Natural and Synthetic Materials

Topics: Wool, Silk, Dye Pages: 7 (2552 words) Published: November 12, 2012
Textiles are made up from natural or man-made fibres or a combination of both. “Fibres are thin, hair-like structures” (Blair, n.d: online) that are categorized into two types: long filament fibres and short staple fibres. Natural fibres are usually staple, whilst man-made fibres are filament, with the exception of silk that comes from a natural source. These raw fibres are spun to produce a long, continuous thread referred to as yarn, which is then used in a series of methods that include, stitching, knitting and weaving in order to produce a fabric. The content, construction and finish of a fabric can determine it’s aesthetic and functional qualities. This essay will explore the classifications and characteristics of fibres, yarns and fabrics, expanding on colouration and finishing techniques. (Udale, 2008)(Hallet & Johnston, 2010)(BBC Bitesize, 2011)

Natural fibres are produced and obtained from plants and animals; they are 100% biodegradable and contribute towards a greener planet. Cotton and linen are two of the most popular plant fibres recognized in the textile industry. Cotton is a soft fibre extracted from the seeds of the cotton plant; it is used to produce 40% of the world’s textiles from clothing apparel to home furnishings. It is durable, absorbent and provides natural ventilation, which is useful in hot weather. Linen comes from the stalk of the flax plant and has similar properties to cotton but is less flexible and will crease a lot easier. With more than 70% used in apparel, linen is a popular favourite in summer as it washes well, is highly absorbent and dries easily, allowing the wearer to feel cool and fresh. (Corbman, 1983)(Udale, 2008)(IYNF, 2009)

Animal fibres such as wool and silk are also widely recognized in the textile industry. Wool is a soft, springy fibre that grows from the skin of sheep and various other animals. “Merino sheep produce the finest and most valuable wool” (Udale, 2008: p.43) in comparison to other breeds. Merino wool has a versatile nature because of its ability to absorb moisture and regulate body temperature. The crimp in the wool adds bulk, creating tiny ‘air pockets’ that can trap and retain body heat, acting as an insulator during cold conditions. In warmer conditions, these air pockets will act as a barrier against external heat, whilst the hollow fibres absorb perspiration aiding the body’s natural cooling system. Wool is prone to shrink when washed in hot water and can also pill with excessive wear, but it has many other desirable qualities that often give it an expensive price tag. It is inflammable, crease resistant and very strong, deflecting water and odour. The quality of the wool will depend on the breed of sheep or animal producing it, with some wools feeling coarser than others. “Very fine quality wool is used to make high-end fabrics for use in luxury garments… Coarser wool is used for heavy blankets, topcoats, outerwear, and upholstery products” (Sierra trading post Inc, 2011: online). Cashmere and mohair are extremely soft, luxury wool fabrics produced from certain breeds of goat; the Alpaca and Angora rabbit are animals that also produce smooth, luxury wools. (Woolsports Clothing U.S.A, 2011)(Sierra Trading post Inc 2011)

Silk is a delicate fibre sourced from the cocoon of the silkworm. The cocoon is made up of a liquid silk produced from the insect that hardens to form a filament. This long, continuous thread that can measure up to 1500 meters in length, is spun around the insect for protection (IYNF, 2009). A highly sought after fabric, silk is “lustrous, smooth, lightweight, strong and elastic” (Corbman, 1983: p.8); it has good drape and like wool, can regulate body temperature. There are two main types of silk: cultivated silk and wild silk. Cultivated silk is a lot smoother, finer and stronger than wild silk, as the larva inside is killed before hatching; this preserves the filament to be unravelled as a continuous thread. Its properties have...
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