In the fabric of our everyday lives, there exists an unsung hero, intrinsically woven into the tapestry of our moments, memories, and milestones – textile fiber. Unraveling the threads and yarns of your favorite clothes and home furnishings, you’ll find these intricate strands, the backbone of the textile industry. But what is a textile fiber, and how is it classified?
Let’s embark on an enlightening journey into the world of these miniature masters of versatility and durability, exploring their classifications, origins, and the pivotal role they play in shaping our reality.
What Is a Textile Fiber?
A textile fiber is defined as an aggregate of natural or synthetic filaments, fibers, or yarns used to produce various fabrics. The type and quality of textile fiber used in fabric production significantly impact the resulting textile’s overall feel, durability, and strength.
Natural textile fibers are sourced from plants, animals, and minerals and are generally valued for their comfort, breathability, and softness. The most common natural fibers include cotton, wool, silk, and linen.
- Cotton’s excellent absorbency and breathability make it a popular choice for warm-weather clothing.
- Wool is more commonly used for winter wear due to its insulating properties.
- Silk, widely considered a luxury fiber, is prized for its softness and lustrous appearance.
- Linen is highly durable and known for its lightweight and breathable attributes.
Alternatively, synthetic textile fibers are man-made and produced through chemical processes. Polyester, nylon, and acrylic are among the most popular synthetic fibers and are used extensively in the fashion industry for their durability, resilience, and affordability.
- Polyester is lightweight and breathable yet retains its shape well.
- Nylon is strong, stretchy, and water-resistant.
- Acrylic, a synthetic alternative to wool, is less expensive yet offers similar warmth and softness.
Remember, the resulting fabric’s intended use determines the textile fiber choice. For example, fabrics used for medical purposes require different properties than those used for fashion. Natural fibers are often preferred for personal wear due to their breathability and skin-friendliness. In contrast, synthetic fibers find more use in industrial and technical applications due to their resistance to wear, tear, and chemical damage.
Types of Fiber in Textile: How Is a Textile Fiber Classified?
Textile fibers can be broadly divided into two categories as per source of origin:
- Natural Fibers
- Synthetic or Man-Made Fibers
[Note: The International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) divides textile fibers into four main classes based on their origin: animal, mineral, synthetic, and plant.]
Here, I will discuss each category’s fibers, properties, usage, durability, manufacturing process, pros, cons, and other specifications.
Natural fibers are derived from plants, minerals, or animals. In these three sub-categories, many fibers are there, such as cotton, hemp, wool, etc. Let’s know them-
Cotton: Natural Fibers from Plants
Cotton, a highly sought-after and adaptable natural fiber, finds widespread usage across various industries, including sustainable textile manufacturers. These fibers are derived from cotton plants, specifically growing from the seed coat that encases the seeds of the plant. To transform them into products like sheets or t-shirts, the cotton seeds need to be carefully separated from the plant, followed by the fibers’ extraction.
Cotton fabrics are renowned for their softness, breathability, absorbency, and durability, making them a popular choice for clothing and home furnishings. However, cotton fabric has minimal elasticity, is less resilient, and is prone to wrinkling. Additionally, it is susceptible to damage from insects, mildew, rot, and moths. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can also weaken the fabric.
Cotton is extensively utilized in various textile products, including woven and knitted apparel. It also finds application in home textiles such as bath towels, bath robes, and bed covers. Cotton is commonly blended with other fibers such as rayon, polyester, and spandex for enhanced properties.
Linen: Natural Fiber from Plant
The flax plant, commonly known as Linum usitatissimum, is the primary source of linen fibers. These strong yet lightweight fibers are renowned for their excellent absorbency and breathability, making them popular for warm-season clothes. However, they tend to wrinkle easily and have low resilience.
Linen finds widespread usage in clothing items such as shirts, dresses, and skirts. It is also used to produce home furnishings such as curtains, tablecloths, and bedding items like sheets and blankets. In terms of blended fabrics, linen is often mixed with cotton or synthetic fibers like polyester for enhanced elasticity.
Wool: Natural Fiber from Animal
Wool fibers are derived from domesticated animals such as sheep, goats, and camels. The individual fibers are composed of keratin protein, making them strong yet elastic and lightweight. Wool fabrics are renowned for their insulating properties, breathability, flame resistance, and excellent moisture absorbency.
Wool is extensively used in the textile industry for various clothing items such as sweaters and tailored suits. It also finds application in home furnishings like carpets and rugs. This fabric has a good elasticity. Wool also has excellent resilience and can be washed without losing its shape or texture, making it a great choice for clothing items that are frequently laundered.
Silk: Natural Fiber from Insects
Silk fibers are derived from cocoons of silkworms, typically found in the Bombyx mori species. These fine, luxurious fibers are renowned for their strength and luster. Silk is renowned for its softness, smooth texture, excellent breathability, and shine, making it a popular choice for luxury clothing items such as kimonos and lingerie.
