Profiles Of Different Fibres & Fabrics – Their Feel, Look, Characteristics, Uses, & More

We’ve previously put together a guide on what some of the most commonly produced and used fibres and fabrics are.

We’ve also previously listed what some of the most eco friendly and sustainable fibres/fabrics and the least eco friendly and sustainable fibres and fabrics might be.

In the guide below however, we’ve outlined how some of these fibres and fabrics might look, feel, their characteristics and properties, and their potential different uses.

 

Different Traits & Features To Be Aware Of In Different Fabrics & Fibres

How It Looks

How It Feels

Range Of Available Colors 

Breathability

Ability To Absorb Moisture (Absorbability)

Ability To Regulate Temperature

UV Resistance

Anti-Bacterial Properties

How It Sits On The Body

How Strong It Is

How Durable It Is (how long it lasts)

Whether It Pills Or Wrinkles

How Good It Is For Sensitive Or Allergy Sensitive Skin 

Whether It Is Prone To Static Or Not

How Easy It Is To Clean, Iron & Maintain

Whether It Can Be Blended/Mixed With Other Fibres

How Much It Costs

What Products It’s Used In (& Best For)

 

Natural vs Regenerated vs Synthetic Fibres – General Traits 

We’ve explained what natural, synthetic and regenerated fibres are, and given examples of each in this guide.

 

But, as a very general and brief generalisation of the look and feel and qualities of each:

– Natural Fibres

Generally breathe better, regulate temperature better, and absorb moisture better.

But, they may wrinkle more, or be less durable long term to wearing, washing and drying than synthetic fibres

 

– Synthetic Fibres

Generally can be made to be wrinkle, stretch, and shrink resistant.

They can be very durable to wearing and washing/drying.

They can dry very quickly.

May not breath or absorb moisture as well as some natural fibres like cotton though,  although technology is always being developed to increase wicking capability to deal with this

 

The textileschool.com resource in the resources list includes profiles for synthetic fibres such as polyamide, polyester, acrylic, and elastane

wikipedia.org also include general descriptions of synthetic fibre traits

 

– Regenerated Fibres

It depends on the specific regenerated fibre

Lenzing for example may make their TENCEL fibres with their own custom traits, compared to a rayon made with bamboo from another producer or supplier

 

Profiles Of Fibres Outlined Below

Polyester

Cotton

Organic Cotton

Bamboo

Organic Bamboo

Hemp

Linen/Flax

Organic Linen/Flax

TENCEL – Lyocell

TENCEL – Modal

Jute

 

Polyester

A man made/synthetic fibre made from a base of petrochemicals, and is essentially a plastic.

It can be engineered to provide many qualities natural fibres can’t provide

There’s several different types of Polyester, with PET being a main one.

 

What It Looks & Feels Like

Can Have A Silky Look

Durable

Strength Can Vary – strength can vary greatly because it can be controlled by how much drawing (stretching) occurs during production.

It can go from 2.5 grams/denier to 9.5 grams/denier

Resistant To Shrinkage & Stretching

Washed Easily & Dries Easily

Wrinkle and Mildew Resistant

Water Repellent

Doesn’t Tend To Breathe Or Absorb Moisture As Well As Natural Fibres – generally has low levels of wicking

Not As Good For Summer Clothing Unless Used In Swimming Apparel For Example – not as much for day to day wear as it doesn’t breathe as well

Polyester Like Terivoile Can Breath Better

Chemical and Tear/Abrasion Resistant 

Can Have Static and Pilling problems

 

What It’s Used For

Polyester is currently the most produced fibre of all fibres, and have many different uses, especially in textiles

 

More About Polyester

sewport.com has a full polyester profile, and also mentions other information such as the benefits of blending polyester with cotton in textiles

 

Cotton

Cotton is a natural fibre from the cotton plant.

