Ciba Review, Part 3: Flabbergasting Fabrics

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

With this third and final blog post on the Ciba Review, a periodical held by ATHM’s Osborne Library, we conclude our series on this richly deserving resource.  CIBA, a Swiss textile dye company established in the mid-1800s, published its journal from 1937 to 1975, covering a comprehensive array of textile industry subjects from ancient to modern times.  Our last post paid homage to CIBA’s founding as a dye company by exploring natural dyes. However, the Review focused many, many more of its issues on a subject of even greater variety: fabric types.

Throughout history, humans have created textiles out of an amazing range of fibers, from the spun wool of sheep and silk of moths to cotton, flax, hemp, and jute.  We’ve even scraped the insides of coconuts to weave together their fibrous inner strands, creating a material known as coir.  Browsing through just a few issues of the Review instills a sense of amazement at the breadth of human ingenuity and resourcefulness when it comes to fabric making.  Since the industrial era began, of course, our creativity has known even fewer bounds, and today we can produce in a lab strands of fiber with whatever physical properties we might desire for our cloth.

However, even before the age of science, in the quest to create new fibers, humans experimented with some surprising materials.  One of these—the tinkering with which has resulted in a number of “accidental” technological advances—is glass.


Glass fibers

It’s hard to imagine glass in any form being envisioned for use in textiles, but thanks to our species’ never-ending pursuit of novel decorative effects to dazzle the eye, it was.  It took many thousands of years, however, to refine the material into thin enough strands for textile use.  A 1965 Review article, “Glass Filaments and Textiles,” explains that the ancient Egyptians created the first glass filaments around 1600 BC.  They did so by drawing out rods of glass to about the thickness of a pencil, then re-heating them and thinning them out again into tiny filaments.  As the Review notes, their contribution was seminal—not just to the refinement of glass but to synthetic fiber production itself:  “Although coarse, these filaments are without a doubt to be regarded as the first synthetic fibres made by the hand of man.”

In ancient times, glass filaments were used to decorate vases and other glass vessels.  Venetian glassmakers of the 16th and 17th centuries refined them even more, and by the early 18th century a French scientist named Réaumur had found a way to make glass filaments “finer than those of silk but… only very short.”  They were intended for use in imitation heron feathers.  One of the first uses of glass filaments as textile fibers is reported in 1842.  Their production employed a mechanical spinneret—possibly the first use of this technology that later became “basic for all synthetic fibres,” according to the Review.  By and large, however, their use was still limited to lace-work, ladies’ hats, lampshades, and wall coverings (though thanks to the already well known insulating properties of glass, they were also at this time being incorporated into garments used to treat rheumatism and gout).

“Produced in Paris in 1839, this imitation gold brocade used glass fibers to imitate the sheen of the real thing.”  From Ciba Review, 1963/5.

Produced in Paris in 1839, this imitation gold brocade used glass fibers to replicate the sheen of the real thing. From Ciba Review, 1963/5. ATHM Accn #2015.33.114


The first—and practically last—pieces of regular clothing to use glass fibers were created by a Toledo, Ohio, glassmaker named Edward Drummond Libbey.  His famous glass dress, made for Georgia Cayvan, an American stage star, featured a silk warp and a glass thread weft.  Shown at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it created a brief worldwide sensation, though unsurprisingly it was too stiff and fragile to be wearable in everyday life.

“Edward Drummond Libbey’s temporarily world-famous glass-fiber dress and matching glass-fiber parasol.” From Ciba Review, 1963/5.

Edward Drummond Libbey’s temporarily world-famous glass-fiber dress and matching glass-fiber parasol. From Ciba Review, 1963/5.


Today, fiberglass is put to many industrial uses thanks to its insulative and other unique physical properties.  The processes used to make glass fibers not only resulted in that innovation, but also were highly instrumental in the development of modern synthetic fiber manufacturing in general.

The term “textile,” of course, broadly refers to woven materials.  But humans have also made great use of naturally occurring sheet-like materials to cover themselves and their surroundings.  While the most obvious of these is the wide-ranging category of animal skins, another, lesser-known category comprises the many varieties of tree bark.


Bark fabrics

The Ciba Review focuses a number of its issues on this category of material.  Along with clothing made of leaves or strips of leaves (usually aprons and the like), bark fabrics originated among the native peoples in areas where the warmth of animal skins was not needed, but protection from rain sometimes was.  This includes the islands of the South Pacific and North America’s Northwest region, as well as parts of Africa and Central and South America.

2015-33-24-women of Bada, p1172

Captioned by the Review, “Women of Bada (Central Celebes),” this image shows the bark fabrics of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, composed “for the most part of fuja.” From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24


In general, it was not actually bark but bast—bark’s inner layer, thinner and more flexible—that was used (although bark itself was sometimes used for protective wear and war clothing).  Not all trees had an internal structure with a suitable bast: mulberry, ficus, lime, birch, cedar, and sycamore trees were among those that did.  In Hawaii, several of these varieties were cultivated in large numbers especially for use in clothing.  The production of these fabrics was slow and labor-intensive.  First, the bast was soaked in water.  Then it was scraped and pounded until it was very thin and flexible.  Finally, it was decorated.  Various techniques were used, including dyeing, painting, and printing, often resulting in very elaborate patterns.

“A Samoan woman rubbing dye onto a piece of bark cloth held taut over a wooden matrix.”  From Ciba Review, #33, 1940.  ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

A Samoan woman rubbing dye onto a piece of bark cloth held taut over a wooden matrix. From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24


“Swatches of bark cloth from the South Pacific islands.”  From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

Swatches of bark cloth from the South Pacific islands. From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

We hope you’ve enjoyed this small selection of points of interest within the Ciba Review.  Though we’ll soon turn our attention back to other items in ATHM’s collection, the core message of this blog series bears re-emphasizing: simply put, the usefulness of this journal to textile researchers can’t be overstated.  With its broad coverage of subjects, eras, and regions of textile production—from ancient tanning methods through 20th-century technological advances—the Review offers thorough and consolidated expertise to those lucky enough to thumb through its pages.

