"The story of technology is in fact the story of textiles."

Epic piece about how the threads that make the clothes we wear are figuratively the fabric of our lives.


Great piece from Virginia Postrel in Aeon. It's all about textiles, threads, and technology. You'll be smarter (and maybe better dressed) by the end of it. A snippet:

Textiles are technology, more ancient than bronze and as contemporary as nanowires. We hairless apes co-evolved with our apparel. But, to reverse Arthur C Clarke's adage, any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature. It seems intuitive, obvious – so woven into the fabric of our lives that we take it for granted.

We drag out heirloom metaphors – 'on tenterhooks', 'tow-headed', 'frazzled' – with no idea that we're talking about fabric and fibres. We repeat threadbare clichés: 'whole cloth', 'hanging by a thread', 'dyed in the wool'. We catch airline shuttles, weave through traffic, follow comment threads. We talk of lifespans and spin?offs and never wonder why drawing out fibres and twirling them into thread looms so large in our language.

The story of technology is in fact the story of textiles. From the most ancient times to the present, so too is the story of economic development and global trade. The origins of chemistry lie in the colouring and finishing of cloth. The textile business funded the Italian Renaissance and the Mughal Empire; it left us double-entry bookkeeping and letters of credit, Michelangelo's David and the Taj Mahal. As much as spices or gold, the quest for fabrics and dyestuffs drew sailors across strange seas. In ways both subtle and obvious, textiles made our world.

Check it out.

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  1. We…follow comment threads

    Except ours and fine by me.

    1. The mere though of us down here under the article causes her distress. She doesn’t even have to read it.

  2. Guns, Germs, and Steel Chenille

    1. *polite applause, suitable for an academic setting*

  3. Emma Sulkowicz makes a pornographic art piece about her alleged rape then claims that if anyone watches it for impure reasons they’re like a rapist.

    “Look–I want to change the world, and that begins with you, seeing yourself. If you watch this video without my consent, then I hope you reflect on your reasons for objectifying me and participating in my rape, for, in that case, you were the one who couldn’t resist the urge to make Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol about what you wanted to make it about: rape.”

    I don’t know exactly what happened between her and Nungesser, but she’s clearly fucking insane so I’m going to say she’s a slightly unreliable narrator.

    1. You think Rico isn’t all over this? Hell, he got up early just to bring you the news.

      1. I think everyone already ‘bated to it last night.

    2. Unless he drove her nuts by actually raping her, which I suppose is possible, I suspect that her credibility has sunken so low as to make it unnecessary to take her accusations very seriously. This smells like performance art, not someone traumatized by something.

      If he were behaving like her, he’d host a masturbation session in an auditorium, while watching her little “art” porn flick.

      1. Dang, Pro L’….that was very…..SugarFree.

        1. He gave me his proxy for this thread.

  4. The fabric of our lives…

  5. I think this rather overstates the importance of textiles in technology. Not that there’s nothing to this proposition–several advances in the 19th century were around textile manufacture–but I think there were other motivations for some of the technological advances that she’s attributing a little too much to the textile trade.

    1. Inventions attributed to beer:

      Written language

      Agriculture (including the plough, wheel, irrigation)


      Germ theory


      1. And there’s war, wine, transportation, food production. . .it’s a long list, actually.

    2. Not that there’s nothing to this proposition–several advances in the 19th century were around textile manufacture

      I agree. There’s certainly a lot to the advancement of clothes, durable clothes, then fashionable clothes. But War has certainly been a major player in technological innovation.

      1. I don’t think the author is saying that all technological advances are due to textiles, but that textiles are a reflection of our technology- that the clothes we wear today have all sorts of telltale attributes reaching back in time. In an essence, you could probably take a shirt and examine everything from the hemlines to the buttons, weave of the fabric dies, etc and tell a story about a technological turning point in human history. And that is true.

        Of course the same is true of most technology we use today that has existed in one form or another throughout history. Go look at agriculture or shepherds and you will find a “bounty” of idioms in our language and all sorts of religious metaphors. The same is true with alcohol and government.

  6. So they’re saying Zoolander was a documentary?

    1. +1 gasoline fight

      1. It’s in the computer…

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