 

What It Looks & Feels Like

Comfortable and Soft – because of the natural nature of cotton lint

Absorbent – because the fibres in cotton have more space in between them than in some other fabrics

Takes Colors Well, Good Color Retention, and Prints Well – absorbs colors well, retain them well and easy to modify from a production perspective

Machine-Washable, Dry-Cleanable

Good Strength

Drapes Well

Easy to Handle and Sew

Breathable & Absorbs Moisture – like many natural fibres tend to do

More Of A Fluffy/Solid Look Than A Silky Look (unlike silk, or TENCEL for example)

 

What It’s Used For

Cotton is the most produced natural fibre, and is the second most produced fibr behind polyester

It has a range of uses, and might particularly be good for products like clothing, bedsheets, and soft fabrics that will be in contact with the skin where traits like breathability and absorbenc are important

 

More About Cotton

masterclass.com has a guide that outlines the properties of cotton (softness, durability, absorbency, holds dye well, breathability, and no static cling), and what it’s used for

sewport.com has a good guide that goes through some other properties of cotton

 

Organic Cotton

You can read more about what organic cotton is in this guide, and also read about some of the differences to regular cotton in this guide.

 

What It Looks & Feels Like

[Something some other people say is that] organic cotton products are softer than regular cotton because of the longer fibers.

Being handpicked ensures these fibers don’t get weakened or broken, resulting in softer and more durable products

– sleepsherpa.com

 

Clothing made from organic cottons have the feel of linen without the weight.

Since natural cottons are not chemically stripped of its natural wax, most weaves have a characteristic smoothness and weight which makes the fabric particularly flattering in its drape and in the mellow way it reflects and absorbs light

Natural cotton garments are sometimes offered in limited colors because traditional dyes are made from chemicals that must be avoided

– simplififabric.com

 

What It’s Used For

Organic cotton might be used for many of the same products regular cotton is used for

An organic cotton supplier like Organiccottonplus.com might outline what sort of fibres/fabrics are suitable for different sorts of cotton fabric products  

 

Bamboo

Bamboo grows from the bamboo plant, and is a natural fibre

However, whether it stays fully natural depends on whether it’s mechanically processed, or chemically processed.

Chemically processed bamboo fibre is more of a regenerated or semi-synthetic fibre.

Most bamboo is chemically processed though because it’s cheaper, easier and quicker to produce.

 

What It Looks & Feels Like

Soft, Silky Look & Feel – some bamboo shirts for example are claimed to be twice as soft as cotton

Takes Colors Well – some bamboo shirts for example are claimed to be 3 degrees cooler than cotton

Breathability & Moisture Control – fibres wick moisture away from your body

Can Be A Clean Fibre For Those With Sensitive Skin – some companies that sell bamboo garments say their viscose bamboo doesn’t use harsh chemicals or pesticides and can help prevent skin irritations that can flare up with other chemically treated fabrics.

– cariloha.com

 

Pilling – Can be prone to pilling – this is the small ball like texture that develops on the surface of some fabrics after being washed and worn

Anti Bacterial Properties – Can lose anti bacterial properties after chemical production

UV Resistance Properties – Can lose UV resistance after chemical production

– sustainablefashion.com.au, and elkieark.com

 

What It’s Used For

Mattresses

Bedding

Bath

Men’s Clothing

Women’s Clothing

Other Soft Fabrics & Linens

Bamboo can also be used in it’s hard wood form for other products

 

Organic Bamboo

Organic bamboo can generally be used for many of the things normal bamboo can be.

Note though, that there is no real certification for organic bamboo right now – GOTS certification doesn’t certify bamboo right now.

Organic bamboo might be mechanically processed (instead of chemically processed), or it might have a process where the chemicals used in production are captured with wastewater and re-used.

The company selling the bamboo cellulose sourced product would have to specifically outline this is the case though and tell you how they do it.

You’d also want to see if they carried out testing to see how many chemicals are left on the final bamboo product after production, and whether the bamboo retains certain features like anti bacterial properties or UV resistant properties (that haven’t been stripped away by processing chemicals..

