The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History

The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History

By Kassia St. Clair
368 pages
November 2019


A Sunday Times (UK) Book of the Year
A BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week

The best-selling author of The Secret Lives of Color returns with this rollicking narrative of the 30,000-year history of fabric, briskly told through thirteen charismatic episodes.

From colorful 30,000-year-old threads found on the floor of a Georgian cave to the Indian calicoes that sparked the Industrial Revolution, The Golden Thread weaves an illuminating story of human ingenuity. Design journalist Kassia St. Clair guides us through the technological advancements and cultural customs that would redefi ne human civilization―from the fabric that allowed mankind to achieve extraordinary things (traverse the oceans and shatter athletic records) and survive in unlikely places (outer space and the South Pole). She peoples her story with a motley cast of characters, including Xiling, the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk, to Richard the Lionhearted and Bing Crosby. Offering insights into the economic and social dimensions of clothmaking―and countering the enduring, often demeaning, association of textiles as “merely women’s work”―The Golden Thread offers an alternative guide to our past, present, and future.

8 pages of color photographs

"An eclectic take on how humans have developed fabric…Each subject offers a fascinating look at the challenges that fabrics aim to overcome, as well as the often-devastating environmental and human effects involved in their production… The Golden Thread spins a rich social history of textiles that also reflects the darker side of technology and the development of capitalism." -- Rachel Newcomb, Washington Post

"As Kassia St. Clair underscores in The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History, fabric is an essential element in our lives… A pleasant and enjoyable survey of moments in textile history." -- Judith Flanders ― Wall Street Journal

"Hugely ambitious, sparklingly erudite, and wonderfully engaging." -- Peter Frankopan ― History Today

"A charming, absorbing history that takes us on a journey from the silk roads to sportswear, from ruffs to spacesuits.... I devoured this quietly feminist book." ― Sunday Times