Barnes Textile Associates and the Rise of Management Consulting

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

The library of the American Textile History Museum holds a collection of over 2,700 reports created by the Barnes Textile Associates. One of America’s earlier management consulting firms, the company was founded in 1910 by Joel M. Barnes and kept headquarters in Boston’s financial district (at varying locations, including 101 Milk Street, and later, 10 High Street) along with additional offices in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and Spartanburg, South Carolina. From the time of its inception until at least the late 1960s, the company specialized in streamlining manufacturing processes at textile mills up and down the East Coast. The reports in ATHM’s Barnes collection, which span the years 1925 to 1971, are typed on onionskin paper and occupy 66 feet of shelf space. While they represent but a fraction of the firm’s production, they give a wealth of insight into the burgeoning field of management consulting.


Participants at a 1950s Barnes Textile Associates seminar, including reps from American Woolen Company, Goodall-Sanford, Inc., Bemis Brothers Bag Co., Cranston Print Works, and a participant from South America. Accn # 0000.2178.

Participants at a 1950s Barnes Textile Associates seminar, including reps from American Woolen Company, Goodall-Sanford, Inc., Bemis Brothers Bag Co., Cranston Print Works, and a participant from South America. Accn # 0000.2188.


The establishment of the field itself is credited to MIT graduate Arthur D. Little, who founded his still extant Boston firm Arthur D. Little, Inc., in 1886. With the rapid expansion of manufacturing capability in America during that time and over the several decades following, there came an increasing interest in techniques for maximizing worker efficiency (and with it, profits). In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor, who is known as the father of the scientific management and efficiency movement, published his highly influential work The Principles of Scientific Management. His championing of such tools as the time study—essentially, a formalized way of tracking the movements of workers as they performed their tasks, with the intent of highlighting and eliminating any wasteful motions—led to their widespread use in manufacturing, and encouraged the mushrooming of companies like the Barnes Textile Associates.


ATHM’s Barnes reports contain a profusion of detailed time studies, payroll analyses, and cost comparisons, as well as extensive written recommendations for labor economies within the mills. Beyond advice for changes to workers’ movements or the layout of machinery, these include suggestions such as paying workers by the piece instead of by the hour, and instituting bonus systems to encourage even higher productivity.



Detail from a 1926 time study showing how athletic shirts could be stitched more quickly in the Ware Mills, Ware, MA. Accn # 0022.63.26.pg3.detail

Detail from a 1926 time study showing how athletic shirts could be stitched more quickly in the Ware Mills, Ware, MA. Accn # 0022.63.26.pg3.detail


Many scholars have explored the ramifications to American workers—and society as a whole—of Taylor’s legacy, asserting that the ideas he promoted resulted in skill reduction, disempowerment, and ultimately, alienation among workers. However, at least in the case of the American textile industry, the changes implemented at the direction of firms like Barnes most likely helped many mills survive longer than they would have otherwise.

Patriotic cloth labels: Have a “Bang Up” Fourth of July!

By Jane Ward, ATHM Librarian

The cloth label collection in the Osborne Library here at the American Textile History Museum depicts an endless and fascinating variety of themes, colors, and designs, all of which were geared towards attracting buyers of cloth in the 19th century.  Cloth labels, despite their name, were made of paper, not cloth, and were attached to bolts of cloth to identify different materials and to catch the eye of jobbers in the industry.  Many of the labels do not have the company name on them but instead denote the type of material, such as twills, cambrics, ginghams, jeans, and the like.  Some labels depict an image of the company’s mill; others use images of women and men in classical dress; some use animals such as tigers, elephants, and camels.


A number of companies used a patriotic theme to sell their wares, as can be seen in the following labels.  The Brookfield Manufacturing Company of East Brookfield, Mass., made its feelings clear: “True Americans Will Patronize Brookfield Manufacturing Compy. Home Manufacture” is printed against the background of an American flag in this label dating between 1867 and 1872.



Accn # 0000.453.100.


The Continental Mills in Lewiston, Me., created a collage of patriotic images on its label: an eagle, a drum, and the American flag at bottom, with a sword and letter of George Washington in the center.



Accn # 0000.453.174.


The Dwight Company (possibly the Dwight Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, Mass.) trademarked this label in 1876, the centennial year for the U.S., surrounding George Washington in the center with images of the other 17 U.S. Presidents up to 1876, framed by the state seals of all the states in the U.S. in 1876.



Accn # 0000.453.784.


Interestingly enough, the only two labels to which fabric is still attached both feature George Washington.  S.H. Greene & Sons in Riverpoint, R.I., printed this full-length image of George Washington in 1871, and you can just see the chintz-type fabric that backed the label along the edges.



Accn # 2008.11.5


The Washington Mills in Lawrence, Mass., also used George Washington to illustrate its name.  Although the label is in poor shape, you can just see Washington standing by his horse in the center, and bits of the brown skirt material to which this label was attached are visible along the edges.



Accn # 2013.191.


This last cloth label (company unknown) combines the classical allegory of cherubs along with a cannon and is entitled “Bang Up.”  The lithography company of W.H. Forbes & Co. of Boston entered this image into copyright in 1868, but unfortunately we do not know the mill it represented.  It’s unclear what the reference is: perhaps the cloth will do a bang-up job for whatever purpose it is put to?  Nevertheless, the firing of the cannon seems a fitting tribute to July 4th!



Accn # 0000.453.40.

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