 

Hemp

Hemp is a natural fibre that comes from the Cannabis sativa plant.

Sisal hemp and Manila hemp (also known as Abaca) are lower quality hemp fibers.

Some say that it can have a harsh or a more ‘hippy’ look to it, so might be best blended with other fibres like cotton, silk, wool, polyester etc.

 

What It Looks & Feels Like

Strong – can be up to three times stronger than cotton

Durable – good abrasion resistance/very durable

Anti-microbial – Naturally resistant to mold, mildew, rot

UV resistance

Readily takes dyes – for different colors

Good for washing – softens with each washing, without fiber degradation

Breathable – good wicking

Washable or dry cleanable

Wrinkles easily/poor resiliency

Poor drapeability

Not as soft as other fibers

 

What It’s Used For

Many types of apparel – men’s, women’s, childrens

Many types of home fashion and decor

– fabriclink.com

 

Linen/Flax

A natural vegetable/plant fibre made from the flax plant.

 

What It Looks & Feels Like

Can Have A Fine Or Luxury Look To It – for the best quality linen

Soft

Comfortable

Good strength – can be up to twice as strong as cotton

Hand-washable or dry-cleanable

Tailors Well

Absorbent

Dyes and Prints well

Lightweight to Heavyweight

No Static or Pilling Problems

Fair Abrasion Resistance

 

What It’s Used For

Different types of apparel and clothing

Home fashion

+ more

– fabriclink.com

 

Organic Linen/Flax

Not a super common fibre.

 

Is dew-retted to soften the fibres (without the environmental damage of common dam retting), before being scutched to draw each stem into long flaxen strands.

Uses no irrigation, no GMOs, no toxic pesticides.

Processed and spun in an organic way.

Read more about organic linen at elkieark.com

 

TENCEL – Lyocell

What It Looks & Feels Like

Has A Sheen Type, Vibrant Appearance – deeper dye uptake and smooth fiber surface of TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers make them shine perceptibly more intensively than cotton fabrics. The color vibrancy is also good

Drapes Over Body, & Flatters Body – because Lyocell is so smooth and soft, it drapes over the skin instead of sticking to it

Retain Color – pigments are deeply embedded into TENCEL™ Modal fibers, which retain long-lasting color vibrancy more than conventionally dyed fibers, and are less prone to fade even after repeated washing

Good Strength – for a cellulose fibre, Lyocell is durable and has a long-lasting quality

Absorbs Moisture – fibers absorbs moisture more efficiently than cotton – keeping your skin feeling pleasantly cool and dry throughout the day and night.

Fabrics can also be engineered to provide warm and dry sensations on the skin.

Less Favorable Fibre For Bacterial Growth Than Some Other Fibres/Fabrics – In comparison to polyester and synthetics, there is less available moisture formed on the surface of the fiber for bacteria to grow.

As a result, Lyocell offers better hygienic qualities to fabrics

Breathable – has microscopic fibrils of cellulosic fibers that contributes to breathable fabrics that support the body’s natural temperature regulating properties

Soft & Good For Sensitive Skin – has a smooth surface naturally soft to the touch and that offers comfort for sensitive skin

Glides Over The Skin – because it’s soft and smooth, it glides over skin and doesn’t grip as much

Less Static Charge – The ability to absorb moisture makes TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers tension-free with no electrostatic charging (compared to say polyester)

Can Be Blended With Other Fibres – TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers are versatile and can be combined with a wide range of textile fibers such as cotton, polyester, acrylic, wool, and silk to enhance fabrics in regards to their aesthetics, performance and functionality.