Silk applies in various apparel categories, including coats, blouses, shirts, skirts, sarees, and trousers. Additionally, it is used in home furnishing products like bedding and throws. This remarkable fabric is not only lightweight and durable but also exhibits the ability to regain up to 11% of its moisture. However, it may lose up to 20% of its strength when wet. Given its delicate nature, silk necessitates delicate handling and should be exclusively dry-cleaned.
Hemp: Natural Fiber from Plant
Hemp is an annual herbaceous plant, Cannabis Sativa L., and a member of the Cannabaceae family. It is cultivated for its strong, durable fibers, which are used to produce textiles. Hemp fibers are known for their superior strength and elasticity, making them ideal for use in garments, home furnishings, and various technical applications such as rope, insulation material for cars, etc.
Hemp fabrics are known for their breathability, insulation properties, and wrinkle resistance. They exhibit a moderate level of absorbency, making them suitable for use in both hot and cold weather. Hemp is also highly resistant to UV radiation, mold, and mildew. Due to its strength and durability, it is often blended with other fabrics, such as cotton or linen, to enhance its properties. Additionally, hemp fabrics are sustainable and eco-friendly with minimal environmental impact.
Jute: Natural Fiber from Plant
Jute is a long, soft, and shiny vegetable fiber that is obtained from the stem of Corchorus olitorius plants. It is primarily grown in India and Bangladesh. Jute fibers are renowned for their strength, lightness, and glossy appearance.
Made using jute fibers, the fabric has excellent breathability and moisture-retaining properties, making it an ideal choice for clothing and home furnishings such as curtains, upholstery, carpets, and bedding items.
Jute is also used to produce accessories like wallets, bags, belts, etc. Jute fabrics are highly resistant to abrasion and dirt but may shrink when exposed to high temperatures. Furthermore, it is a sustainable fabric with minimal environmental impact and is biodegradable.
Bamboo: Natural Fiber from Plant
Bamboo fabric is derived from the stems of Moso bamboo plants, which are commonly found in Asia. It is also called bamboo rayon, yarn, retting, or linen. This fabric is composed of semi-synthetic viscose cellulose that is extracted from bamboo or yarn made from bamboo fibers.
The fibers are renowned for their superior softness, breathability, and moisture-retaining properties. Additionally, they have excellent tensile strength and antibacterial properties due to the presence of bamboo kun, a natural bactericidal substance found in the plant.
Bamboo fabric predominantly produces clothing items like t-shirts, trousers, and bedding products such as sheets and pillowcases. It also finds applications in various technical applications, such as filtration media and insulation materials. Also, it is often blended with other fibers like cotton to enhance its properties. Bamboo fabric is sustainable and biodegradable, making it an eco-friendly choice for clothing items.
Asbestos: Natural Fiber from Mineral
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber derived from serpentine and amphibole rocks. It is composed of thin, strong fibers which are highly resistant to heat and corrosion. Asbestos fibers were once widely used in the textile industry for their strength and fire insulation properties.
However, asbestos has been banned in many countries since the late 1980s due to its carcinogenic nature. Today, asbestos fibers are usually found in industrial products like brake pads and fire blankets. Moreover, these fibers are still used in certain building materials, such as insulation and roofing shingles, for their heat-resistant properties. Asbestos is an extremely hazardous material and should be handled with utmost care to avoid health risks posed by inhalation of the dust particles.
Apart from all these, some other natural fibers are also there. Natural fibers include Kapok, Ramie, Sisal, Coir, Pina, and Hair. All of them have advantages and disadvantages, so it is up to the user to choose the one that best suits their needs.
Synthetic or Man-Made Fibers
Synthetic fibers are man-made using chemicals. Polyester and nylon are at the top of this list. So, let’s learn about some of the best man-made textile fibers.
Polyester: Synthetic Fiber from Petroleum
Polyester is a synthetic polymer derived from petroleum-based chemicals. In combination with other fabrics, polyester is widely used in clothing, furniture upholstery, and automotive fabrics. The fiber-forming substance in polyester primarily comprises an ester of a substituted aromatic carboxylic acid. It exhibits thermoplastic properties, good strength, and hydrophobic characteristics. Polyester is known for its durability, wrinkle resistance, and minimal shrinkage when exposed to heat and moisture.
Polyester finds extensive use in various technical applications, including insulation materials and industrial filtration media. Polyester is relatively affordable compared to other fabrics and offers the advantage of easy dyeing, allowing for the creation of vibrant colors.
It is widely applied in the production of woven and knitted fabrics, as well as shirts, pants, jackets, hats, and more. Polyester also plays a significant role in home furnishing and is used for bed sheets, blankets, upholstered furniture, and cushioning materials.
