Knowledge about different fibers and materials that clothes are made of is extremely useful and can come in handy when looking for a specific piece of clothing. It is practical to have an idea of what maintenance this gorgeous dress you spotted will require or how the fabric will behave in the future. Will it wrinkle after 5 minutes or will you sweat in it after walking two blocks?
Knowledge of fabric is only one side of being an aware customer. You can also do a research on the clothing companies, if you are interested in fair trade and ethics. Furthermore, it helps to know whether the shop assistants are fooling you into buying the dress, telling you that this 100% silk fabric is very low maintenance. And believe me, there are many incompetent shop assistants out there.
The basic fibers division
Below, I present to you the most important materials that you can encounter. This is the common division to natural materials and chemical materials. There are, of course, some differences and mixed opinions about this kind of division but the vast majority is accurate and I will stick to this one.
Most of us can distinguish some of the materials by touching them. But can you tell the difference between artificial and synthetic fibers? It is often said that you should always choose natural fibers and avoid the chemical fibers at all costs. However, those two groups are distinct because of the way they are processed.
Artificial fibers are all made of cellulose, which naturally occurs in trees. I will write about artificial fibers’ properties in separate articles. As for synthetic fibers, they are made from petroleum, natural gas and coal. Those are the fabrics that are supposed to be bad for you. Nevertheless, there is also a positive side to them and I will write about that in the future as well.
Apart from the basic division presented above, there are also mixes of fabrics or other names of the fabric. I’m sure you encountered it at one point reading the labels. There is cashgora, tencel, lycra, and many others. They are either trademarks (fabrics created by fabric producers) or different names for the same fabric (for example lycra is elastane).
Mixing different fibers together to create a new one aims at improving the quality, strength, comfort of wearing and maintenance of the new fiber, etc. When mixing two fibers, the goal is to take only the positive properties of the two and eliminate the negative ones, for example wrinkling.
In the next articles, I will talk about different fabrics, starting with natural fibers.