First sample of 100% spun "Terylene" yarn, produced at the Shirley Institute, c. 1949
In 1941 chemists John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson discovered polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Britain’s first synthetic fibre. PET was developed and commercialised by Imperial Chemical Industries under the name Terylene. The textile industry continued to use equipment designed for manipulating natural materials; this Terylene spool was made on a cotton
spinning machine. Clothes made from synthetic fibres were appealing, being hard-wearing, quick-drying and crease-resistant. At a time when clothes were still generally very expensive, Terylene quickly found public favour as an alternative to wool and cotton. Once heralded as wonder materials, man-made textiles have left us with a damaging environmental legacy: polluted water supplies and widely dispersed microplastics.