Celebrating Ruth Benerito and her quick-drying, flame-retardant, crease and stain resistant fabrics

Today we celebrate the birthday of Ruth Rogan Benerito (born 12 Jan 1916), the American chemist and inventor whose innovations in fabric technology have saved the world many many hours slogging away in front of the ironing board. Dr Benerito was the inventor of wash and wear cotton fabric.

As if this wasn’t enough of a gift to the world, Benerito also came up with numerous other innovations – in total she has been granted no less than 55 patents related to textile technology. Thanks to her we now have fabrics that are quicker drying,  crease and stain resistant, comfortable and better able to retard flames. She also developed a cotton textile cleaning technique (adopted widely in the Japanese textile industry) using radiofrequency cold plasmas. This method replaces the commonly used technique of pre-treating cotton with sodium hydroxide, as such greatly reducing the environmental impact.  Many of her innovations also found application in the wood and paper industries.

No more ironing for hours - just wash, dry and wear.(© All Rights Reserved)
No more ironing for hours – just wash, dry and wear.
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The key to the wrinkle-resistant fabric was a process called molecular cross-linking. She discovered that the long chain-like cellulose molecules that make up cotton fibre can be chemically treated so they are bound (cross-linked) together – a process that strengthens the hydrogen bonds between the cellulose molecules, leading to the advantageous result that the cotton becomes less prone to wrinkling.

On an almost completely unrelated note, far removed from her important and ground-breaking work in textiles, Benerito also developed a novel technique to administer fat intravenously to patients too sick or wounded to eat. This innovation has helped save the lives of thousands of people  by maintaining their nutrition levels during severe illness.

From clothing to nutrition, these are some truly useful innovations indeed!

Weaving magic

Today we celebrate the birth of Paul Moody, American inventor and mechanic of textile machinery, born in Massachusetts in 1779. At age sixteen Moody learned the weaver’s craft, and soon became a weaving expert.

After years perfecting his skills in the textile industry, he arrived at the Boston Manufacturing Company textile mill at Waltham, Massachusetts in 1814, where he oversaw the factory operations. Moody is often credited with developing and perfecting the first power loom in America. He was also responsible for other innovations in the weaving industry such as the “dead spindle” spinning apparatus. By contributing a substantial number of patented improvements in textile machinery, Moody played an important role in the advancement of the industry.

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At the CSIR in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, natural fibres like wild silk, spun from the cocoons from the African wild silk moth, are being used to create sustainable and technologically advanced new fabrics.
Processing of the cocoons into fabric involves a chain of modern processing equipment. The silk fibre, obtained from the cocoons through a long silk fibre staple spinning process, has to pass through a number of processes to be converted into finished fabric. The resulting fabric has a rich natural honey colour and is woven to produce a durable and luxuriously soft fabric.
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