A History of Applied Fiber and Fabric Enhancements (Part 5)

While these methods did provide improvement to these early fibers, fabrics, and textiles, they had some major drawbacks.

As you can imagine, all those fats, oils, and smoked items would have had an unpleasant odor.

The processes and methods used to treat materials with these early enhancements would have been very messy.

They would have most certainly affected the look and textile feel of all of the fibers and fabrics to which they were applied.dreamstimemaximum_36196180

The need to have a more refined way to enhance fabrics became apparent once man started to use them in a broader sense. This became very important as we see the use of fabric come indoors in a big way.

When people learned to farm and lived in permanent settlements, they began to make furniture. In an effort to make these furnishings more comfortable, they started using fibers and fabrics to cover and eventually upholster these items. Once these early fibers and fabrics started to see a wider use in man’s living environment, the enhancements had to evolve as well.

The would no longer tolerate the pungent odors and hard, uncomfortable wax coatings. They would now be utilizing fibers and fabrics in a whole new way–a more refined way. This menat the enhancements had to become more refined as well.

The expanded need for applied enhancements was not limited to textile utilization, but for the first time concerns were expressed about the added fire hazard that the use of all these fabrics presented to our indoor environment.


A History of Applied Fiber and Fabric Enhancements (Part 4)

Some Early Plant Based Fiber Enhancements:

Pine Tar is a vegetable liquid obtained from the wood of various Pine trees by destructive distillation. Pine Tar is known since ancient history for its capacity as a water repellent vapor barrier. This process was heavily used in ancient North America.

Tree Resin: pitch gum resin which can be extracted from a variety of tree species, notably pines, world wide. Again, it was used as a moisture barrier on early fibers.

Plant Waxes. Plants secrete waxes, the most important is carnauba wax, a hard was obtained from the Brazilian Palm.

Linseed Oil. Applied to various fibers and fabrics to produce “Oilcloth.”

Plant Based Fiber Enhancements


The most commonly known animal wax is beeswax, but other insects secrete waxes.

Spermaceti can be processed into a wax and occurs in large amounts in the head cavities of the Sperm Whale.

Lanolin is a wax obtained from wool consisting of esters of sterols.

Animal derived fats, oils, and greases were used for thousands of years.

Just as we discussed with leather, these same animal oils, fats, and greases were applied to early fibers as enhancements.


Early AnimalInsect Based Enhancements
Montan Wax is a fossilized wax extracted from coal and lignite. It is very hard, reflecting the high concentration of saturated fatty acids and alcohols.

Paraffin wax is a white or colorless, soft, solid substance derived from petroleum, coal, or shale oil.

A recipe of boiled Pine Sap, Animal Fat, and Charcoal was used by the ancient Greeks to waterproof linen and wool. This mixture is still in use today in some parts of the world.

A History of Applied Fiber and Fabric Enhancements (Part 3)

After leather, early man started to utilize nature as a source for fiber to make textiles and fabric.

For over five thousand years, the following four fibers and a few woven grasses were the only materials available for the manufacture of fabrics.

PicMonkey Collage2

5,000+ BC FLAX
Generally considered to be the oldest natural textile fiber. Fine linene was used as burial shrouds for the Egyptian pharaohs.

The largest producer: Soviet States; other large producers include Poland, Germany, Belgium, and France. The largest exporters are Northern Ireland and Belgium.


3,000+ BC COTTON
The earliest use estimated between 3,000 BC to 5,000 BC.

Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 AD revolutionized the processing of cotton. The development of the power loom in 1884 AD brought significant improvements and variations to cotton fibers.

The major producers: United States, Soviet States, China, and India. The lesser producers include: Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico, Iran, and Sudan.


3,000+ BC WOOL
Used by people of the Late Stone Age. There are 40 different breeds of sheep, which produce approximately 200 types of wool in varying grades.

The major producers include: Australia, New Zealand, Soviet States, China, South Africa, and Argentina.



2,600+ BC SILK
Ancient fable tells story of the creation of the first silk thread by a Chinese princess. Silk is made from two continuous filaments cemented together and used to form the cocoon of the silkworm. Silk culture began about 1725 BC, encouraged by the wife of China’s emperor. Secrets of cultivation and fabric manufacturing were closely gaurded by the Chinese for about 3,000 years.

The story goes that two monks smuggled seeds of the mulberry tree and silkworm eggs out of China by hiding them in their walking sticks.

India first learned of sil culture when a Chinese princess married an Indian prince.

