Three patterned samples of artificial silk, c 1883.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Artificial silk is based on cellulose nitrate fibres, which were later to be known as 'viscose rayon'. It 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. The samples were made by the chemist and physicist Sir Joseph Swan (1828-1914), a pioneer of artificial silk manufacturing, and presented to the Science Museum, London by Lady Swan.