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Fabric Friday: Rayon continued, plus acetate

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Workshops - specialty vintage topics' started by denisebrain, Oct 8, 2021.

  1. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Last week, responding to the subject of rayon, Marian asked what fabrics are made with the fiber.
    (Remember, rayon is a fiber, and a fiber is made into a fabric. Rayon alone is not the name of a fabric.)

    Rayon started out slowly (embroidery floss, trims that wouldn’t need to be washed, stockings) and as the manufacturing process developed, it was used for nearly all fabric types.

    Starting as “artificial silk”, a silk-like fabric with a lower price tag, many industry stakeholders felt the name needed revisiting by the 1920s. Not only was the public perception that it was the poor cousin of silk, but differentiation was sought by silk manufacturers too.

    In 1925, the U.S. National Retail Dry Goods Association called for a new name (not using the word silk) for the fiber, and rayon was chosen. Very soon other countries adopted this name as well. With the lovely new moniker, advertising ramped up, and by the 1930s, rayon had become an important fiber, beloved for its versatility.

    It was, by mid century, available as satin, velvet, taffeta, chiffon, georgette, mousseline, jacquards (brocade, damask), faille, shantung, matelassé, organza, voile, gabardine, bouclé, piqué, barathea, jersey, butcher cloth, charmeuse, foulard, surah, tulle, and simplex among others. Rayon was doing it all.

    In terms of weights, you can find trims and veils, top weight, bottom weight and even heavy weight fabrics made from rayon or a rayon blend.

    In terms of use, you can find many dress fabrics, linings, suitings, sweater knits, gloves, lingerie, stockings, bathing suits, neckties and scarves, handbags, trimmings, and millinery yarns.

    Wedding dress of rayon and lace, 1916 (more about it from the V&A HERE).
    Screen Shot 2021-10-08 at 12.43.07 PM.png

    This dress called "Samovar" was designed by Paul Poiret in 1921-22. The V&A, where it resides, describes the fabrics as a knitted black rayon (either viscose or cuprammonium) bodice with gilt metal thread embellishment, and a viscose rayon machine-made lace skirt over a double petticoat of gold lamé and black tulle.

    Evening dress of rayon crepe with rayon fringe by Madeleine Vionnet (The MET)
    MadeleineVionnet 1938.png

    Dress, 1947 by Adrian (The MET). I don't know the weave, but I suspect it is plain weave rayon).
    Screen Shot 2021-10-08 at 1.18.47 PM.png

    Western suit, rayon gabardine by Ranch Maid c.1950s (from my sold archives)

    Rayon Velvet Maxi Coat, circa 1971 by Aristos. Sold by Bonhams.
    Screen Shot 2021-10-08 at 1.26.13 PM.png


    As we know from the history of rayon, experimentation toward creating a man-made fiber out of tree pulp dates to around 1860, but only in 1894 was the production of the fiber cellulosic acetate patented—by Arthur D. Little of Boston. It was the second manufactured cellulosic fiber, following rayon, and it was used for film, celluloid plastic and “artificial silk” (as both rayon and acetate were called at that time). The brothers Camille and Henri Dreyfus of Switzerland were the first to develop a satisfactory process for commercially producing the fiber in 1905.

    Acetate was first made commercially in England after World War I, by British Celanese Limited, calling its fiber celanese. The fiber was first spun commercially in the U.S. in 1924, and it was trademarked as Celanese.

    The U.S. Federal Trade Commission gave acetate a grouping separate from rayon in 1953. Acetate is manufactured under many trade names, including Celanese, Acele, and Estron in the U.S., and Dicel and Lansil in the U.K.

    Unlike rayon, which also starts with cellulose from wood pulp, the making of acetate employs the use of acetic acid or acetic anhydride. The resulting liquid can be dyed brilliant colors, then spun. The finished fiber is silk’s closest man-made competitor for drape and sheen.

    Additional advancements were made by the Celanese Corporation in the 1950s with the development of triacetate. This is a cellulosic fiber made with wood pulp, but it contains less cellulose than regular acetate fibers. That means it handles better when washed, it can withstand more agitation and heat without damaging the fibers, and it’s wrinkle resistant. Triacetate is also used to make dresses, skirts, sportswear, and other types of garments where the retention of permanent pleats is important.

