Materials and Components

  1. Where fabrics come from
  2. How they are made
  3. Characteristics & properties of fabrics & fibres
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  • Created by: Urvi
  • Created on: 24-05-13 18:49

Choosing Fabrics & Fibres

Fibres are fine hair-like structures that are either short (staple) or long (filament). These fibres are made into yarns and fabrics.

Staple fibres needs to be spun to make yarn and tend to have a hairy appearance. Filament fibres can be used alone or twisted with others to give a smooth finish to a fabric.

Yarn is a thread-like structure that is made from wither short staple fibres twisted together or long filament fibres.

Fabrics are sheets/ lengths of cloth made from fibres/yarn. These fibres are either twisted into yarns and then knitted or woven together to make a length of fabric or they have been formed into a web and then have been heat pressed/ glued together as a non-woven fabric. 

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Natural Fibres & Fabric

Natural Fibres are fibres that come from a plant/animal source. All natural fibres have to be processed to make them suitable for use. They come from sustainable resources and are very versatile and widely used in textile products.

Plant based product examples are: cotton and linen. 

An animal based product example is cashmere; it comes from a goat's fine undercoat. Other examples include: wool and silk

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Plant-based Fibres: COTTON

COTTON : It comes from the fine hairs on the seeds in a ripe seed pod of a cotton plant. 

  • Physical Properties: Strong, absorbent, cool to wear, hard-wearing, creases easily
  • Aesthetic Properties: Smooth, versatile, easy to care for and enhance
  • Uses: Soft furnishings, clothing items, yarns for knitting
  • Fabric Names: Calico, corduroy, denim, velvet
  • Advantages: Strong when wet, durable, reasonably inexpensive, environmentally sustainable, comfortable to wear
  • Disadvantages: Creases easily, burns easily and shrinks
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Plant-based Fibres: LINEN

LINEN : It comes from the fibrous stem of a flax plant

  • Physical Properties: Very hard-wearing, cool next to skin, strong, absorbent, creases easily and has no drape
  • Aesthetic Propeties: Has a natural look and dull lustre, good handle (what a fabric is like to hold and work with)
  • Fabric Names: Duck, Huckabuck
  • Uses: Lightweight clothing often for summer wear, soft furnishings, tea towels and table linen
  • Advantages: Stronger when wet than cotton, smooth finish, very hard-wearing, highly absorbent, comfortable to wear
  • Disadvantages: Creases badly, can be expensive
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Animal-based Fibres: WOOL

WOOL : It comes from the coat/fleece of sheep

  • Physical Properties: Warm, absorbent, low flammability
  • Aesthetic Properties: Good handle, elasticity
  • Fabric Names: Felt, merino
  • Uses: Warm outerwear, lightweight wool for suiting and knitwear, soft furnishings, carpets & blankets
  • Advantages: Warm, can be produced in a wide range of weights of fabric, comfortable, doesn't crease easily
  • Disadvantages: May shrink, takes long time to dry because it's absorbent, may feel uncomfortable and itchy next to skin
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Animal-based Fibres: SILK

SILK : It's a fibre from the cocoon of a silkworm

  • Physical Properties: Absorbent, soft, comfortable, cool and warm
  • Aesthetic Properties: Natural sheen, handles well and strong when dry
  • Fabric Names: Chiffon, crepe, organza, duchess
  • Uses: Luxury clothing, soft furnishings, knit wear
  • Advantages: Soft smooth sheen, lustrous finish, drapes well, comfortable
  • Disadvantages: Expensive, Can be weaker when wet and may not wash well, may crease easily
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Synthetic Fibres & Fabrics

Synthetic fibres are entirely artificial and made using synthetic polymers from oil and coal and other petrol-based chemicals (monomers) in its chemical production. Polymerisation is the process by which monomers are joined together to form polymers - the mixed polymers are spun into yarns.

Acrylic, Nylon and Polyester are the 3 most commonly used synthetic fibres in textiles. Synthetic fibres made in chemical plants are given trade names. Trade names are names given to a fibre created and sold by a company such as Nylon while polymide is tis generic name.

Properties: They can be developed to have different appearances and properties. Because they are plastics based, they have thermosetting and thermoplastic properties to allow fibres to be manipulated using heat, to create permanent pleats in fabrics & add textures.

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Developments in Synthetic Fibres & Fabrics

Companies such as DuPont continue to research and develop new synthetic fibres 

MICROFIBRES : are thin synthetic fibres made from polyester. 

  • Properties: They are lightweight , strong and water-repellent but also absorbent, breathable and have a very good handle.
  • Uses: underwear, sportswear, hosiery, water-repellent outdoor wear. Tactel Micro is a label on sportswear/underwear. Meryl Micro is used in active sportswear

TACTEL AQUATOR :  It was produced by DuPont for its moisture-management properties. It is a non-absorbent fubres that takes moisture away from the body.

