Natural fibres from plants:
- Cotton is used for making jeans, t-shirts and towels. It is cool to wear, has a soft handle, a good drape, and is durable. It can be washed and ironed, but it creases easily, is very absorbent and dries slowly.
- Linen is used for summer clothing, tea towels and tablecloths. It is fresh and cool to wear, has a stiffer handle, and a good drape. It is durable, but can be washed and ironed. It creases badly and is very absorbent, but is also fast drying.
Natural fibres from animals:
- Wool is used for jumpers, suits and blankets. It is warm to wear, absorbent, dries slowly, is breathable, repels rain and can be soft or coarse to handle. It has a good drape, and is not durable; however, creases tend to drop out. If it is not dry-cleaned it may shrink.
- Silk is used for evening wear and ties. It is warm to wear, absorbent, has a soft handle and a good lustre and drape. It is durable and creases drop out. It needs to be dry cleaned.
The main synthetic fibres are:
- Viscose is used for shirts, dresses and linings. It has a soft handle, a good drape and can be washed and ironed. However it has low warmth, and is absorbent and slow-drying. Viscose is not durable and creases easily.
- Acrylic is used for jumpers, fleece jackets and blankets. It is warm to wear, non-absorbent, and fast-drying, with a soft handle like wool, and a good drape. It is easy to care for, durable and crease-resistant.
- Polyester is used for raincoats, fleece jackets, children's nightwear, medical textiles and working clothes. It has a soft handle, a good drape, is very durable, crease-resistant, easy-care, non-absorbent, and fast drying. It can be recycled, but has low warmth.
- Nylon (Tactel) is used for active sportswear, fleece jackets, socks and seat belts. It has a soft handle, a good drape, is non-absorbent, fast drying, very durable, crease-resistant and easy-care. However it has low warmth.
Polyester or nylon microfibres are 60-100 times finer than a human hair (the diagram below shows what they look like up close):
- Microfibres can be blended with other synthetic or natural fibres.
- Microfibres are used for outdoor-pursuits clothing and active sportswear.
- Thermoplastic polyester or nylon microfibres can be heat-treated to give them coils, crimps and loops, which makes these textured yarns stretchy and warm. They are used for underwear, sportswear, knitwear and carpets.
Blending different fibres together produces yarns that have the combined properties of each component fibre. Using fibre blends improves the appearance, performance, comfort and aftercare of fabric. Blending can also reduce the cost of an expensive fibre.
- A shirt made from polyester / cotton blend is more easy-care and crease-resistant than a shirt made from 100 per cent cotton.
- Cotton / Lycra blend jeans are more comfortable, stretchy and fit better than cotton jeans.
- Acrylic / wool blend trousers are less expensive than 100 per cent wool trousers.
- Elastane (Lycra). This is always used in a blend with other fibres. It is used to make sportswear, body-hugging clothes and bandages. It has good handle and drape, is durable, crease-resistant, stretchy (more comfortable) and is easy-care. It has low warmth and is absorbent.
- Tencel. This is a 'natural' microfibre made from cellulose derived from wood-pulp. It is used for shirts and jeans. It has soft handle, good drape, is breathable, durable, crease-resistant, easy-care and biodegradable. It is absorbent and has low warmth.