Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fiber Facts: The Forgotten Fiber Lanital (aka Aralac)

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. During World War II, wool was in short supply, in part because it was required to make military uniforms. Scientists in Italy and the United States searched for substitutes, including soy and milk, while in Japan and Germany scientists tried fish protein. For a while wool made from milk became an alternative to wool, cotton, and silk. The resultant fiber, called lanital in italy and aralac in the United States, was made in the following manner, according to a 1937 article in Time magazine:
Having practically the same chemical composition as wool, it is made by mixing acid with skim milk. This extracts the casein, which looks like pot cheese. Evaporated to crystals, it is pulverized and dissolved into a molasses consistency, then forced through spinnerets like macaroni, passed through a hardening chemical bath, cut into fibres of any desired length. From 100 pounds of skim milk come 3.7 pounds of casein which converts to the same weight of lanital.* Readily dyed, it can be distinguished from wool only by experts, is mothproof.
Aralac was said to be soft and serviceable, but customers complained that garments made from milk fiber smelled like sour milk when wet! Apparently, as the above image suggests, sweaters made from aralac also had the unfortunate effect of making your boobs look droopy. After the war, aralac production ceased as wool and cotton shortages abated. This probably explains why both sweaters and pointy, cone-shaped bras came into fashion in the 1950s.



*Images are from "Fabrics of the Future" by Robert D. Potter, The Science News-letter, February 7, 1940.

3 comments:

Anthea W said...

Having read during my own research about yarn made from Casein and wondered how it was made, I found this very interesting: thank you. Is was under the impression, though, that some of the work towards it was done in Sweden (the country my research was associated with) and substantially contributed to by Astrid Sampe, one of the country's most distinguished textile designers.

Anthea W said...

Having read during my own research about yarn made from Casein and wondered how it was made, I found this very interesting: thank you. I was under the impression, though, that some of the work towards it was done in Sweden (the country my research was associated with) and substantially contributed to by Astrid Sampe, one of the country's most distinguished textile designers.

Anthea W said...

Sorry the above appears twice....