Fabrics 101

In order to make fabric, the first requirement is a source of fiber from which a yarn can be made, primarily by spinning. The yarn is processed by knitting or weaving, which turns the yarn into cloth. The machine used for weaving is the loom. For decoration, the process of coloring yarn or the finished material is called dyeing.

Typical textile processing includes 4 stages: yarn formation, fabric formation, wet processing, and fabrication or finishing.

The three main types of fibers include natural vegetable fibers (such as cotton, linen, jute and hemp), man-made fibers (those made artificially, but from natural raw materials such as rayon, acetate, Modal, cupro, and the more recently developed Lyocell), manufactured or synthetic fibers (a subset of man-made fibers, which are based on synthetic chemicals rather than arising from natural chemicals by a purely physical process) and protein based fibers (such as wool, silk, and angora).

NATURAL VEGETABLE BASED FABRICS are created from plants' seeds, leaves, and stems.

Natural Vegetable Fabrics include:
Cotton - Fibers from the cotton plant’s seed pod
Linen - Linen is from flax, a bast fiber taken from the stalk of the plant
Hemp, Ramie, and Jute - All of these are similar to linen but the plants are processed differently.

Man-Made fabrics made from natural raw materials (cellulose) include:
Rayon
Acetate
Modal
Cupro
Lyocell

Cellulose fibers are manufactured from dissolving a bleached wood pulp.

MANUFACTURED OR SYNTHETIC FABRICS are usually made of filaments extruded as liquid and formed into various fibers. Because the fiber starts as a liquid, many of the fibers are colored before they become filament, thus they are difficult to dye after the fiber is woven into a fabric.

Synthetic Fabrics include:
Polyester
Nylon
Acrylic
Spandex

PROTEIN BASED FABRICS are made from the fibers of animal coats, and silkworm cocoons

Protein based fabrics include:
Wool - Fibers from animal coats: Sheep, goats, rabbits, alpacas, llama...
Silk - Fibers from the cocoon of the silkworm

FABRIC PRODUCTION METHODS

Weaving is a textile production method which involves interlacing a set of longer threads (called the warp) with a set of crossing threads (called the weft). This is done on a frame or machine known as a loom, of which there are a number of types. Some weaving is still done by hand, but the vast majority is mechanized.

Knitting and crocheting involve interlacing loops of yarn, which are formed either on a knitting needle or on a crochet hook, together in a line. The two processes are different in that knitting has several active loops at one time, on the knitting needle waiting to interlock with another loop, while crocheting never has more than one active loop on the needle.

Braiding or plaiting involves twisting threads together into cloth. Knotting involves tying threads together and is used in making macrame.

Lace is made by interlocking threads together independently, using a backing and any of the methods described above, to create a fine fabric with open holes in the work. Lace can be made by either hand or machine.

Carpets, rugs, velvet, velour, and velveteen, are made by interlacing a secondary yarn through woven cloth, creating a tufted layer known as a nap or pile.

Felting involves pressing a mat of fibers together, and working them together until they become tangled. A liquid, such as soapy water, is usually added to lubricate the fibers, and to open up the microscopic scales on strands of wool.

Nonwoven textiles are manufactured by the bonding of fibers to make fabric. Bonding may be thermal, mechanical or adhesives can be used.