What Different Eco & Non Eco Fibres & Fabrics Feel & Look Like, Their Features, & What They Can Be Used For

What Different Fibres & Fabrics Feel & Look Like, Their Features, & What They Can Be Used For (Both Eco, & Non Eco Fibres)

In this quick guide, we’ve listed a few different eco and non eco fibres and fabrics, and identified how they might look, feel, their features/qualities, and what different products they might be used for.

 

First – A Note About The Look, Feel, Features & Use Of Different Eco & Non Eco Fibres & Fabrics

The following guide contains generalisations only.

Different fibres are produced by different producers, who all have their own growing and/or production processes – which can affect the final features of the fibre (e.g. not all bamboos are the same, just as not all cottons are the same).

On top of that, a fibre supplier might supply a fibre to a fabric manufacturer, and they might blend one fibre with another e.g. lyocell with cotton. With blended/mixed fibres, you’re obviously going to get a different look and feel than if you were buying a 100% individual fibre/fabric.

Constantly developing technology is also going to change how different fibres look and feel, and their final features.

The best way to find out what you are buying and to know what to expect is to:

  • Look on a fibre producer’s website and find out how they produce their fibres, and look at their FAQ section for info on how their fibres might look and feel, and the different qualities they have
  • Look at the label or product description of the product you are buying to see what fibres or yarns it’s made of, and in what %’s
  • Find out where a product seller buys their fabric products from, and where that fabric manufacturer sources their fibres from 
  • Touch and feel the product yourself physically in person 
  • If online, read the product description and contact the seller beforehand with any questions you might have. Generally, the best sellers answer a lot of your questions in their descriptions and FAQs of their fibres and products, and/or have certifications (such as GOTS, Oeko Tek 100 etc.) listed where necessary. TENCEL for example has lists of sustainability certifications on their websites for their Lyocell and Modal fibres
  • See whether the manufacturer or seller provides any results for tests done on their fibres for things like UV resistance, anti pilling, anti bacteria properties etc.
  • Note that a fibre might perform differently or better on one type of product compared to another. For example, a jute rug might perform worse than a jute bag in terms of durability due to the type of activities each product is used for

 

Features You Might Want To Be Aware Of With Different Fabrics & Fibres

  • How It Looks
  • How It Feels
  • Range Of Colors
  • Breathability
  • Ability To Absorb Moisture
  • Ability To Regulate Temperature
  • UV Resistance
  • Anti Bacterial Properties
  • How It Sits On The Body
  • How Strong It Is
  • How Durable It Is (how long it lasts)
  • Whether It Pills Or Wrinkles
  • How Good It Is For Sensitive Or Allergy Sensitive Skin 
  • Whether It Carries Static
  • How Easy It Is To Clean, Iron & Maintain
  • Whether It Can Be Blended With Other Fibres
  • How Much It Costs
  • What Products It’s Used In, & Works Best In

 

Natural vs Regenerated vs Synthetic Fibres

As a very general and brief generalisation of the look and feel and qualities of each:

  • Natural fibres generally breathe better, regulate temperature better, and absorb moisture better, but may wrinkle more or be less durable long term to wearing, washing and drying than synthetic fibres
  • Regenerated fibres might be a mix of the two – depending on how it’s processed and by who
  • Synthetic fibres generally can be made to be wrinkle, stretch, and shrink resistant. They can be very durable to wearing and washing/drying. They can dry very quickly. They don’t breath or absorb moisture as good as natural fibres though (although technology is always being developed to increase wicking capability to deal with this)

There’s obviously huge differences environmentally and sustainably with how they are each made in the production phase and growing phase too.

 

Polyester

A man made/synthetic fibre made from a base of petrochemicals or natural gas, and are essentially a plastic.

It can be engineered to provide many qualities natural fibres can’t provide

There’s several different types of Polyester, with PET being a main one.

