Textiles, Fabrics and Fibres

Textiles, Fabrics and Fibres

Textiles and fabrics are the same thing – all types of material. Fibres are the threads they are made up of. Fibres can be split into three main categories. Natural, manmade and regenerated.

Natural fibres are either grown or from animals:

- Wool: Short hairy fibres can be spun (twisted) together to make a yarn ready to knit or weave with. It’s hard wearing and warm. Perfect for jumpers, jackets and carpets.

- Silk: The cocoon from silk worms are harvested, cleaned and spun into a thread. A very fine fabric for making luxury cloths such as lingerie.

- Cotton: Grow on a plant and looks like a cotton wool ball. It is harvested, cleaned and spun into a thread. Easy to knit and weave, suitable for jeans, T shirts and soft furnishings.

- Flax: Made from the stem of the flax plant, it is shredded and woven. Suitable for soft, lightweight clothing.

Textiles, Fabrics and Fibres, figure 1

Natural fibres are easy to grow, cheap and quick to harvest and provide a renewable and biodegradable material.

Other natural fibres include bamboo, alpaca, angora and mohair.

Regenerated fibres are natural materials that have been chemically treated to produce fibres

  • Viscose: Wood pulp (cellulose) is mixed with sodium hydroxide and forced through a tine hole to produce a filament fibre. Often used in lingerie, linings and furniture.

  • Acetate: Cellulose mixed with acetic acid makes a cool, easy dying fibre. Good for sportswear and linings.

Synthetic fibres are derived from oil and processed in the same way a thermoplastic (making chains of molecules into polymers)

Polymers are forced through tiny holes and hardened to make a filament (a continuous s thread – not like a natural staple fibre)

  • Acrylic: Cheap to produce, can be used to make fake fur, cloths and furnishings. It’s warm and resistant to dirt but can pill and get bobbly when rubbed.

  • Polyester: Strong and holds a pleat well. It can melt if heated too high. It is easy to wash and dry. Suitable for sportswear, sheets and curtains.

  • Elastane: A very stretchy fabric which is easy to care for. Washes and dries well, highly flammable. Used for leggings and tights, can be blended with other fabrics to make them stretch.

Fabrics can be blended by combining fibres before they are made into a fabric. Manufacturers can combine properties to fit their need. For instance polycotton is a mix of polyester and cotton, it makes a stronger, more hardwearing fabric which needs less ironing and doesn’t shrink. Elastane mixed with cotton makes a stretch, easy to dye fabric for figure hugging clothes.

Fabric Construction

Fabrics are constructed into sheets of material in three different ways:

Weaving – threads are put on a loom (called the warp), other threads are passed under and over the warp threads (called the weft). Different combinations of warp and weft threads can create texture and pattern. A plain weave is basic under one, over one whereas a twill weave is over two, under one. This gives a stronger diagonal weave.

Textiles, Fabrics and Fibres, figure 1

Woven fabrics:

Plain weave: Under one over one, hardwearing, strong, smooth and cheap to produce. Used for lining, bedding and lightweight fabrics.

Twill weave: Over two under one produces a diagonal pattern, strong and able to drape its used in tweed, denim and tartan.

Satin weave: Over 4 (or more) under one so gives a very fine, shiny surface, It is prone to pilling and plucking. Used for delicate clothes and ribbon.

Jacquard Weave: A CAD program sets the loom to create a range of weaves to build up a pattern in rows. Often used for upholstery fabric and heavy curtaining.

Knitted fabrics are made through interlocking loops of yarn, the loops are excellent insulators as they trap in air. Knitting is also stretchy and excellent for knitwear, fleece and tights.

Non-woven fabrics:

Layers of fibres are either glued together or forced together to create a fabric layer. They have no particular direction so can be cut without fraying. They don’t stretch and aren’t very strong. They are quick to produce so can be used to make disposable fabrics like surgical scrubs or dish clothes.