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Fabric Friday: Other protein fibers (Azlon)

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Workshops - specialty vintage topics' started by denisebrain, Oct 22, 2021.

  1. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    First the basics:

    From the mid 1930s to the late 1960s, a number of protein-based wool-like fibers were developed and manufactured. Azlon is the generic name for a fiber made from regenerated protein. The main sources were mainly soy, peanuts, corn and milk.

    During WWII, skim milk was not rationed in the U.S., and milk protein (casein) fiber was popular under the trade name Aralac. Fibrolane, Lanital, and Merinova were additional brands. Protein-fiber fabrics also included peanut-based Ardil, and Vicara was made from corn protein. Some protein-based fibers are still made today but not in significant quantities. The fibers are weak, especially when wet, and other manufactured fibers—particularly acrylic—have taken azlon’s place.

    Milk protein

    Casein (milk protein) was used as a paint binder going back many centuries, but it wasn't until the 20th century that it was used to make a fiber. It takes 100 pounds of milk to make three pounds of casein fiber. To make the fiber, the viscose process is used, quite similar to that used to make rayon.

    The characteristics of casein fiber are very near to wool. It is the same chemical composition, and burns like wool (burning hair odor). However, under a microscope it doesn't have the scales of wool, but is smooth and round. It has to be handled even more gently than wool when wet as it weakens when damp. It has to be kept dry because it can mildew rapidly. It is soft, fluffy, and naturally white. It smells good when dry, but sour milk can be detected when damp. It doesn't attract insect damage and doesn't shrink as much as wool but it isn't as springy, elastic and resilient. It takes dye like wool and is easily damaged by alakalis like wool. It was blended with wool and rayon during WWII, and as such helped the war effort.

    The Star Press Muncie, IN 1943.png
    Portrait of a Family Dressed in Milk. This showed up in a number of newspapers in 1943.

    The first casein fiber was Lanital (lana = wool, ital = Italian). The Italian government granted Antonio Feretti a patent for this in 1935. It was manufactured by Snia Visccoca of Milan. This was superseded there by Merinova.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture was granted a patent in 1937 for a casein fiber. It was developed by the research wing (American Research Associates) of the National Dairy Products Corp. Aralac was the fiber's trade name (ARA = American Research Associates, lac = Latin for milk) and it made it on the market in 1940, shortly before for the beginning of the U.S. involvement in WWII.

    Aralac was blended with wool, mohair and rayon. I have seen it blended with rabbit hair to make a felt hat.
    This hat was surely made during WWII:


    I am not a jewelry expert by any means, but I can say that casein (or galalith) was a plastic made from milk protein and formaldehyde, first presented in 1900. This c.1930s necklace from my archives is made of carved casein beads.

    Screen Shot 2021-10-22 at 11.16.49 AM.png

    With the emergence of cheaper man-made synthetic fibers after the war, milk protein was superseded. It was no longer in production in the U.S. by the end of the 1940s.

    Casein fiber production lasted longer in Great Britain. Under the trade name Fibrolane, Courtaulds Ltd. manufactured milk fiber from the 1940s until 1965.

    Peanut protein

    The British company Imperial Chemical Industries developed a fiber made from peanut protein and trade named the fiber Ardil after the name of the research chemist, David Trail, combined with the word wool. (Is anyone else as fascinated as I am with the compound names of these?) It was like wool and casein, except it didn't absorb moisture as much, therefore didn't get moldy. It was blended with wool, rayon and cotton. ICI manufactured Ardil from 1946 to 1957.

    This ad from The Age, Melbourne, 1956 may have been part of a public campaign to make Ardil more palatable in Australia, where the wool industry considered it a threat. No word as to whether those with deathly peanut allergies were also threatened.

    The Age, Melbourne, 1956.png

    Corn protein

    In the late 1940s the USDA Northern Regional Research Laboratory in Peoria, Illinois was successful in developing corn protein (zein) into a textile fiber. The Virginia-Carolina Corp. commercialized zein-based fiber under the trade name Vicara. It was a very soft fiber, took dye well, didn't mildew and blended well with rayon, wool or nylon. It reportedly reduced the itchiness of wool and increased the warmth of nylon. It was also used as a fiber on its own. Again, the business of making this protein fiber was relatively short-lived (1948-58) due to the cheaper production of synthetic man-made fibers.

    Soy Protein

    The history of soy protein fiber is tied to no less than Henry Ford, who is credited with introducing and promoting its use. In this 1941 photograph Ford is wearing a soybean suit, made of a blend of soybean fiber and wool. The fiber was another victim of cheaper man-made synthetics, but today it is being produced again. In 1999, textile scientists announced a new process that made the production of soy fabric considerably more efficient and less expensive. The resurgence was fueled by an increased interest in the development of more sustainable natural fibers—this is the only fiber made entirely of byproducts, the leftovers of soybean food production.

    Screen Shot 2021-10-22 at 2.07.43 PM.png
    Screen Shot 2021-10-22 at 2.07.30 PM.png

    I'd love to see what you've found with these trade names on labels. Have any UK members seen Fibrolane?

    Any questions or comments?


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