A Guide to Fabrics: What you should know before sourcing online

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Guide to Fabrics

Fabric is a cloth composed of various different elements.  There are many different parts of the fabric that help it to gain the characteristics that shape its identity. All garments sold in the United States are required to have a fiber identification label used to list the various fibers in the clothing. Generally, once you know the composition of the clothing it is easy to predict how the behavior will perform. This will help when determining which fabrics will be best for which garments.

Important Terms

Fibers

Tiny strands, these are the atoms of clothing. These can be man-made or natural. (See: Clothing Fibers Article)

Thread/Yarn

Fibers that are twisted together.

Blend

Threads made from two or more fibers, i.e cotton polyester blend.

Fabric

Cloth made from threads. There are 3 types of fabric: woven, knit, and non-woven.

Finish

A chemical treatment added to the fabric to improve its qualities.

Important Characteristics

Durability

The ability of fabrics to withstand daily use.

Absorbency

The ability of fabrics or fibers to soak up water or moisture.

Wrinkle Resistance

The ability of fabrics to generally not look wrinkled. 

Colorfast

The ability of fabrics or fibers to not lose color when washed.

Types of Fabrics

Woven Fabric

Fabric formed by interlacing yarns at right angles.

Plain Weave- evenly woven, strongest weave

Twill Weave- woven to form a diagonal pattern

Satin Weave- woven with float yarns to make fabric with a shiny surface

Knit Fabric (See: What are Knitted Fabrics?)

Fabric made by interlocking loops of yarn

It is stretchable and recovers to the original shape. Generally, it doesn’t wrinkle easily or fray. It may, however, run if snagged.

Non-woven Fabric

Fabric made by matting or binding fibers together

Edges do not fray or unravel when cut

Fabrics from Natural Fibers 

Cotton

Cotton is made from cotton plants.

Advantages: It is breathable and inexpensive. Cotton is also strong and comfortable.

Disadvantages: It’s prone to shrinking, stretching and it dries slowly. It also isn’t wrinkle resistant.

Linen

Linen is made of fiber from a flax plant.

Advantages: It is the world’s strongest natural fiber. Linen is very easy to clean and can absorb moisture. Also, It is a very breathable fabric.

Disadvantages: It can very expensive.

 

Silk

Silk is made from a silkworm’s cocoon.

Advantages: A strong but lightweight fabric. It has great luster, is resilient and elastic. Also, it is stain resistant and moisture absorbent. Silk is very soft and smooth.

Disadvantages: Silk is very expensive and degrades over time. Perspiration can also deteriorate and discolor its dyes.

Wool

Wool is sheared from sheep.

Advantages: It is a great insulator and heat resistant. Wool can also hold moisture without feeling wet.

Disadvantages: Wool is sometimes scratchy and can be uncomfortable to wear.

Types of Synthetic Fibers (See: Clothing Fibers Article)

Nylon

Nylon is a polymer fiber, a plastic with super long and heavy molecules built up of short, endlessly repeating sections of atoms.

Advantages: It is very versatile and has good wear resistance. It is also resistant at soiling and can absorb oil and grease.

Disadvantages: Nylon attracts electricity also causing it to attract dirt and lint.

 

Polyester

Polyester is a fiber made from coal, air, water, and petroleum.

Advantages: It is a wrinkle-free fabric. It is also hard to stain and has a strong mildew resistance.

Disadvantage: It can be uncomfortable and feel hot and sticky. Polyester is also highly shrinkable and absorbs dust.

Acrylic

Acrylic is often referred to as artificial wool.

Advantages: It is soft, flexible and has a wool-like texture. Resistant to shrinkage and wrinkling, acrylic is also easy to clean. It also retains color very well and is resistant to mildew and insects.

Disadvantages: It is poor at insulation. It is also not abrasion resistant.

Rayon

Rayon is manufactured fiber from naturally occurring cellulose.

Advantages: It is a strong and absorbent fiber and can generally withstand high temperatures. Rayon is also cheap and environmentally friendly.

Disadvantages: It wrinkles easily and is prone to shrinking. It also fades very easily in the sun.

Spandex

Spandex is made of a long chain polymer called polyurethane, which is produced by polyester reacting with a diisocyanate.

Advantages: It has great elasticity and is lightweight and comfortable to wear. It is generally durable, strong, and abrasion-resistant.

Disadvantages: It sticks to your body and is not very breathable. It is also sensitive to heat.

Acetate

Acetate is made from biodegrading and naturally occurring substances, especially wood shaving.

Advantages: It resembles silk and has a luxurious feel. It is also resistant to shrinkage and wrinkling.

Disadvantages: It is a weak fiber and requires gentle care. Also, the dyes can fade or bleed.

Specialty Fabrics

Burlap

Burlap is made from the jute plant.

Advantages: It is very strong and one of the least expensive materials available.

Disadvantages: Burlap has a low crease resistance. It also has no draping property.

Calico

Calico is a plain woven fabric made from half processed unbleached cotton fibers.

Advantages: It is very versatile and cheap.

Disadvantages: It is coarse and rough.

Corduroy

Corduroy is composed of twisted fibers that may have wide or narrow cords or ribs.

Advantages: It is very durable and easy to work with. It also allows for many creative options.

Disadvantages: The fabric is very thick and hot.

Denim

Denim is a cotton twill weave fabric.

Advantages: It is very strong and durable.

Disadvantages: The fabric is coarse and generally does not have a stretch. It also fades very easily.

Flannel

Flannel is plain or twill weave fabric with a soft brushed surface.

Advantages: It is warm, breathable, and comfortable.

Disadvantages: It can look worn and faded rather quickly.

Fleece

Fleece is a knit fabric, sometimes made from recycled plastic bottles.

Advantages: It is soft, warm, and durable. It is also ecologically friendly.

Disadvantages: Fleece is generally highly flammable. It also does not absorb moisture.

Gingham

Gingham is made from cotton, synthetic fiber blends, or man-made olefin fibers.

Advantages: It is hardwearing and durable. It is also easily cleanable.

Disadvantages: It generally shrinks very easily. 

Lace

Lace can be made from cotton or a chemical blend.

Advantages: It is very light, elegant and thin. It is also transparent.

Disadvantages: Lace is generally very delicate and tears easily.

Terry Cloth

Terry cloth is a woven or knit fabric with loop piles on one or both sides.

Advantages: It absorbs water very well. Terry cloth is also soft and durable.

Disadvantages: It is not easy to clean because of the loops. 

Velvet

Velvet is a pile fabric that is usually made of silk or rayon.

Advantages: It is soft and opulent. It is generally a versatile fabric.

Disadvantages: Velvet can wear out easily. It also attracts dust and is difficult to clean.

Fabric Care

Care labels are generally placed inside clothing to inform how to care for that garment. Usually these instructions are the same depending on what fiber the garment is made of, however, there are some exceptions.

 

Fiber Chart

 

Fiber NameDurabilityWrinkle ResistanceAbsorbencyCare
AcetatePoorPoorGoodDry Clean
AcrylicModerateGoodPoorMachine Wash
CottonVery GoodPoorExcellentMachine Wash
NylonExcellentExcellentPoorMachine Wash
PolyesterExcellentExcellentPoorMachine Wash
RayonModerateModerateGoodMachine Wash Gentle
Wool ModerateExcellentSlow/GoodDry Clean

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