– tencel.com

 

Other features might be:

It’s not as prone to wrinkles as some cotton clothing

It tends to be more expensive than regular fabric fibres (like cotton)

 

What It’s Used For

TENCEL Lyocell & Modal can be used for various uses:

General fabrics

Denim

Intimate fabrics

Active wear fabrics 

Home fabrics

Footwear textiles

As an upcycled fabric with the REFIBRA technology

Luxury fabrics (Luxe category)

+ more

– tencel.com

 

TENCEL can be used for a range of products, but scaling and quantity of production is an issue for now:

Global production of TENCEL was just 243,000 tons in 2014 compared to 28.6 million for cotton

– businessinsider.com.au

 

TENCEL – Modal

What It Looks & Feels Like

Is Soft – Modal wood-based fibers are soft. Due to the fiber’s sleek cross section, TENCEL™ Modal fibers enhance the soft touch of fabrics even after repeated washing. 

Measurements and hand evaluations of softness show that TENCEL™ Modal fibers are twice as soft as cotton.

The softness of TENCEL™ Modal fibers lasts longer and is able to withstand repeated wash and dry cycles compared to cotton. 

Has A Sleek Look – like Lyocell, Modal looks very sleeky on the body due to it being soft and draping

Has A Vibrant Color – Color pigments are deeply embedded into TENCEL™ Modal fibers, which retain long-lasting color vibrancy more than conventionally dyed fibers, and are less prone to fade even after repeated washing. 

Less Static Charge – The ability to absorb moisture makes TENCEL™ Modal fibers tension-free with no electrostatic charging (compared to say polyester)

Can Be Blended With Other Fibres – TENCEL™ Modal fibers can be blended with most fibers and processed using conventional machinery, offering endless design possibilities … customized colors can be created using different ratios of blended fibers.

TENCEL™ Modal fibers are a highly compatible blending partner for cotton and due to the fiber’s sleek cross section, adds long-lasting softness to fabrics, enhancing the touch even after repeated washing.

Blending fibers with TENCEL™ Modal fibers significantly improves the softness and overall comfort.

– tencel.com

 

Other features might be:

It’s not as prone to wrinkles as some cotton clothing

It tends to be more expensive than regular fabric fibres (like cotton)

 

What It’s Used For

TENCEL Lyocell & Modal can be used for various uses:

General fabrics

Denim

Intimate fabrics

Active wear fabrics 

Home fabrics

Footwear textiles

As an upcycled fabric with the REFIBRA technology

Luxury fabrics (Luxe category)

+ more

– tencel.com

 

TENCEL can be used for a range of products, but scaling and quantity of production is an issue for now:

Global production of TENCEL was just 243,000 tons in 2014 compared to 28.6 million for cotton

– businessinsider.com.au

 

Jute

Jute is a natural fibre that comes mainly from the White jute plant.

It’s more of a harsher looking fabric, that isn’t as smooth looking as other fabrics – so this limits it’s usage in fashion to an extent.

 

What It Looks & Feels Like

Golden and Silky Shine

High Tensile Strength

Low Extensibility

Breathable

Good Insulator On The Body

Not As Good For Rugs & Floor Coverings – because it can wear down and be hard to clean, change colors, and hold odor

 

What It’s Used For

Not As Heavily Used In Clothing As Other Natural Fabrics

Many different fabrics, but more so harder wearing fabrics

Ropes, twines and packaging materials

Floor coverings

Bags

Food

+ more

– jpdepc.org, and cleanfax.com

 

Other Resources

This guide outlines some differences between common types of fibres or fabrics:

Rayon vs Viscose vs Modal vs Polyester vs Lyocell vs Bamboo Comparison: What’s The Difference?

 

Additionally:

– globalspec.com outlines the general properties to look for in different fibres, and gives examples of the properties of different synthetic and regenerated fibres

– textileapex.blogspot.com gives a side by side general comparison of synthetic and natural fibres

 

*Note – Profiles Of Different Fibres & Fabrics Are Generalisations Only

It’s worth noting that this guide contains generalisations about fibres only.

So, don’t just rely on the information in this guide when assessing the traits of different fibres and fabrics – it’s worth doing research involving other sources to.

