3.5 out of 5 stars

Fig leaves are really not practical, hence why humanity has been making and using woven cloth for thousands and thousands of years for clothing, shelter and many other things. But before you can make cloth, you need to spin, a technique that uses the much shorter elements of the material that you are using and makes it into longer chains that become useable threads. These threads are then woven together by hand, or simple loom, or now days by industrial machines that can create metres of cloth with hundreds of threads that can all be individually controlled to create patterns.

Beginning with the very origins of weaving, we then head to Egypt where we learn that as much as the  Pharaohs liked their gold, it was the linen cloth that was really considered important. China is the next country to feature about how the silks that they made became so sought after and drove a number of economies along the Silk Road. Wool is the next material, and to find that Viking ship sails were made from wool was quite a revelation. I imagined a saggy jumper hanging from the mast, but it wasn’t like that. Wool was also a huge source of income for England at the time, considered so important that the Woolsack became the reminder in Parliament how we have relied on this material for our prosperity.

There are chapters on the modern materials and fabrics that allow mankind to reach some of the most extreme places on our planet as well as occasionally off it in space. How materials can be used to help athletes perform at a much better level and the future of fabrics as they look back at the natural world for inspiration for the next big thing. Though it is worth remembering, for all the technological advances made, there are still instances where a handspun thread can be much fine than one off a machine.

It was a really interesting book on humanities relationship and dependence with cloth, how it has permeated our languages and people have made and lost fortunes from it. I didn’t think this second book was quite as good as her first, The Secret Lives of Colour. There seemed to be a lot of time spent on certain things and glossed over others and I did spot the odd error too. Stunning cover and not a bad read overall.

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