Navigating the fabric world can be tricky, especially if you're new to sewing garments. Some textile names refer to the fiber content, some the weave, and some - both! This post is an introduction to understanding fiber content. We hope that this series of blog posts, along with our Textile Talk video series on Youtube, make sewing more approachable.
The first category we'll be discussing is Natural Fibers. These are fibers that come from natural sources such as plants or animals. Fabrics in this category include cotton, linen (AKA: flax), hemp, silk, and wool. Wool is a broad category that encompasses fibers acquired from various animal furs.
Synthetic Fibers are entirely man-made using synthetic materials and processes. Most fabrics in this category are petroleum-based, which makes them types of plastic. However, stretch fibers spandex/lycra and latex are also included in this category.
Note: Latex is a naturally occurring substance, but the latex used in fabrics is often a man-made synthetic version.
Man-Made Fibers (AKA: Semi-synthetics, or Rayons):
All fabrics in this category fall under the umbrella of "rayon" but there are many different varieties of rayon fabric. Some sources include rayons within the synthetic category, but I think this distinction is more accurate. Rayons are made from natural plant materials, so their properties are similar to cotton, but their processing and production are more similar to synthetic fabrics. While the initial input is plant material, it is broken down chemically and heavily processed to produce rayon fibers.
A Note About Fiber Lengths:
Lastly, let's talk about staple and filament fibers. These terms refer to the length of fibers in a fabric. Filament fibers are long and continuous, while staple fibers are shorter. This distinction is important because the presence of shorter fibers can affect the look and properties of a fabric.
We hope this post provides some clarification on fiber concepts!