What It Looks & Feels Like

  • Can Have A Silky Look
  • Durable
  • Strength Can Vary – strength can vary greatly because it can be controlled by how much drawing (stretching) occurs during production. It can go from 2.5 grams/denier to 9.5 grams/denier
  • Resistant To Shrinkage & Stretching
  • Washed Easily & Dries Easily
  • Wrinkle and Mildew Resistant
  • Water Repellent
  • Doesn’t Tend To Breathe Or Absorb Moisture As Well As Natural Fibres – generally has low levels of wicking
  • Not As Good For Summer Clothing Unless Used In Swimming Apparel For Example – not as much for day to day wear as it doesn’t breathe as well
  • Polyester Like Terivoile Can Breath Better
  • Chemical and Tear/Abrasion Resistant 
  • Can Have Static and Pilling problems

 

What It’s Used For

  • Most types of fashion – men’s, women’s, childrens
  • Home fashion too
  • + more

– ecofashionsewing.com, and barnhardtcotton.net

Synthetic fibres like polyester are the most widely used fibres in the textile industry, followed by cotton.

 

Cotton

One of the main produced and consumed fibres along with polyester. Cotton is a natural fibre from the cotton plant

What It Looks & Feels Like

  • Comfortable and Soft – because of the natural nature of cotton lint
  • Absorbent – because the fibres in cotton have more space in between them than in some other fabrics
  • Takes Colors Well, Good Color Retention, and Prints Well – absorbs colors well, retain them well and easy to modify from a production perspective
  • Machine-Washable, Dry-Cleanable
  • Good Strength
  • Drapes Well
  • Easy to Handle and Sew
  • Breathable & Absorbs Moisture – like many natural fibres tend to do
  • More Of A Fluffy/Solid Look Than A Silky Look (unlike silk, or TENCEL for example)

 

What It’s Used For

  • All Kinds of Fabrics – both apparel and home fashion
  • Mens & Womens Clothing
  • + more

– fabriclink.com

Cotton along with synthetic fibres like polyester are the most widely used fibres in the textiles industry.

 

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is generally cotton that comes from a non GMO seed and uses natural and sustainable farming methods and chemicals, over synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and production chemicals

 

Organic cotton shares many similar features to regular cotton.

Obviously, a certified cotton product (GOTS certified), is going to contain no synthetic pesticide or fertilizer, or certain types of synthetic production chemicals – which is good for people with sensitive skin and allergies.

 

  • [Something some other people say is that] organic cotton products are softer than regular cotton because of the longer fibers. Being handpicked ensures these fibers don’t get weakened or broken, resulting in softer and more durable products

– sleepsherpa.com

 

Clothing made from organic cottons have the feel of linen without the weight. Since natural cottons are not chemically stripped of its natural wax, most weaves have a characteristic smoothness and weight which makes the fabric particularly flattering in its drape and in the mellow way it reflects and absorbs light

Natural cotton garments are sometimes offered in limited colors because traditional dyes are made from chemicals that must be avoided

– simplififabric.com

 

An organic cotton supplier like Organiccottonplus.com might outline what sort of fibres/fabrics are suitable for different sorts of cotton fabric products  

 

Bamboo

Bamboo grows from the bamboo plant, and is a natural fibre

However, whether it stays fully natural depends on whether it’s mechanically processed, or chemically processed.

Chemically processed bamboo fibre is more of a regenerated or semi-synthetic fibre.

Most bamboo is chemically processed though because it’s cheaper, easier and quicker to produce.

 

What It Looks & Feels Like

  • Soft, Silky Look & Feel – some bamboo shirts for example are claimed to be twice as soft as cotton
  • Takes Colors Well – some bamboo shirts fro example are claimed to be 3 degrees cooler than cotton
  • Breathability & Moisture Control – fibres wick moisture away from your body
  • Can Be A Clean Fibre For Those With Sensitive Skin – some companies that sell bamboo garments say their viscose bamboo doesn’t use harsh chemicals or pesticides and can help prevent skin irritations that can flare up with other chemically treated fabrics.