The current major producer and exporter of silk is Japan.






A History of Applied Fiber and Fabric Enhancements (Part 2)

The primitive man hunted wild animals for food. He removed the hides and skins form the dead animal carcass and used them as crude tents, clothing, footwear, and bedding.

The earliest record of the use of leather dates from the Paleolithic period. Cave paintings discoverd near Lerida in Spain depict the use of leather clothing.

Excavation of Paleolithic sites has yielded bone tools used for scraping hides and skins to remove hair. These scraped skins rapidly putrfied and became useless, so a method of preservation was needed.

The earliest method was to stretch out the hides and skins on the ground to dry, rubbing them with fats and animal brains while they dried. This had a limited preserving and softening action. Primitve man discovered also that the smoke of wood fires could preserve hides and skins, as did treating them with and infusion of tannin-containing barks, leaves, twigs, and fruits of certain trees and plants. It seems likely that man first discovered how to preserve leather when he found that animal skins left lying on a wet forest floor became tanned naturally by chemicals released by decaying leaves and vegetation.


Fat tanning is the oldest method of waterproofing skins and turning them into leather. Ancient Assyrian texts, as well as Homer’s Iliad, mention this method. Ancients would rub ainmal fat into the skins, stretching them to help the fat incorprate into the hide. The resulting leather resisted moisture and rot because, as we all know, oil and water do not mix.


Brain Tanning is another common method of turning skins or hides into water-resistant leather. Used by ancient Native Americans, brain tanning involves soaking cleaned skins in a mixture of water and the animal’s own brains. Though this may seem disgusting, brains conain both emulsifying fats and softening agents that help preserve the finished leather.


Smoking was another common method ancient peoples used to tan and waterproof leather. Most likely discovered by accident, hides were exposed to smoke, a preservative and drying agent. This helped protect the finish product against moisture and rot. Often used in conjunction with methods like brain tanning, smoking wasn’t absolutely necessary but did give the hides additional softness and an appealing brown color.


All of these methods did improve the natural leather’s ability to withstand wear and limited exposure to moisture. it even gave a small layer of protection against UV damage. It did not, however, provide any redustion in flammability. In fact, it probably made it burn faster!


A History of Applied Fiber and Fabric Enhancements (Part 1)

The subject of textile enhancement is as broad and varied as there are uses and types of fibers and fabrics.



For this series we will be looking at two specific types of material utilization. Residential and Commercial Furnishings and Decor.


We will discover, however, that most of the enhancements we utilize in these two areas came from development in other areas of utilization.


Now, a quick word on “Applied Enhancements”

Obviously, there are hundreds of applications to fabrics that could be considered “enhancements.” Everything from pigmentation to treatments textile feel is technically enhancing the fabric.

We will be concentrating on enhancements that are “appled” treatments and not something that was engineered into the textile or fabric at its point of origin or manufacture.

The applied enhancements we will be discussing in this series will pertain to four areas of improvement.
1. Water Repellency: A fabric’s ability to repel or resist the absorption of moisture.
2. Wear Resistance: A fabric’s ability to sustain use and/or wear.
3. Fade and UV Resistance: The ability to reduce the amount in which a fabric is degraded by Ultra Violet Light. (Sunlight)

PicMonkey Collage

Humans have been applying enhancements to fibers for a long, long time!

This is a leather treatment shop in Morocco that has been in use for hundreds of years.


This is an ancient piece of linen coated with wax.


From its earliest beginnings our relationhip with fabrics has been that of a constant search for improvement to its natural performance. Mankind first used the skins of animals as clothing.

Next came their use in making primitive shelters and later to help make these environments more comfortable.

It can be said that as a species we are never happy with good enough. We are always seeking to make things better, stronger, and last longer. And that has never been more evident than through how we have improved upon nature’s fibers, textiles, and fabrics.


Rug Pads

Rug pads create a safer environment by reducing the wrinkles and slippage of your area rug, which also makes it easier to vacuum. Whether you need a rug pad for a hard surface or carpet, we have the selection for you. Pro-Care offers three different types of quality rug pads. One is for use under Oriental or pile rugs, a second for flat weaves and a third for use with rugs laid over carpet. Pre-cut or custom cut sizes are available.

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Protect your walkways and furnishings by requesting Pro-Care technicians to apply MicroSeal to your textiles. Give us a call to have your textiles cleaned AND protected – (615) 221-4100 or check out our website at www.microsealofnashville.com/mainhero