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The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  817 ratings  ·  155 reviews
From colorful 30,000-year-old threads found on the floor of a Georgian cave to the Indian calicoes that sparked the Industrial Revolution, The Golden Thread weaves an illuminating story of human ingenuity. Design journalist Kassia St. Clair guides us through the technological advancements and cultural customs that would redefine human civilization—from the fabric that allo ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 9th 2018 by John Murray (first published October 4th 2018)
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Average rating 4.08  · 
Rating details
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Richard Reese
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
As I write these words, I’m wearing sweatpants and an old faded shirt. I suspect that most readers are also wearing clothes. Oddly, humans are the only animals that make and wear clothing. Our ancestors evolved in the tropics of Mother Africa, where it was so warm that many folks preferred the comfortable and practical bare naked look. Evolution spent several million years fine tuning our bodies for life on the savannah, and the result was an excellent design.

After humans migrated out of Africa,
...more
Beth
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is history for textile geeks, like me. It stretches from ancient Egypt to the Space Age, which is not bad for a 300-page book, and I’ve learned quite a bit from it.

Linen was a divine textile to the Egyptians; a gift from the Gods growing out of the earth. The layers of it wrapping each Russian-doll sarcophagus were every bit as sacred as the tombs themselves – something not understood by early archaeologists who simply cut and discarded them. They must bear the ancient curse.

The book covers
...more
Anwen
Dec 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
unnjustifiably hyped and extremely dissapointing.
It is a sad indictment of a so called inteligent society that we are so un aware of the history of such a common comodity, or that on a contemporary level that we know so little of what goes on around us or what we are buying into on a daily basis, that a sream of trivial facts and incosistancies comes as an exiting revalation.
It is only due to such lack of awareness that books such as this can get away with skimming the surface of a facinating su
...more
AnnaG
Nov 02, 2018 rated it liked it
I think a more accurate description would be "How History Changed Fabric". The chapters go through each fabric from Linen to Synthetics in a broadly chronological narrative highlighting when and why the fabric underwent the biggest changes in production or usage (eg first imports along the Silk Roads/invention of cotton mills). Fabric is the real focus with the broader social consequences of the changes to the fabric or what had necessitated the development in technology as an after-thought.

If
...more
Margaret
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating history of textiles from 30,000 year old threads on a cave floor to textiles protecting man on the moon. Thirteen wonderful stories of textiles as well as the history of language influenced by fabric

Endlessly fascinating no matter where you pick up the threads!!
Gill
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it
A real disappointment - for a dilettante, perhaps, rather than an enthusiast. A chronological approach meant some topics were just not dealt with and others - the rise of knitted fabrics, for example - barely touched on. I am not an expert, though I am interested in textiles, but I felt I knew too much in several sections.

My confidence in areas where I knew less, what is more, was badly-shaken by several really elementary mistakes of fact I noticed, which a decent editor should have caught if no
...more
Kirsty
Jan 28, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: january-2020
Kassia St Clair's second book, The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History, has been variously called 'extraordinary' (The Sunday Times), 'beautiful' (Nature), and 'extremely good' (Times Literary Supplement).  In it, St Clair - a scholar of women's dress in the eighteenth century - explores '... our continuing reinventions of cloth [which] offer an unexpected history of human ingenuity'.

First published in 2018, The Golden Thread is split into thirteen separate sections, each of which focus on
...more
Pauline B (Dancing Lawn)
Comprised of small temporal vignettes, this book explores how fabrics such as linen, wool, lace and synthetics were made, covering a rather large time span (from Ancient Egypt to today).
I really enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book, focussing on natural fibers and how their production and use in clothing influenced world trade and communication between people. The last fourth deals with synthetic fabrics used for space travel and sports, which isn't something I'm really interested in.

