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Dress (thob)

Rayon was the first manmade fibre, manufactured in 1892. It was an attempt to copy and then improve upon the qualities of natural silk. All synthetic fibres start by imitating the silkworm’s spinneret: wood cellulose is liquefied and ejected in a thin stream that solidifies as a rayon filament. Cellulose was eventually replaced by polyesters and other polymers derived entirely from chemicals.

Where was this textile created?

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Raw Materials: Synthetic fibres

Dress (thob)
Asia: West Asia, Palestine
20th century
Woven rayon, embroidered with cotton thread
142 cm x 144 cm
Gift of Owen Shime
T85.0882 Textile Museum of Canada

The thob, a woman’s dress, is a basic garment in Palestine. It is cut to fall from the shoulders to the ankles and is often richly embroidered with bright colours. This thob features red flowers embroidered in cross-stitch on the chest panel. (In the back view you see a similar panel just above the hem.) Rayon is good for making garments because of its versatility, soft hand and drape. This dress has a matte surface, though rayon can also be spun into very shiny thread.

Relations between the United States and its main source of silk, Japan, worsened in the 1930s. As a result, a research team at the DuPont chemical company created nylon by combining coal, air and water. Unlike rayon, nylon is a synthetic material. It is low in moisture absorbency and resistant to abrasion and chemicals – a perfect fabric for pantyhose and a substitute for silk stockings.

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