1 Fibres in the Cave
2 Dead Men’s Shrouds
3 Gifts and Horses
4 Cities that Silk Built
5 Surf Dragons
6 A King’s Ransom
7 Diamonds and the Ruff
8 Solomon’s Coats
9 Layering in Extremis
10 Workers in the Factory
11 Under Pressure
12 Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
13 The Golden Cape
Golden Threads: A Coda
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.) Perhaps you are sitting on the cushioned seat of a railway or metro carriage, or in the bosom of a plump sofa. You may be enrobed in a towel, confined within the colourful enclosure of a tent or enfolded in bedsheets. All are made of cloth, whether woven, felted or knitted.
Fabrics – man-made and natural – have changed, defined, advanced and shaped the world we live in. From prehistory to the early Middle Eastern and Egyptian civilisations; via the silken dragon robes of Imperial China to the Indian calicoes and chintzes that powered the Industrial Revolution; arriving finally at the lab-blended fibres that have allowed humans to travel further and faster than ever before. For much of recorded history, the four principal sources of natural fibres – cotton, silk, linen and wool – have borne much of the strain of human ingenuity. They have been pressed into service to give warmth and protection, demarcate status, confer personal decoration and identity and provide an outlet for creative talent and ingenuity.
We live surrounded by cloth. We are swaddled in it at birth and shrouds are drawn over our faces in death. We sleep enclosed by layer upon layer of it – like the pea that woke the princess in the fairy tale – and, when we wake, we clothe ourselves in yet more of it to face the world and let it know who we shall be that day. When we speak, we use words, phrases and metaphors in which the production of thread and cloth have insinuated themselves. The words ‘line’, ‘lining’, ‘lingerie’ and ‘linoleum’, for example, are all rooted in the word ‘linen’. For most people, who know little of the practical business of turning the stems of flax into thread or conjuring damasks from a skeletal warp on a loom, these linguistic motifs could seem little more than empty shells washed up on a beach: a pallid reminder of something greater, richer, only half understood today, but worth our curiosity.
When I studied eighteenth-century dress at university, I was constantly confronted with the stubborn belief that clothing was frivolous and unworthy of notice, despite its evident importance to the society under discussion. When I went on to write about contemporary design and fashion I encountered similar snobbery. Examination of fabrics is often ghettoised. Even when it is the principal focus of mainstream attention, it is usually the appearance and desirability of the end product being discussed, rather than the constituent raw materials and the people who fashion them.
This book invites you to take a closer look at the fabrics that you surround and clothe yourself with each day. It is not – and was never intended to be – an exhaustive history of textiles. Instead, The Golden Thread contains thirteen very different stories that help illustrate the vastness of their significance. In one chapter you will be invited behind the scenes to watch the making of the spacesuits that allowed us to walk on the moon. Another looks at the craft that inspired Vermeer to paint The Lacemaker. Elsewhere you’ll meet the people who wrapped – and those who unwrapped – Egypt’s mummies; inventors and scientists who have spent their lives trying to make cloth from spiders’ silk; and those whose clothes failed them in the most extreme environments on earth with fatal consequences. It is a book written for the curious: I hope you enjoy it.
1 thought on “The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History pdf by Kassia St Clair”
Hi – this book sounds great and I will make every effort to get a copy – I am in Australia.
I just wondered if you know of any work on the cloth and clothing of enslaved people in the Caribbean and early days before photography in US