    I love your comments and questions, so please make my day.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2021
  2. Vinclothes

    Vinclothes Alumni +

    Listing of the possible weaves and fabric names is so helpful, Maggie. Thank you. Should I (we) be able to tell triacetate from viscose from Bemberg? I get confused by all the terms and wonder how deep to go in rayon fabric identification and descriptions.
    denisebrain likes this.
  3. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    I don't think you (we) should be able to tell the rayon made by cuprommonium process (bemberg) vs. viscose process visually or by thread-burn test, however viscose-process rayon being the most versatile and cost-effective, it is a good bet for the majority of rayon items from the time of its patenting to this day. It is the only rayon type that can be blended with other fibers in a single yarn.

    Acetate and triacetate are very hard to tell apart without a label, but acetate and rayon can be easily differentiated. I really like dabbing acetone on a small swatch (or even just a few yarns) of acetate to see if it dissolves. If it does, it is acetate. The burn test is also good for telling rayon and acetate apart.
    poppysvintageclothing likes this.
  4. Vinclothes

    Vinclothes Alumni +

    Thank you. Just what I needed to know.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2021
    denisebrain likes this.
  5. Vinclothes

    Vinclothes Alumni +

    I'm still stuck on rayon. What is cold rayon?
    And liquid rayon?
    denisebrain likes this.
  6. carla rey

    carla rey VFG Member

    Yes please can we get a description of cold rayon? I see it so much these days in descriptions. How does it differ?
    denisebrain likes this.
  7. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    I asked the same question, about cold rayon. As far as I can tell, it isn't a fabric type, but probably more the feel of a simple plain-weave rayon.

    I don't think I've seen the term liquid rayon being used, but I'd guess it's the same idea. Smooth plain-weave rayon is cool, smooth and very drape-y.

    I wish someone who has a strong feeling about the term cold rayon would help on this.
    CatsLikeUs likes this.
  8. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    When I say as far as I can tell, I mean it isn't in the reference books.
  9. Vinclothes

    Vinclothes Alumni +

    I'm still on rayon! I see acetate as the only name given for the fabric of linings, both on labels and in listings. Can acetate stand alone as a fabric name? To me, acetate is the chemical used in the process of making a certain type of rayon. Or should it be called rayon acetate or acetate rayon?
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2021
    denisebrain and Vintagiality like this.
  10. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    You made me do some more research Marian, and I am discovering that in some parts of the world acetate is called acetate rayon and rayon is viscose rayon. They can also be blended in the viscose process. Rayon and acetate were once under the same name, and it wasn't until 1953 that they were classified separately in the U.S. There is a lot of confusion around this!

    The manufacturing of acetate is much like viscose rayon, but it employs the use of acetic acid or acetic anhydride to dissolve the cellulose, while rayon uses carbon disulfide. As a finished product, acetate behaves differently from rayon in that it is hydrophobic (reacts very poorly to water and must be dry cleaned) and rayon is hydrophylic. It is also exceedingly heat sensitive as I'm sure we all know.

    The lining fabric... that's a good question. Lining is a generic term for a wide range of fabrics, and made of acetate it is often plain weave or satin, or taffeta. The plain weave doesn't have a particular name as far as I know—just plain weave acetate lining?
    CatsLikeUs likes this.
  11. Vintagiality

    Vintagiality VFG Treasurer Staff Member

    I am really confused. Awhile back someone told me that what is called viscose in Europe is called rayon in the US. Then when I tried to confirm that, I read here that rayon and viscose are two different fibers (see below excerpt) so how could there be viscose rayon?

    “While Rayon’s raw materials can be either bamboo or wood cellulose, Viscose is derived from wood cellulose and plant fibers, which are made into a viscous liquid that then undergo a series of chemical processes.

    The organic viscose liquid is what makes both rayon fibers and cellophane, hence why Viscose fibers are considered as being a type of rayon, technically speaking.
  12. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Rayon is a generic name for a group of fabrics made from cellulose.

    Viscose Rayon is rayon made by the viscose process. It can be called by either viscose or rayon.
    The name rayon was first used in 1924 in the U.S. In Europe, viscose was adopted as the name of the fabric itself. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission now considers viscose an alternative name for rayon.

