Monday, April 09, 2007

Life saving fabrics

"Perhaps one of the most humble textiles imaginable is 'oakum', the loose fibres obtained by untwisting old rope. Our forebears, for whom recycling of waste was an economic necessity, found employment for the inhabitants of workhouses and prisons picking apart discarded rope - a difficult and unpleasant task. Oakum was used by carpenters and shipwrights for caulking, by tailors for padding, and papermakers for making millboards. In hospitals, oakum was one of a variety of absorbant textiles available for dressing wounds. Joseph Lister, a professor in the School of Medicine at Glasgow University, revolutionised the practice of surgery with the idea of antiseptics to prevent the infection of wounds. He noted that the tar used to preserve rope, that found its way into oakum, contained resin and paraffin. Lister added these ingredients to liquid carbolic acid and saturated a cheap muslin gauze, thus forming the first antiseptic dressing. Lister's system for antiseptic surgery was published in the Lancet in 1867."

Dr. Philip Sykas, Manchester Metropolitan University, in Dickson, de la Haye, Dodd & Lorenz (eds), Textile Tales, UK 2003


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