– cariloha.com

 

  • Pilling – Can be prone to pilling – this is the small ball like texture that develops on the surface of some fabrics after being washed and worn
  • Anti Bacterial Properties – Can lose anti bacterial properties after chemical production
  • UV Resistance Properties – Can lose UV resistance after chemical production

– sustainablefashion.com.au, and elkieark.com

 

What It’s Used For

  • Mattresses
  • Bedding
  • Bath
  • Men’s Clothing
  • Women’s Clothing
  • Other Soft Fabrics & Linens
  • Bamboo can also be used in it’s hard wood form for other products

 

Organic Bamboo

Organic bamboo can generally be used for many of the things normal bamboo can be.

Note though, that there is no real certification for organic bamboo right now – GOTS certification doesn’t certify bamboo right now.

Organic bamboo might be mechanically processed (instead of chemically processed), or it might have a process where the chemicals used in production are captured with wastewater and re-used.

The company selling the bamboo cellulose sourced product would have to specifically outline this is the case though and tell you how they do it.

You’d also want to see if they carried out testing to see how many chemicals are left on the final bamboo product after production, and whether the bamboo retains certain features like anti bacterial properties or UV resistant properties (that haven’t been stripped away by processing chemicals..

 

Hemp

Hemp is a natural fibre that comes from the Cannabis sativa plant. Sisal hemp and Manila hemp (also known as Abaca) are lower quality hemp fibers.

Some say that it can have a harsh or a more ‘hippy’ look to it, so might be best blended with other fibres like cotton, silk, wool, polyester etc.

What It Looks & Feels Like

  • Strong – can be up to three times stronger than cotton
  • Durable – good abrasion resistance/very durable
  • Anti-microbial – Naturally resistant to mold, mildew, rot
  • UV resistance
  • Readily takes dyes – for different colors
  • Good for washing – softens with each washing, without fiber degradation
  • Breathable – good wicking
  • Washable or dry cleanable
  • Wrinkles easily/poor resiliency
  • Poor drapeability
  • Not as soft as other fibers

 

What It’s Used For

  • Many types of apparel – men’s, women’s, childrens
  • Many types of home fashion and decor

– fabriclink.com

 

Linen/Flax

A natural vegetable/plant fibre made from the flax plant.

What It Looks & Feels Like

  • Can Have A Fine Or Luxury Look To It – for the best quality linen
  • Soft
  • Comfortable
  • Good strength – can be up to twice as strong as cotton
  • Hand-washable or dry-cleanable
  • Tailors Well
  • Absorbent
  • Dyes and Prints well
  • Lightweight to Heavyweight
  • No Static or Pilling Problems
  • Fair Abrasion Resistance

What It’s Used For

  • Different types of apparel and clothing
  • Home fashion
  • + more

– fabriclink.com

 

Organic Linen/Flax

Not a super common fibre.

 

  • Is dew-retted to soften the fibres (without the environmental damage of common dam retting), before being scutched to draw each stem into long flaxen strands.
  • Uses no irrigation, no GMOs, no toxic pesticides.
  • Processed and spun in an organic way.

Read more about organic linen at elkieark.com

 