In a lot of ch
...more
Always Pink
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: textiles
To me this is a missed chance. Too journalistic for its own good. Kassia St. Clair endlessly strings colourful facts together without drawing conclusions, stressing important information or summarizing essences. I foolishly expected something like a concise and stringent, somewhat more scholarly history of "the fabric", which would probably not have fitted into one single volume anyway. Instead this book presents loosely linked chapters on individual historical subjects, which in turn are highli ...more
Elena
Mar 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read "The Golden Thread" as an assignment for my book club, and was unexpectedly entranced by the sweep of history, how entangled we are in the history of textiles. I am usually unimpressed by popular history, but here we get a fresh approach that has real merit. I already had a bit of an inkling from the "Odyssey": How the few compliments that misogynistic Homer gives to women typically involve their skill at weaving; a mortal like Penelope and even a goddess like Athena get admiring nods for ...more
Annie M
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read that forces you to think about the fabrics you encounter in your life and their origins. It covers the full gamut from the natural fibers harvested by our ancestors to the technologically driven fibers that shape our future. I especially enjoyed the time spent on outfitting explorers and astronauts. However, I really wish this book had included images as the author regularly referred to works of art or specific garments.
Sophie (RedheadReading)
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Absolutely fascinating!
Grace Machon
Jun 26, 2020 rated it liked it
I loved the first half of this book and will revisit certain chapters but the last half bored me to near death (looking at you space suits)
Kelsey Ellis
As a future textile scholar this book was lovely and written very well. A delight.
Kate
Jul 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, and beautifully written.
Flick
May 07, 2019 rated it liked it
So much promise but I found this a frustrating read. Some sharp editing needed. Some interesting facts but not enough depth to the stories to sustain interest.
Kathryn
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
You don't need to be the least bit interested in textiles to love this book, a remarkable compilation of thirteen well-researched stories illustrating how fabric has changed the course of history and been instrumental in the development of other industries (imagine fishing if thread for lines, ropes and nets had not been invented). This is the sort of book you can read for twenty minutes and then spend upwards of an hour spewing interesting little factoids in the direction of any audience you ca ...more
Claudia
How much attention to you actually pay to the clothes you wear? How soft? How durable? The color? Keeping you cool or keeping you warm in weather extremes? Starting off with some basic information on textile construction and the origins of the weaving - going back to fragmentary thread remains found in caves that have been dated 19-32,ooo years ago.

From there, flax into linen especially as ancient Egypt used it especially in funerary rituals. Early Egyptologists would rip into mummy bodies for t
...more
Jane
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Let's face it, Ladies, most of history has been written by men, who focus on war, politics and money. All very well, but then try Kassia St. Clair's utterly brilliant perspective on the world: she examines history through the lens of textiles. So refreshing, so illuminating! From ancient Egypt to NASA, she leads the reader on a marvelous tour. You will learn amazing things about how wool, cotton and lace drove the world's economies, about the woefully inadequate clothing worn by polar explorers, ...more
Br. Thanasi (Thomas) Stama
Fascinating read. Love the length and breadth of what Kassia St. Clair wrote. This is a thought provoking discussion of the very fiber of how we became the technological world culture we are today. Spinning and weaving are as major to creating civilization as the invention of the wheel, learning to control fire or agriculture!

St. Clair starts with linen and ends with the challenges with working with spiders' webs. Her section on space suits was eye opening.
Elizabeth
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this book, and not just because it was a gift from my lovely daughter. It reinforced learning from the textiles course I attended at the V&A, added new topics such as textiles for sport, for astronauts, and brought in stories about people who had been affected by textiles in various ways. Brilliant. Off now to find pictures of the spider silk cape. ...more
Karen Cox
Jan 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved this book! The subject is fascinating and the research exceptional. She begins with 30,000 years ago with the earliest examples of fabric, known from impressions of woven material in clay, and ends up with high tech fabrics used in spacesuits and sports uniforms. The final chapter is about scientists trying to develop spider silk.
Michael Sparrow
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very good book. I have not had much interest in fabric and picked this us because St. Clair's last book, THE SECRET LIVES OF COLOR was so wonderful. In THE GOLDEN THREAD, she traces the history of fabric, sewing and thread from pre-historic times through the Egyptians, the Silk Road, the Vikings all the way to space suits and sports bras. There was a very moving chapter dealing with ill-fated mountain climbers and Antarctic expeditions whose demise was caused in large part by the garme ...more
Farah Mendlesohn
Truly fascinating book in which the author covers process, economics, social fall out and environmentalism. I learned a very great deal.

I used the audio book and just a note that the speed is off. 1x feels stretched, 1.25x feels garbled.
Jenia
Mar 24, 2020 rated it liked it
I don't know - in general I enjoyed it but I was disappointed that it focused primarily on Europe and America in the end. As long as you don't get your hopes up re it being a more balanced *world* history though, it's an interesting exploration of an oft-overlooked field of history!
Brittney
Feb 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting but disappointing. A great deal of thought went into the research, but very little into organizing and editing. Good material (ha), sloppy execution.
Jamie
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, fashion, adult
The history of the world through fiber.

A great jumping off point for learning anything about fiber, fabric and textiles, whether your perspective is historical, scientific, or fashion related.
Hobbitviolinist
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of the most fascinating non-fiction books I have ever read. I will be revisiting this on occasion and recommending it to anyone who has interest in textiles.
Lilia Visser
Mar 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: reference, sewing, stopped
Interesting, but disappointing. I need images to be able to relate to things and this book has none. A shame. It had a lot to be a real wonder.
Paul
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read-2019
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 w ...more
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