Fabric is an integral part of our everyday lives. Fabric surrounds us, from our clothes to the sheets we sleep on. Fabric can be divided into two main categories - natural and synthetic. Natural fabrics are those made from plant, animal, or mineral sources. They have been used for clothing and furnishing purposes for centuries. Natural fabrics often feel softer, are more breathable, and are safer for people with sensitive skin.
Here, we will explore 10 popular varieties of natural fabrics. We will look at their sources, properties, and typical uses. Understanding the characteristics of different natural fabrics can help inform intelligent purchasing decisions and enhance the comfort and aesthetics of our lives. The natural fabrics we will cover include cotton, linen, silk, wool, hemp, leather, cashmere, bamboo, sisal, and jute.
Properties of Natural Fibres:
Natural fabrics are made from naturally occurring plants, animals, and minerals instead of synthetic materials in labs and factories. Clothing and other textiles made from natural fabrics often have unique properties and characteristics, making them appealing options for various uses.
1. Breathability - Natural fibres like cotton, silk, and linen allow for increased air circulation and moisture wicking. It makes garments and textiles lightweight and comfortable.
2. Absorbency - Natural fabrics like cotton, wool, and sisal effectively absorb moisture and sweat. It helps keep the wearer dry.
3. Strength and durability - Fibers like hemp, jute, and leather are naturally strong and durable. They maintain integrity even with regular use.
4. Insulation and warmth - Materials like wool provide adequate insulation from the cold due to the air pockets trapped between the fibres. It makes wool ideal for cold-weather clothing.
5. Biodegradability - Natural textiles like cotton, silk, and hemp will decompose without harming the environment. It makes their production more sustainable.
The Use of Natural Textiles: Advantages and Disadvantages
Natural fabrics like cotton, silk, wool, and linen have been used for clothing and other textiles for thousands of years. In recent decades, synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and acrylic have become more widely used.
However, natural fibre clothing still has advantages that keep them popular choices for clothing, bedding, and other uses. Let's discuss the main benefits and drawbacks of using natural fabric materials.
Advantages of Natural Fabrics
1. Breathability - Natural fibres like cotton and linen have pores that allow airflow and absorption. It makes them relaxed, comfortable, and moisture-wicking, especially in hot weather. Synthetics can cause sweating.
2. Softness - Materials like cotton and silk have a soft hand feel. Wool becomes softer over time. Many synthetics are scratchy until chemically treated.
3. Durability - Natural fabrics like wool and silk are extremely strong and long-lasting. With adequate maintenance, they have the potential to endure for numerous years.
4. Sustainability - Natural fabrics come from renewable resources and biodegrade at the end of life. Most synthetics are plastic-based and not easily recycled.
5. Hypoallergenic - Fibers like cotton and silk are less irritating for sensitive skin than synthetic materials, which can cause rashes. They don't accumulate static electricity as much, either.
Disadvantages of Natural Fabrics
1. Wrinkling - Natural fabrics like linen and cotton wrinkle easily and may require ironing or steaming. Synthetic materials generally maintain their form more effectively.
2. Pilling - Natural fabrics can develop bunches or pills of tangled fibres over time, especially with friction. Synthetics are less prone to pilling.
3. Shrinking - Natural fabrics may shrink significantly when washed in hot water or dried using high heat. Special care is needed.
4. Staining - Natural fibres absorb liquids more easily than synthetics. Stains from spills, grease, etc., can be difficult to remove altogether.
5. Mildew - Natural fibres provide food for mildew and mould growth, especially in damp environments. Synthetics resist mildew.
6. Moth Damage - Carpet beetles, clothes moths, and insects eat protein fibres like wool and silk. Synthetics are rarely damaged.
7. Price - The cost of natural fabrics is often higher than cheaper synthetic alternatives, especially for finer materials like silk.
There are different types of fibres and their uses. Thus, the choice between natural and synthetic fabrics involves tradeoffs. In many cases, natural fabrics still provide comfort, luxury, and sustainability advantages. With proper selection and care, high-quality natural fabrics remain famous for clothing, bedding, and other textile applications.