 

Fibres and fabrics can differ in their traits and characteristics for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

There’s variations of the same type of fibre, such as different variations of polyester, and also cotton, which we outline in this guide. The variations of cotton for example have different fibre traits and features.

 

– Fibres can be produced by different suppliers and companies, who have their own production processes – which can affect the final features of the fibre. Lyocell might be one example of this

 

– In a finished textile, one fibre or fabric might be blended with another, to mix traits and features of the finished textile. For example, cotton might be mixed with polyester in a finished textile product

With blended/mixed fibre products, there will likely be a different set of traits than a finished product made of 100% one individual fibre. 

 

– A fibre might perform differently or better on one type of product compared to another.

For example, a jute rug might perform worse than a jute bag in terms of durability due to the type of activities each product is used for

 

– The development of technology will change how different fibres look and feel over time

 

How To Find Out The Profile Of The Fibre or Fabric Product You’re Buying

The best way to find out what you are buying and to know what to expect is to:

– Look on the seller’s website, social media profiles, and other places where they have a presence online

Find out how the fibres in the product are sourced and also produced 

Look at their FAQ section for info on how their fibres might look and feel, and the different qualities they might have

Read the product description and contact the seller beforehand with any questions you might have. Generally, the best sellers answer a lot of your questions in their descriptions and FAQs of their fibres and products, and/or have certifications (such as GOTS, Oeko Tek 100 etc.) listed where necessary. TENCEL for example has lists of sustainability certifications on their websites for their Lyocell and Modal fibres

Read reviews and feedback from other customers

See whether the manufacturer or seller provides any results for tests done on their fibres for things like UV resistance, anti pilling, anti bacteria properties etc

 

– Inspect the product in person

Look at the label or product description of the product you are buying to find out what fibres or yarns it’s made of, and what % of what fibres the product is made from

Touch and feel the product yourself physically in person 

 

Sources

1. https://www.tencel.com/general 

2. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-tencel-compares-to-cotton-2015-9?r=US&IR=T 

3. https://www.elkieark.com/blogs/eco-living-sustainable-living/organic-bamboo-bed-linen 

4. https://www.sustainablefashion.com.au/blogs/news/not-all-bamboo-fabric-is-created-equally 

5. https://www.cariloha.com/about/bamboo-qualities 

6. https://cleanfax.com/rug-cleaning/know-jute-rugs/

7. http://www.jpdepc.org/about-jute.html 

8. https://www.ecofashionsewing.com/fibres-textiles/fabric-fashion-industry-synthetic-fibres/ 

9. https://www.barnhardtcotton.net/blog/know-fibers-difference-between-polyester-and-cotton/ 

10. http://www.fabriclink.com/University/Hemp.cfm 

11. http://www.fabriclink.com/University/Linen.cfm  

12. http://www.fabriclink.com/University/Cotton.cfm 

13. https://sleepsherpa.com/organic-cotton-vs-regular-cotton-whats-difference/ 

14. https://www.simplififabric.com/pages/organic-cotton  

15. https://www.organiccotton.org/oc/Organic-cotton/Benefits-of-organic-cotton/Benefits-of-oc.php 

16. https://organiccottonplus.com/pages/faq 

17. https://www.elkieark.com/pages/fairtrade-organic-cotton-farming  

18. http://www.fabriclink.com/University/Polyester.cfm 

19. http://www.fao.org/natural-fibres-2009/about/15-natural-fibres/en/

20. https://www.textileschool.com/486/synthetic-fibers-manmade-artificial-fibers

21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_fiber

22. https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/polyester-fabric

23. https://www.globalspec.com/learnmore/materials_chemicals_adhesives/composites_textiles_reinforcements/synthetic_fibers_fabrics_polymer_textiles

24. https://textileapex.blogspot.com/2015/06/difference-between-natural-synthetic-fibre.html

25. https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/cotton-fabric

26. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-cotton

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