Everyday Q&A: How does Velcro work?

Like many inventions, Velcro was inspired by nature. During a hunting trip in 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral noticed that burrs of burdock plants kept sticking to his clothes and his dog’s fur. The seeds of these plants disperse by attaching to any animal that happens to rub against it.

Curious about what made the seeds cling so tightly, de Mestral studied a burr sample under a microscope and saw hundreds of little hooks on its surface. Those hooks could catch on anything with a loop, including the threads that made up de Mestral’s clothing and the tangled fur on his dog.

After studying the burdock burrs, de Mestral set out to replicate the hooks and loops of the burrs to create a reusable, reversibly binding material. He eventually settled on nylon as his fabric of choice, as the material could be woven in loops and treated with heat to retain its shape.

To make the corresponding hooks, he trimmed the tops of the loops to cut them in half. The hooks would then line up properly with uncut loops on another piece of nylon, and once the hooks caught onto the loops, they would bind the two pieces of fabric together.

After a decade of development, he sub­mitted his invention for patent, which was granted in 1955. He combined the French words for velvet, velours, and hook, crochet, to name his new invention Velcro.

Today, Velcro has an enormous range of applications. It is found in clothing and foot­wear, diapers, automobiles, space shuttles, surgery, military uniforms, sports gear, and nearly anything else that needs temporary and reusable fastening. Velcro is celebrated as one of the most widely used inventions of the twentieth century.