We have been producing textiles for thousands of years using natural fibers such as cotton, linen and silk. Natural fibers are those that exist in nature. For example, cotton fibers are those that house the cotton seeds, and silk fibers are fibers secreted by the silkworm to produce its cocoon. Other natural fibers include linen and wool.
Cotton fabric is produced from the fibers that house the cotton seeds of the cotton plant. It’s one of the oldest known fibers used in the production of textiles dating back to 5000BC in India and Egypt before spreading to the rest of the world.
Cotton is breathable, light, and drapes well on the body. This is a great fabric to use in warm weather (especially for light summer dresses) but not all cotton fabrics are created equally. There are different types and qualities of cotton.
Produced with short cotton fibers. It is not as strong or luxurious as o cotton fabrics that use long cotton fibers such as Pima and Egyptian cotton.
Pima and Egyptian cotton:
Pima is a variety of extra-long staple cotton. The long fibers make Pima cotton strong, soft, and smooth resulting in a very luxurious fabric. It is less prone to pilling and fading so produces garments that will last a long time.
Egyptian cotton is similar to Pima cotton. It is also a variety of extra-long staple cotton. It's is equal to Pima cotton in softness and performance. The only difference is Egyptian cotton is grown in the Nile Valley in Egypt.
Linen is produced from naturally occurring fibers in the flex plant stems. Linen clothing unlike cotton does not retain moisture allowing your body to stay dry and cool in the summer heat. It looks elegant and more luxurious than cotton. Linen tends to be more expensive than cotton and difficult to care for as it tends to wrinkle a lot.
Like cotton, there are several types and qualities of linen on the market.
This type of linen is composed of a close weave and often has a higher thread count. It feels heavier to the touch and has an un-textured appearance.
Loosely woven Linen:
This type of linen is not durable, but it is very absorbent. For these reasons, it is most commonly used in the production of reusable diapers and sanitary napkins.
Plain woven Linen:
Used in the production of towels of various types, such as dish and hand towels.
Damask linen is ornate and delicate. During the weaving process, patterns are weaved into the fabric giving it its unique embroidered and ornate look.
Wool is a fabric made from the hairs of Sheep or Lamb. Hairs of other animals such as Alpacas and Kashmir goats are also used in the manufacturing of wool but these are generally referred to as specialty wools. Like cotton wool is a naturally occurring fiber but the difference is that wool is not plant-based.
Wool fibers trap air and provide natural insulation keeping the wearer of wool clothing warm and comfortable in cold and humid weather. Wool is expensive and does not react well to heat (i.e. Can’t be washed at high temperatures or dried in the drier). Wool does not wrinkle but if not processed well the fabric will pill and look worn out after a couple of washes.
Following are examples of different types of wool and specialty wools found in the market:
Wool produced from the lambs first shedding.
This is the most common type of wool produced. It’s made from the wool of Merino sheep.
Is made from the hair of the cashmere goats, originally bred in the Kashmir region. China is the leading producer of this fabric today. Cashmere wool is softer, finer, lighter, and stronger making it more expensive than traditional wool.
Alpacas are a close relative of the Lama from the Andes. Alpaca wool is lighter and warmer than sheep wool and it’s Hypoallergenic.
Has a hollow core which makes it warmer and lighter weight than traditional wool.
Is produced from the hairs of the Angora rabbit. Like Llama wool, Angora wool is also hollow making it warmer than traditional wool. It is also more luxurious and expensive than wool.
Silk is made from the fibers produced by the silkworm. More specifically, from the fibroin protein present in the secretions of the worm to make its cocoon. Silk is an expensive fabric that is in high demand due to its unique properties. It’s one of the strongest natural fabrics, yet it is very lightweight. It drapes well on the body and is very absorbent. Silk fibers reflect light giving it a lovely shine.
During silk production, the silkworm is killed, except for in the production of Eri silk. Unfortunately, the production of this type of silk remains low.
There are several types of silk, such as Silk Satin, Silk Georgette, and Silk chiffon.
Satin is a method of weaving fabric. It gives the fabric a signature shine and flow. Many natural and synthetic fibers are used in making satin fabric. However, silk satin is the most expensive.
Silk Georgette is a crepe-like fabric similar to silk chiffon but it's not as sheer as chiffon due to the tighter weave. A fun fact about this fabric is that it is named after a famous French dressmaker Georgette de la Plante.
Silk chiffon is an exceptionally thin, soft-to-touch, and moderately shiny fabric. It's used all year round to make both casual and formal wear. It looks exceptionally beautiful in evening and summer dresses.
All natural fibers are bio degradable but they are not necessarily ethical or sustainable. For example silk worms are killed in the production of silk and cotton requires a large amount of water and pesticides. If you would like to see the environmental impact review of of some of these fibers please consult the fiber eco review at sustainyourstyle.org. https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/fiber-ecoreview. They evaluate fibers based on water consumption, soil erosion, bio degradability, use of chemicals and GMOs and energy consumption.
In the next blog post we will dive in to semi-synthetic and synthetic fibers.