10 Different Types of Natural Fabrics
- Source: Cotton plant, the soft fibres surrounding the seeds
- Properties: Soft, breathable, absorbent, easy to dye
- Uses: Clothing, home furnishings, towels
Cotton is a soft, breathable natural fabric made from the fibres surrounding the seeds of the cotton plant. Some critical properties of cotton include the following:
- Soft and comfortable against the skin
- Breathable and moisture-wicking
- Absorbent, easy to dye
- Versatile and easy to clean
Cotton is one of the most widely used natural fabrics in clothing and textiles. It comes from the fibres surrounding the seeds of cotton plants. Cotton has a gentle texture, allows for good airflow, and effectively soaks moisture. It's also hypoallergenic, making it a good choice for people with sensitive skin. Cotton is used to make all kinds of clothing, from t-shirts to dress shirts, jeans, socks, and underwear. The major drawback of cotton is that it wrinkles easily.
- Source: Flax plant fibres
- Properties: Strong, absorbent, lightweight, resistant to dirt and stains
- Uses: Clothing, bedsheets, tablecloths
Linen cloth is produced using fibres derived from the flax plant. Some noteworthy properties of linen include:
- Lightweight and comfortable for warm weather
- Absorbent dries quickly
- Resistant to dirt and stains
- Durable and robust - becomes softer with use
Linen is a popular summer fabric for clothing, bedsheets, towels, tablecloths, bags, and furnishing accents. Linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant. It has natural hollow fibres that allow the linen to stay cool in hot weather and feel lightweight. Linen also doesn't cling and is absorbent. This fabric is valued for summer clothing, bed sheets, and tablecloths. Wrinkling is probably the biggest hassle with linen. It needs some ironing or steaming to look neat.
- Source: Silkworm cocoon filament
- Properties: Lightweight, smooth, lustrous
- Uses: Luxury clothing, bedding, upholstery
Silk is a natural protein fibre produced by silkworms that spin cocoons out of long silk fibre. Key qualities of silk include:
- Incredibly soft, delicate and smooth texture
- Lightweight, breathable and moisture-wicking
- Lustrous sheen with an elegant drape
- Strong and durable
Silk is a luxury fabric for clothing, bedding, upholstery, and decor accents. It is prized for its beauty and sensual feel. Natural silk has a luxurious, soft, and shiny texture. It is lightweight and breathable. Silk is often used for formal wear, lingerie, blouses, and nightgowns. It's susceptible to stains and sun damage, requiring more delicate care. The high cost of silk also makes it less accessible for many people.
- Source: Sheep hair fibres
- Properties: Warm, durable, wrinkle and flame resistant
- Uses: Clothing, blankets, rugs
Wool makes excellent clothing for cold weather, like sweaters, suits, socks and blankets. It is also used for furnishings like rugs and upholstery.
- Insulating and warm
- Durable, wrinkle and flame resistant
- Absorbs moisture without feeling damp
- Resilient - springs back into shape
The wool comes from the fur of animals like sheep, alpacas, and goats. It's warm and insulating, moisture-wicking, and durable. Wool garments like sweaters, coats, hats, and gloves are common in colder weather. Merino wool is popular for base layers and athletic wear because it wicks sweat away from the body well. Wool is naturally elastic, resistant to dirt, and flame retardant. The main downside is that wool can feel itchy for some.
- Source: Cannabis sativa plant fibres
- Properties: Durable, absorbent, antimicrobial, eco-friendly
- Uses: Clothing, furnishings, bags
Hemp makes clothing, bags, rope, carpeting and home textiles. It is valued for its durability and sustainability.
- Durable and resistant to rotting
- Absorbent, breathable and quick-drying
- Antimicrobial and hypoallergenic
Hemp fabric comes from the fibres of the cannabis sativa plant. It is very durable and absorbent. When blended with other natural fabrics like cotton, hemp fabric gets softer but retains strength. Hemp is antimicrobial, so it resists mould and mildew. Hemp fabric also gets softer over time. It's a more sustainable crop than cotton as it uses less water to grow. The main limitations are that 100% hemp fabric can initially feel stiff.