    Remember there are other processes used to make rayon: cuprammonium, high wet modulus (modal) and lyocell rayons.
    Cupro, cuprammonium, cupra, and bemberg are names under which rayon made by the cuprammonium process is sold.

    The difference between rayon and viscose is that rayon is a generic term for all the rayon types, and viscose is the rayon made via the viscose process. I see that a certain amount of attention is being paid to bamboo as the material being used to create a type of rayon. What bamboo has is what trees have: cellulose. That is the basic component of all rayons.

    Cellulose is the main constituent of plant cell walls and of vegetable fibers. It is a biopolymer.

    Rayon can be made of bamboo or wood cellulose because rayon is the generic name.
    Viscose can only be rayon made by the viscose process.

    Any less confusing? :wacko:
  13. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

  14. Vintagiality

    Vintagiality VFG Treasurer Staff Member

    Hmm, I think language differences like the ones we discussed when we talked about “raw silk” may be at play as well
    poppysvintageclothing likes this.
  15. Vinclothes

    Vinclothes Alumni +

    A little less confused. At least I know more to be confused about. I think it is the various processes that are confusing in rayon. Cotton comes from a cotton plant. It is processed in various ways but we lay people don't have names for those processes. (I know chemist and other specialists do, but those process names are not connected to the finished fabric.) Therefor we say just the fiber and the weave-e.g. cotton corduroy.
    But for rayon we don't say acetic acid processed cellulose plain weave. We just call it plain weave rayon. Am I on the right track?
    You said: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission now considers viscose an alternative name for rayon.
    So if we know it is viscose, do we just call it viscose, or do we call it viscose rayon? Viscose crepe? Rayon crepe?
    Can we say acetate lining, or should be be rayon acetate lining?
    I know I am overthinking this.
  16. Lady Scarletts

    Lady Scarletts VFG Member

    Thank you so much for this thread. Having studied this in collage many years ago, I'd forgotten so much.
    Hope at this age I can retain it again!?!
    denisebrain likes this.
  17. CatsLikeUs

    CatsLikeUs VFG Member

    Please write a book on fabric with close up pictures. lol. It's the one thing I can kind of guess at, but I need lots of help!
    morning-glorious and denisebrain like this.
  18. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG Vice President Staff Member VFG Past President

    Julie Ann, I put together our Fabric Resource and there are a lot of close ups in there. If you haven't, give it a look! And ask questions. :) https://vintagefashionguild.org/fabric-resource

    Being from the U.S. I am much more comfortable using rayon as the term. I don't feel right saying viscose or viscose rayon, even though I could probably guess at least some of the viscose-process rayons I come across. UK members may feel more comfortable using the term viscose as a generic term for rayon—I don't know. So Marian, I believe that those who use the word viscose simply are using it generically for rayon. And they'd be technically right about most rayons because most are viscose-process. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission probably decided to merge the terms viscose and rayon, making them both more or less generic. I'd have to do some more research on that.

    Just for a casual survey, I checked the terms on Etsy, using Vintage as a filter, but not any further details. There are 6,596 items under Viscose, 28,391 under Rayon, 177 Cupro, 10 Cupra, 70 Bemberg, 0 Cuprammonium, 67 Lyocell, 0 Modal. The items under Cupro, Cupra, Bemberg and Lyocell seem to be mostly noted as such because they are labeled as such.

    Acetate lining should be called acetate lining. :) Please keep asking these challenging questions Marian, and ask again if my answers don't make sense.
  19. jane C Williams

    jane C Williams Registered Guest

    Grateful for all your info.! Thing is, I've been telling people, for years, that rayon is a natural fiber. Why is it not considered a natural fiber if it comes from trees? Can't get more " natural " than a tree! Lol
    Thank you! I don't want to misinform my customers.
  20. Retro Ruth

    Retro Ruth VFG Member Staff Member

    Being from the UK I'm definitely more familiar with calling it viscose. I heard that term long before I'd heard of rayon.

    I remember reading, but no idea of the source now, that the reason for the different terms being used in the UK vs the USA was some kind of trademark issue.

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