine?” I asked. “Certainly,” he reassured.
I pointed out that from the juice, appearance and feel, the fabric aj>peared to be jiart cotton.
“It may be,” he said agreeably.
The Canadian Association of Consumers is currently asking the federal government for a fabrics-labeling law that should go a long way toward solving this vexing problem. The association is asking that the fibre most prominent in a material be listed first, and those amounting to less than five percent not be mentioned at all. Thus a pair of pants chiefly made of rayon with some Dacron, Terylene or nylon would be most prominently identified as rayon. A slip containing only a futile four percent of nylon, say, wouldn’t carry that magic name at all. And we’d all be less confused and, maybe, better clothed. ★