Many of us know a couple different types of fabric, such as cotton and polyester. Yet with all the advances in technology, a few new fabric types have come about. Here we will explore some of the most common fabric types and a bit about each of them.
There are three basic types of fiber: plant fibers, synthetic or man-made fibers, and animal fibers. These fiber types give the character to the fabric, which will come out in the clothes you wear.
Plant fibers obviously come from plants. While some man-made fibers may start from plants, plant fabrics keep their natural shape throughout the process.
Cotton is one of the most common and popular fabrics around the world, and has become the benchmark in many ways. It grows naturally on the cotton plant, and is harvested from the plant and spun into usable thread. Some types of cotton, such as Egyptian cotton, grow longer threads, which can lead to a much higher quality fabric.
Linen comes from the fibers of the flax plant. The fibers are much stronger than cotton. The fibers are very absorbent, yet also dry faster compared to many other fibers. Linen is a cooler material, and is often not as tightly knit as cotton. This makes it feel more fresh in hot weather.
The stalks of the hemp plant produce long, strong fibers which can be spun into thread. The fibers are very strong, and have a slightly antibacterial property as well.
Hemp is a very durable fabric type, and uses less water than other natural fibers. However, it can be a bit more expensive compared to other fibers, and may be a bit more rough.
Bamboo fabric is becoming more popular as well. It is made from the pulp of bamboo grass. It has a bit of an antibacterial property, and also wicks moisture away from the body better than many other natural fibers. Bamboo clothing also provides good insulation, making it ideal for both summer and winter.
Animal fibers come from natural sources. However, unlike plant materials, we cannot make these fibers without the help of animals.
One of the oldest sources of animal fibers, wool used to come from only sheep. Now, wool is made from other animals as well, such as alpaca, bison, and some cows. Wool is very insulating, making it good for colder climates. The outer fiber naturally repels water, and may have a slight antibacterial effect.
Silk is a natural fiber that comes mainly from silk moths. As silk fibers get wet, they expand, allowing more air to circulate around them. This may help you stay cool in summer. At the same time, they also respond well to cold, making them a great year-round fiber.
Cashmere is a specific type of wool that comes from cashmere goats. While it is technically wool, cashmere is finer, lighter, and much more insulating than sheep’s wool. The fibers are also very strong. It is also much more expensive.
Synthetic fibers come from sources that do not occur naturally. Manufacturers have to process them thoroughly to make a workable fabric. There are a number of different ways to do this, creating a number of different fabrics.
Rayon or viscose starts out as wood fibers, then goes through treatments to become fabric. It has a silky, breathable texture, and is inexpensive. However, the fabric is weak and may absorb moisture and oils from the body leading to stains.
Polyester is a synthetic material that is strong and flexible for many applications. It dries faster than many natural materials, and does not wrinkle as easily. However, it is not very breathable, and may stick to sweaty skin.
Nylon is a lightweight, durable material that is easy to wash, fast drying, and does not wrinkle easily. However, it is very sensitive to heat, and may shrink or melt. It does not absorb moisture well, and may also pick up dyes easily from the wash.
Spandex or elastine
Elastine is another term for spandex, which is a material many people are familiar with. The material is sold under brand names as well, such as Lycra. It is very stretchy and responsive to movement, and even helps wick moisture away from the body. Making it a popular choice for athletes and gymnasts! With that said, it is not as breathable as other options.
Bonus fiber: Infused threads
There are also a number of threads that get infused with other components for different uses. These may start out as any other fiber type, but they get infused with extra ingredients for added benefit.
For instance, infusing threads with carbon or silver can help fight off bacteria that leads to body odor.
Choosing a fabric type
The truth is, each of these fabric types has their use in specific situations. When buying clothing, it helps to first know how you will use the clothing. From there, the choice between materials may be much more simple.