Young, female and into textile research

Her friends are studying subjects ranging from media to teaching or fashion design. When she tells them what she has signed up for, they either roll their eyes or shrug their shoulders – Karoline Günther (25) is ‘into textiles’ or, to be more exact’, into textile research. She has already completed her Bachelor of Science in ‘Textile Technologies’ and is currently studying for her Master’s degree while working as a scientific assistant at the Research Institute for Textiles and Clothing (FTB) of Hochschule Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences in Mönchengladbach. We were curious about the young woman with definite plans for a career in textile research, which one of her acquaintances pityingly described as being ‘futureless’. So, when we called Karoline and she said, “Come and have a look for yourselves”, we didn’t hesitate.

Hallo Karoline. Is it ok to say Karoline?

Of course.

On the telephone, you said you are focusing on ‘spinning’. Could you explain what this involves?

This is a method for making yarn, which I found very interesting during my studies for the Bachelor’s degree. For me, the process of yarn production, in other words, making something from lots of fibres, is really fascinating.

Why? Fibres and yarn – that sound rather boring, doesn’t it?

Not at all. Yarns differ greatly. There is a variety of feed materials, manufacturing processes, demands on the material and machine, etc. The product process is, on the one hand, self-explanatory. On the other hand, it is incredibly complicated because, depending on the initial blend, it can result in an infinite variety of yarns.

So, one could say you research into fibres?

Yes, but that is a bit too simplified. The subjects covered by the textile-engineering degree are extremely wide ranging. In addition to everything related to textiles – from fibre extraction, for example, from the cotton plant, via textile-manufacturing methods, to the latest fashions – we also deal with elements of mechanical engineering, chemistry, mathematics, physics and economics. Project-related and industry-oriented textile research is also characterised by this variety. Naturally, I always have a specific task or goal. At present, I am involved in a project in cooperation with the Thuringian Institute for Textile and Plastics Research, in which we are looking at yarn as a screen against x-rays, which, when integrated into clothing, could replace the lead vests used in hospitals one day. On the whole, however, research into yarns is amazingly varied and a continuous process of learning – fascinating and almost daring.

Really?

Yes. Why do you ask?

Well, how do people you know – your family, friends and acquaintances react, when you talk about textiles with such enthusiasm?

Everyday life between the lecture theatre and research laboratory – Karoline Günther prepares samples from a multi-layer fabric for examination in the scanning electron microscope

Everyday life between the lecture theatre and research laboratory – Karoline Günther prepares samples from a multi-layer fabric for examination in the scanning electron microscope

(Raises her eyebrows) Oh, that’s what you are getting at. Naturally, it was a discussion killer at first. At the beginning of my studies, many people said something like: “Oh, you mean fashion? Could you make me a dress?” And a friend of mine, a student of mechanical engineering, is always surprised that I understand what he is talking about despite the fact that I ‘only’ study textiles. Among the population as a whole, there is a perception deficit when it comes to textiles and textile research in particular. And my friends and acquaintances are no exception. Most of them only think in terms of garments, such as jackets, trousers and underwear. They have no idea that there would be almost no cars and planes without technical textiles, not to mention the fields of medicine, space travel and building. It is no accident that many of my fellow students go into the automobile industry and work there on tomorrow’s cars in the research departments of the leading players. They certainly don’t make any dresses!

In other words, you couldn’t darn a hole in my jacket?

Of course I could – but I won’t!

How did you get into textile research?

We have to gain work experience as part of our studies. I spent three months with a company that makes spinning machines and I worked in its research department – I tested and improved machines by experimenting with various settings. This gave me a real kick and I knew at once that this is what I wanted to do. I also went back to the company to write my Bachelor’s dissertation.

On what subject?

The dissertation is under lock and key because it contains a lot of know-how. However, I can tell you that it is called ‘High-performance rotor spinning at speeds of up to 180,000 rpm’.

You’re only likely to make an impression with this at ‘textile parties’, aren’t you?

I’ve nothing against the textile parties here at the university. They are super. In particular, the motto parties are renowned throughout Mönchengladbach. Naturally, there is no doubt that, when it comes to clothing and design, textiles are well ahead. However, you can be sure that my dissertation is the last thing I talk about at such events!

Is there such a thing as a typical textile specialist at the university?

No, they are completely heterogeneous – different characters, age groups, nationalities, even career changers. A really mixed bunch (laughs). And that perfectly reflects the variety in the world of textiles.

How do you respond to those who say that textiles have no chance in Germany?

Open your eyes! Then you will see immediately just how innovative the sector is. Germany is one of the world’s leaders in the field of technical textiles and textile research. And there are good reasons for this. At all events, my fellow students and I are ready and waiting to exploit the great potential in the textile sector to the full.

Photo above:

In good hands – textile researcher Karoline Günther checks a finished yarn for evenness on a rotary spinning machine

Ronny Eckert

Marc Chalupsky

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