- Source: Animal rawhide/skins
- Properties: Durable, versatile, water-resistant
- Uses: Clothing, shoes, accessories
Leather is made from the tanned, dried, and dyed hides and skins of animals. It is very durable and flexible.
- Water-resistant and ages well
- Used for jackets, shoes, bags, furniture
- Has environmental impacts
Leather is water-resistant and gets softer over time. It makes jackets, shoes, bags, furniture, car seats, and more. Drawbacks are that leather tanning has environmental impacts, and genuine leather is expensive. Some people also object to leather for ethical reasons regarding animal rights.
- Source: Soft undercoat of cashmere goats
- Properties: Soft, delicate, lightweight, warm
- Uses: Luxury clothing, blankets, scarves
Cashmere wool comes from cashmere goats and certain types of rabbits. It has a featherlight quality and a smooth, velvety feel.
- Super soft and warm
- Used for sweaters, scarves, suits
- Expensive, delicate
Cashmere has excellent insulation, keeping wearers warm. It makes sweaters, scarves, suits, coats, and other luxurious garments. However, cashmere is one of the most expensive natural fabrics, as the source material is rare. It also requires gentler washing than sheep wool.
- Source: Bamboo plant fibres
- Properties: Breathable, moisture-wicking, thermal regulating, antibacterial
- Uses: Clothing, bedsheets, towels
Bamboo fabric comes from bamboo grass. Its fibres naturally wick moisture away from the body, and they are very soft and breathable
- From bamboo grass
- Moisture-wicking, antibacterial
- Used for dresses, blouses, sheets
- Production can use chemicals
Bamboo fabric drapes well and lends to dresses, blouses, and bed sheets. Bamboo is more sustainable to grow than cotton, not requiring fertilizers or pesticides. But not all bamboo fabric is made the same way; some use chemicals in processing.
- Source: Agave sisalana plant leaves
- Properties: Durable, coarse, absorbent, resistant to saltwater
- Uses: Ropes, rugs, baskets
Sisal comes from the stiff and wiry leaves of the agave sisalana plant. It is highly durable, coarse, and resistant to saltwater damage.
- Durable, coarse, scratchy
- Used for rope, rugs, bags
- Not suitable for skin contact
Sisal traditionally makes rope, rugs, and scratchy burlap bags. It isn't suitable for clothing that touches sensitive human skin. But sisal has unique applications like wall coverings, cat scratching posts, and plant stakes.
- Source: Jute plant stem fibres
- Properties: Strong, durable, breathable, biodegradable
- Uses: Bags, ropes, home textiles
Jute fibres come from the jute plant, in the same family as bamboo and hemp.
- Breathable, stretchy
- Used for sackcloth, rugs, twine
- Less durable than other fabrics
Jute is soft and stretchy but not as long-lasting as other natural fabrics. It is breathable, comfortable, and used for sackcloth, rugs, and twine. Lower-quality jute finds uses like erosion control mats. Higher grades make decorations, curtains, chairs, and ropes. Jute requires protection from water damage.
In conclusion, natural fabrics have unique benefits and drawbacks based on specific natural materials and production methods. Choosing a suitable natural fabric can provide excellent comfort, breathability, luxury, and sustainability. However, care must be taken to handle the tendency of some natural fabrics to wrinkle, shrink, stain, or be damaged by insects.
With proper selection and laundering care, natural fabrics like cotton, wool, silk, and linen continue to be wardrobe staples, as well as luxurious materials for bedding, upholstery, and other applications where their natural origins provide advantages over synthetic alternatives. The range and accessibility of natural fabric options make them enduringly popular for all kinds of uses.
There are intriguing lesser-known natural fabrics beyond the most common cotton, wool, silk, etc. Exploring the properties and advantages of leather, cashmere, bamboo, sisal, jute and more gives us insights into different sustainable materials to utilize. Our textile options expand tremendously when we look past the most ubiquitous natural fabrics.