Piece of viscose rayon with a detailed flower design, c 1880s.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
This piece of fabric made from viscose rayon (artificial silk) is asociated with the chemist and physicist Sir Joseph Swan (1828-1914), a pioneer in artificial silk manufacturing. Artificial silk, or rayon, is made by adding cellulose to carbon disulphide and sodium hydroxide. The resulting viscous solution is squirted through tiny holes into a bath of acid. It then reforms as fibres, which can be spun into yarn.