Review – The Fabric of Civilization

Posted July 31, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia PostrelThe Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made The World, Virginia Postrel

This book looks at fabric not as an art but as a piece of technology, a scientific endeavour. Separate chapters discuss various themes: how the first thread was made, and the impact of selective breeding and experimentation in finding threads long enough to work with, for instance. I found the chapter on dyes particularly interesting, to be honest.

There was one thing that I found kind of weird, and that was some of the perspectives Postrel takes. Like she defends the low-paid status of women who spun thread because it would be cost-prohibitive to pay them more — cloth would be too expensive if people were paid more, so it can’t be done (instead of valuing people’s work at what it’s worth). And she’s very much automatically on the side of the middlemen who sold cloth for others, saying they were unfairly treated by people who didn’t know the worth of what they did? (Rather than what is more likely which is that it’s a bit of both.) It hits weirdly for me.

The chapter on new fabrics was pretty fascinating as well. I’d kind of like to see this on Great British Sewing Bee: here is this new fabric, here are its properties, make something out of it.

Anyway, overall pretty enjoyable and informative; I wish I was a bit more visual so I could understand exactly what’s going on in some of the descriptions, but that’s not the author’s fault — I can never picture anything, no matter how well you describe it.

Rating: 4/5

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