The Sin of Stretching the Dollar

According to Leviticus 19:19: “…Thou shalt not… wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.” This Old Testament law may not carry any religious weight today, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be consequences by ignoring it.

According to an article in the December 16 issue of the Washington Post, the paper used for printing American currency was fabricated from a blend of cotton fibres salvaged from recycled garments, especially denim. However, in the 1990s denim began to be tainted by the addition of spandex (aka lycra.) This stretchy material had been in use for girdles since the early 1960s, and bicycle shorts since the early 1980s. In the 1990s, blue jean manufacturers discovered that blending a bit of spandex with denim created better-fitting jeans.

However, as much as spandex benefitted blue jeans, it weakened the dollar. A batch of currency paper could be ruined by the inclusion of spandex fibres and there is no practicable process for separating spandex from cotton fibres. Crane, the company that has been making American currency paper for over a century, had no choice but to buy new cotton instead of recycling used garments, which explains why thrift stores are now inundated with racks of blue jeans.

Fashion and furniture

Pierre Paulin Ribbon chair and ottoman, 1966, made possible by the bathing suit...

Spandex (an anagram of ‘expands’) was co-invented in 1959 by chemists C. L. Sandquist and Joseph Shivers at DuPont’s laboratory in Virgina as a replacement for rubber in corsetry. Also known as lycra, the super stretchy synthetic fabric was being used for bathing suits in the early 1960s when it caught the eye of French furniture designer Pierre Paulin. His sculptural designs were difficult to upholster section by section in the traditional method because of the curves. Paulin got the idea of ‘dressing’ his furniture in spandex and tested the idea by cutting up his wife’s bathing suits to cover miniature models of his designs. Fitting the pre-sewn bag over the chair was “like a woman shimmying into a bathing suit” he said. Paulin’s 1966 ‘Ribbon’ chair and ottoman design was the first to feature the new bathing suit material inspired upholstery. For the complete story of Pierre Paulin see Modernism magazine, summer 2008.