HIGH-TECH : Very strong fibres like Kevlar and Cordura were developed for industrial use, but are now use for active outerwear for many extreme sports and activities that require high degrees of resistance to abrasion.

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Synthetic Fibres: POLYAMIDE (Nylon)


  • Physical Properties:  Strong, hard-wearing, good elasticity, thermoplastic, doesn't decompose, melts as it burns, resists most alkalis, damaged by strong acids.
  • Aesthetic Properties: Versatile, can be made into many finishes
  • Fabric Names: Nylon, Tactel, Tactel Micro
  • Use: Clothing, ropes, carpets, rugs, seatbelts, sports belting
  • Advantages: Strong when wet, durable, reasonably inexpensive, resists bacteria
  • Disadvantages: Poor absorbency, can be damaged by sunlight (making it discolour and become weaker)

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Synthetic Fibres: POLYESTER


  • Physical Properties: Very strong when wet and dry,flame resistant, thermoplastic, doesn't decompose, resists most alkalis (unless really strong), damaged by strong acids.
  • Aesthetic Properties: Versatile, can be made into many finishes
  • Fabric Names: Finesse, Polyester Fleece
  • Use: Wide range of textile use
  • Advantages: Strong when wet, cheap, hard-wearing, resists bacteria
  • Disadvantages: Very poor absorbency

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Synthetic Fibres: ACRYLIC


  • Physical Properties: Strong but weaker when wet, thermoplastic, shrinks from heat and burns slowly then melts
  • Aesthetic Properties: Soft, can be made into fine and coarse staple fibres
  • Fabric Names: Courtelle, Amicor
  • Uses: Knitwear, knitted jersey fabrics, toys, fake-fur products, upholstery fabrics, anti-bacterial socks and sportswear
  • Advantages: Can be made warm, insulating and soft
  • Disadvantages: Poor absorbency
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Synthetic Fibres: ELASTANE (Lycra)


  • Physical Properties: Very elastic, lightweight but still very strong, resists chemicals & biological damage from perspiration, very hard-wearing
  • Aesthetic Properties: Medium to coarse filament fibres
  • Fabric Names: Lycra
  • Uses: Swimwear, sportswear, clothing that needs extra elasticity (e.g. easy-fit jeans/ fitted blouses). Lycra is a rubber-based fibre; it's never used on its own in a product but is added in small percentages to give extra stretch and better fit
  • Advantages: Very stretchy, keeps its shape, can resist sun and sea, lightweight but strong
  • Disadvantages: Very poor absorbency
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Regenerated Fibres and Fabrics

Regenerated fibres are natural cellulose treated with artificial chemicals to extract the fibre. They are similar to cotton. They're made from cellulose and a chemical is added to extract the cellulose fibres. They're part natural and part artificial.

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Types of Regenerated Fibres

  • They can be filament/staple and can be given many textures and properties like synthetic fibres
  • Most recent developments are environmentally friendly by using fibre low energy and closed-loop process (a manufacturing process where by all waste is reused in the production system).
  • Viscose, acetate, Tencel and Lyocell
  • Viscose can be used as a filament yarn, woven or knitted into lustrous fabrics and crepe fabrics. But as a staple fibre, it can blend with other fibres to add lustre and absorbency.
  • Acetate and triacetate are known as cheap silk because of their elegant drape and lustre
  • Tencel & Lyocell are fully recyclable and biodegradeable (can be broken down naturally through the action of bacteria or other living organisms); they're very strong when wet; have minimal shrinkage and have good dye absorbency making them popular blended fabric. 
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Properties of Regenerated Fibres

As regenerated fibres are from a plant-based source, their properties are similar to those of cotton.

  • Highly absorbent
  • Washable
  • Soft
  • Smooth
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Good drape
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Uses of Regenerated Fabrics

Widely used in clothing because of properties: different finishes can be given to make them smooth, shiny or textured. Common uses are:

  • Fashion clothing
  • Lingerie
  • Trimmings like ribbons
  • Protective clothing
  • Breathable fabrics
  • Medical use
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Blended Fibres

Blended Fibres are a combination of two or more fibres spun together to make yarn.

The most common example of this is the cotton polyester blend; cotton is cool, soft, strong, comfortable fabric and polyester is hard-wearing, lightweight, poor absorber and elastic - combining them together fives the comfort and cool feel of cotton with hard-wearing, quick-drying, crease-resistant properties of polyester.

Blending wool with nylon makes a more hard-wearing and easier to care for fabric, making this combination a popular choice for carpeting. 

Silk is a very expensive fibre but blended with polyester makes it much cheaper to produce and can be easier to wash.

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Mixed Fibres

Mixed Fibres are where one type of yarn is mixed with at least on other in the fabric production. 

Mix of cotton yarn with Lycra yarn to give extra stretch and comfort to denim jeans, fitted shirts and swimwear.

Mixes can also be made for aesthetic reasons such as in two-tone fabrics:

Silk taffeta using black and red yarns to give the desired effect

Denim jeans with blue and white yarns

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