Rayon is a type of fabric that is classified as “regenerated cellulose.” It is made from naturally occurring cellulose but must undergo very complicated processing methods. That is why it is considered to be manufactured fiber (but not a completely synthetic one).
Rayon has been in use since the 1880s. It was developed by the French as a more affordable alternative to silk. In the 1920s, Dupont bought the rights to use the process, and started intense research and development on its product possibilities, and increasing its production exponentially.
Under this initiative, rayon became a household name. It was known for its versatility and wonderful “drape.” The fact that it was easy to dye into different colors also made it a popular fabric for clothes. However, it does tend to become rough and form balls in areas that are worn out. And, over the decades, it tended to become associated with cheap clothing—a rather unfair reputation, considering the fault may have been with the dressmakers who did not know how to handle its particular properties. Given that it tends to wear down, it is also better used for evening gowns or dresses rather than every day clothes.
Rayon is made from the pulp of any wood with long molecular chains. The material is then soaked in caustic soda, which creates soda cellulose. This is then pressed until it is drained of all soda solution. The resulting mixture is then shredded into something they call “white crumb.” This goes through the oxidation process, and exposed to carbon disulfide and then caustic solution to create a viscous fluid. This is allowed to age, and the fibers are then spun to form rayon.