I recently purchased a 6 piece queen sheet set for my bed and marveled at how something so useful, and so difficult to make myself, could be so inexpensive, costing only $30, or about 2 hours of my labor at minimum wage.
I did a little digging and found this video on how fabric was made before fossil energy:
And this video on how fabric is made today with fossil energy:
A podcast I monitor serendipitously had an episode today on the history of fabric making.
Author and journalist Virginia Postrel talks about her book The Fabric of Civilization and How Textiles Made the World with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Postrel tells the fascinating story behind the clothes we wear and everything that goes into producing them throughout history. The history of textiles, Postrel argues, is a good way of understanding the history of the world.
For those who prefer video:
For those who prefer audio:
Postrel described the process required to make fabric products:
- get fiber
- grow plants or breed sheep
- harvest plants or sheer sheep
- clean fiber
- transport fiber to spinner
- spin fiber into thread
- align fibers
- stretch and twist
- transport thread to weaver
- weave fiber into fabric
- set up warp threads
- pass weft thread through alternate warp threads
- cut and hem edges
- transport fabric to manufacturer
- manufacture final product
- dye fabric
- cut fabric
- sew fabric
- transport product to consumer
Postrel also provided some interesting data:
- A single pair of jeans requires 10 Km of thread.
- The fastest pre-fossil energy manual spinners in the world could produce 100m of thread per hour taking 13 x 8 hour days to produce enough thread for one pair of jeans.
- A modern fossil energy spinning plant can produce 10 Km of thread in a few seconds.
- Postrel did not provide data on how long it took to manually weave thread into denim for a pair of jeans, but the video above gives a pretty good idea.
- A pair of jeans today costs me $15 or about 1 hour of my labor at minimum wage.
- A basic twin sheet requires 46 Km of thread or 59 x 8 hour days for a fast pre-fossil manual spinner.
- Again, no data on the weaving time.
- Linen was, until the industrial revolution, a valuable family asset.
I can’t write a post without drawing a connection to reality denial.
In this case, Russ Roberts, a relative rocket scientist as far as mainstream economists go, never once in the interview drew a connection with non-renewable rapidly depleting fossil energy.
There was a long discussion on the economics of applying “technology” to textile production. But zero awareness of the link between technology and non-renewable energy.
Roberts did draw a connection between food and textiles in that he observed only 2% of the population are now farmers. Again, no apparent awareness of the centrality of natural gas for fertilizer and diesel for tractors and combines.
I’ve added Russ Roberts to my list of famous polymaths in denial, although I probably should have added instead “all economists except Steve Keen”.