Nylon: Synthetic Fiber from Petroleum
Nylon is another synthetic polymer like polyester. The difference is that nylon is made from polyamides derived from petroleum, while polyester is made from esters of substituted aromatic acids.
Nylon is renowned for its exceptional strength, flexibility, and resistance to abrasion and UV radiation. This remarkable fiber also boasts resistance to insects, fungi, mildew, and rot. The apparel industry finds widespread use in producing pantyhose, stockings, and leggings. Additionally, it serves a crucial role in manufacturing industrial items such as parachutes, tire cords, ropes, and airbags.
Spandex: Synthetic Fiber from Polyurethane
Spandex is a synthetic elastomeric fiber derived from polyurethane. It exhibits superior elasticity, allowing it to stretch and easily return to its original form.
Spandex fibers are widely used in the apparel industry for producing swimwear, sportswear, lingerie, stockings, and more. This fiber also finds application in furniture upholstery and other technical items like bandages, elastic straps, and surgical gloves.
Spandex is known for its superior strength, durability, and wrinkle resistance. It is also highly resistant to abrasion, chlorine, heat, and bacteria. Furthermore, spandex fabrics are quick-drying and breathable due to their lightweight construction.
Acrylic: Synthetic Fiber from Polyacrylonitrile
Acrylic is a synthetic fiber derived from acrylic acid. It is lightweight, soft, and possesses good thermal insulation properties. Acrylic fibers are renowned for their superior strength, durability, and wrinkle resistance. Additionally, they also exhibit excellent water-repellent characteristics due to their hydrophobic nature.
Due to its numerous advantages, acrylic fabrics find use in manufacturing apparel like sweaters, hats, and gloves. Furthermore, they are also used for upholstery fabrics, carpets, and blankets. Acrylic fibers are often blended with other natural or synthetic materials, such as cotton, to improve their overall characteristics.
These all were some of the top synthetic textile fibers. But there are some more. For example, metallic fiber, rubber fiber, glass fiber, etc.
Textile Fibers: Other Than Natural and Synthetic Fibers
Apart from exact natural and synthetic fibers, there are some semi-synthetic and semi-natural fibers.
Modal: Synthetic Fiber from Beech Wood
Modal is a semi-synthetic fiber derived from beech tree cellulose. It is made through a process called spinning, which involves breaking down the wood pulp into fibers that can be woven or knitted into fabrics.
Modal fabric offers superior strength and comfort compared to cotton fabrics and excellent drape and wrinkle resistance. Additionally, it is known for its softness, colorfastness, and resistance to pilling.
Modal is widely used in the apparel industry for producing lingerie, outerwear, activewear, loungewear, and more. It can also be blended with other fabrics, such as cotton or nylon, to create unique fabric textures. Furthermore, modal finds applications in upholstery fabrics and bed linens due to its superior properties.
Lyocell: Semi-Synthetic Fiber from Wood Pulp
Lyocell is a semi-synthetic fiber derived from wood pulp cellulose. It is made through a chemical process called solvent spinning, where wood pulp is broken down into tiny fibers. These fibers are then formed into yarn for weaving or knitting fabric the distinguishing feature of lyocell is its high strength and softness, which makes it a great alternative to cotton.
Additionally, lyocell fiber offers superior drape and wrinkle resistance compared to other fabrics. It also has excellent moisture-wicking properties, making it perfect for creating breathable fabric blends.
Lyocell is used in the apparel industry for producing activewear, loungewear, and lingerie. Its strength and softness can also be used for bedding fabrics and upholstery. Furthermore, it is often blended with other natural or synthetic materials, such as cotton or polyester, to create unique fabric textures.
FAQs on Textile Fiber
How Is Textile Fiber Made?
Textile fiber is made from natural or synthetic materials. Natural fibers are derived from plants and animals, while synthetic fibers are produced through chemical processes such as polymerization and condensation. The process of making textile fiber varies depending on the type of material used.
What is textile fiber used for?
Textile fibers are used for a variety of applications, from apparel to home furnishing. These fibers are often used in the apparel industry to make shirts, pants, jackets, hats, and more. Textiles can also be used for bedding fabrics and upholstery due to their softness and strength. Furthermore, they can be blended with other natural or synthetic materials to create unique fabric textures.
To learn more you may check out the below video content.
Now you have a detailed understanding of what is a textile fiber and its classification. Textile fibers can be classified into natural and synthetic fibers, as well as semi-synthetic and semi-natural. Natural fibers include cotton, wool, linen, silk, hemp, jute, etc. Synthetic fibers are derived from petroleum or petrochemicals and include polyester, nylon, spandex, acrylic, and others.
Additionally, some semi-synthetic and semi-natural fibers, such as modal and lyocell, are derived from wood pulp. Each fiber has unique characteristics that make it suitable for specific applications in the apparel industry or other industries like upholstery and bedding.