History and Application of Rayon Fabric

History and Application of Rayon Fabric

Rayon stands out as one of the most widely produced semi-synthetic fibres, which closely resembles natural textiles. Tracing the origins of this cellulose-based fibre takes us back to the late 19th-century experiments to develop artificial silk.

We will journey through the evolutionary milestones of rayon - from early accidental discoveries to becoming a versatile fibre staple across the global 20th-century textile industry. Let's understand what is rayon fabric before getting to know its history.

Definition and Overview of Rayon

Rayon is a semi-synthetic fibre made from reconstituted cellulose derived from plant-based sources like wood pulp or cotton linter. Being a versatile fibre, it closely mimics the feel and texture of natural fabrics like silk, linen or cotton. Today, rayon is blended with other natural and man-made fibres across various textile applications spanning high fashion to industrial use.

Historical Evolution of Rayon 

Invention and Early Developments

The rayon fabric history dates back to the late 19th century when attempts to create artificial silk accelerated research in cellulose-based textiles. While several European scientists formulated the basic chemistry, it was French inventor Hilaire de Chardonnet who first patented nitrocellulose fibre, christened as "artificial silk", in 1884. 

Despite flammability concerns, this early fibre was made commercially viable around 1905 by two other Frenchmen - Georges Audemars and Henri Despeissis.

The quest for safer cellulose-based fibres continued through extensive experiments by English chemists Charles Cross and Edward Bevan in the 1890s. This led to their eventual patenting of the viscose method in 1892, which became the foundation for modern rayon as we know it today.  

Commercialisation and Popularisation  

While the history of rayon says it was first commercially produced and sold in 1910 as "viscose", lack of adequate technical standards impacted initial quality and consistency. Once standardised manufacturing methods were published in 1924, large-scale rayon production began across the U.S. and Europe by the 1930s. 

Improvements in technique and the introduction of high-tenacity rayon in the 40s then sparked its usage for industrial purposes, such as in tire cords.

The versatility, durability, comfort, and affordable cost of rayon cemented its popularity across both apparel and household fabric segments by the 1950s. 

Blending the rayon invention with other natural fibres boosted desirable properties suiting varied needs - contributing immensely to its universal success and adoption across the global textile industry over the last century. Rayon has become one of the most widely produced man-made fibres today.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Rayon Fabrics

Production Process of Rayon 

The manufacturing of rayon involves several key steps to convert raw cellulosic material into polished viscose fibre filaments. Let's examine this closely:

Cellulose Extraction

The base cellulose for making rayon is sourced by processing wood pulp or cotton linter to extract pure alpha cellulose by eliminating lignin and other components. This produces white, fluffy cellulose suitable for further processing.  

Chemical Processing 

The extracted cellulose is mixed with caustic soda at 20-30% concentration to form alkali cellulose, which yields a honey-like solution called viscose after treatment with carbon disulfide. This viscous solution can spin into filaments.

Spinning and Filament Formation

The viscose fluid is extruded through a tiny spinnerette directly into an acidic bath, which hardens the extrusions into fine filaments that are prevented into fibres of varying thickness depending on product requirements before being wound onto bobbins.

Finishing Processes  

The raw rayon fibres undergo drawing, washing, bleaching, drying, and sometimes dyeing to achieve the required physical properties and lustre before being supplied to fabric mills for weaving or knitting.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Rayon Fabric Used for?

The versatility of rayon makes it suitable for clothing like blouses, dresses, slacks, etc., along with furnishing fabrics because it resembles cotton and silk. Blends with other fibres produce fabrics for varied applications, too.  

What are the Pros and Cons of Rayon? 

Advantages include soft texture, comfort, easy dyeability, and moisture absorption, while disadvantages comprise low elasticity, proneness to shrinking, and susceptibility to weakening when wet. Proper handling and dry cleaning help overcome the weaknesses.

Is Rayon Cheap Quality?

Not really; it offers reasonably good value for money across quality levels. High-grade rayon can match or exceed pure natural fabrics. Blends with cotton, wool, or silk provide improved tensile strength and enhanced quality at affordable prices. 

What are some interesting facts about rayon?

Rayon marked the first commercially produced man-made fibre textiles. It also led to the regeneration of the textile industry in the 20th century. An intriguing fact is rayon production technology helped provide surgical sutures during World War II.  

What are the Three Generations of Rayon?

Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric now popular amongst everyone for various reasons, like its lightweight and soft texture. 

  • 1st generation is regular rayon. 
  • 2nd high-tenacity rayon for industrial use.
  • 3rd high-absorbency rayon developed in the 1950s specifically for apparel and home furnishing use-cases requiring optimal moisture absorption qualities.
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