TENCEL – Lyocell

What It Looks & Feels Like

  • Has A Sheen Type, Vibrant Appearance – deeper dye uptake and smooth fiber surface of TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers make them shine perceptibly more intensively than cotton fabrics. The color vibrancy is also good
  • Drapes Over Body, & Flatters Body – because Lyocell is so smooth and soft, it drapes over the skin instead of sticking to it
  • Retain Color – pigments are deeply embedded into TENCEL™ Modal fibers, which retain long-lasting color vibrancy more than conventionally dyed fibers, and are less prone to fade even after repeated washing
  • Good Strength – for a cellulose fibre, Lyocell is durable and has a long-lasting quality
  • Absorbs Moisture – fibers absorbs moisture more efficiently than cotton – keeping your skin feeling pleasantly cool and dry throughout the day and night. Fabrics can also be engineered to provide warm and dry sensations on the skin.
  • Less Favorable Fibre For Bacterial Growth Than Some Other Fibres/Fabrics – In comparison to polyester and synthetics, there is less available moisture formed on the surface of the fiber for bacteria to grow. As a result, Lyocell offers better hygienic qualities to fabrics
  • Breathable – has microscopic fibrils of cellulosic fibers that contributes to breathable fabrics that support the body’s natural temperature regulating properties
  • Soft & Good For Sensitive Skin – has a smooth surface naturally soft to the touch and that offers comfort for sensitive skin
  • Glides Over The Skin – because it’s soft and smooth, it glides over skin and doesn’t grip as much
  • Less Static Charge – The ability to absorb moisture makes TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers tension-free with no electrostatic charging (compared to say polyester)
  • Can Be Blended With Other Fibres – TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers are versatile and can be combined with a wide range of textile fibers such as cotton, polyester, acrylic, wool, and silk to enhance fabrics in regards to their aesthetics, performance and functionality.

– tencel.com

 

Other features might be:

  • It’s not as prone to wrinkles as some cotton clothing
  • It tends to be more expensive than regular fabric fibres (like cotton)

 

What It’s Used For

TENCEL Lyocell & Modal can be used for various uses:

  • General fabrics
  • Denim
  • Intimate fabrics
  • Active wear fabrics 
  • Home fabrics
  • Footwear textiles
  • As an upcycled fabric with the REFIBRA technology
  • Luxury fabrics (Luxe category)
  • + more

– tencel.com

 

TENCEL can be used for a range of products, but scaling and quantity of production is an issue for now:

  • Global production of TENCEL was just 243,000 tons in 2014 compared to 28.6 million for cotton

– businessinsider.com.au

 

TENCEL – Modal

What It Looks & Feels Like

  • Is Soft – Modal wood-based fibers are soft. Due to the fiber’s sleek cross section, TENCEL™ Modal fibers enhance the soft touch of fabrics even after repeated washing. Measurements and hand evaluations of softness show that TENCEL™ Modal fibers are twice as soft as cotton. The softness of TENCEL™ Modal fibers lasts longer and is able to withstand repeated wash and dry cycles compared to cotton. 
  • Has A Sleek Look – like Lyocell, Modal looks very sleeky on the body due to it being soft and draping
  • Has A Vibrant Color – Color pigments are deeply embedded into TENCEL™ Modal fibers, which retain long-lasting color vibrancy more than conventionally dyed fibers, and are less prone to fade even after repeated washing. 
  • Less Static Charge – The ability to absorb moisture makes TENCEL™ Modal fibers tension-free with no electrostatic charging (compared to say polyester)
  • Can Be Blended With Other Fibres – TENCEL™ Modal fibers can be blended with most fibers and processed using conventional machinery, offering endless design possibilities … customized colors can be created using different ratios of blended fibers. TENCEL™ Modal fibers are a highly compatible blending partner for cotton and due to the fiber’s sleek cross section, adds long-lasting softness to fabrics, enhancing the touch even after repeated washing. Blending fibers with TENCEL™ Modal fibers significantly improves the softness and overall comfort.

– tencel.com

 

Other features might be:

  • It’s not as prone to wrinkles as some cotton clothing
  • It tends to be more expensive than regular fabric fibres (like cotton)

 

What It’s Used For

TENCEL Lyocell & Modal can be used for various uses:

  • General fabrics
  • Denim
  • Intimate fabrics
  • Active wear fabrics 
  • Home fabrics
  • Footwear textiles
  • As an upcycled fabric with the REFIBRA technology
  • Luxury fabrics (Luxe category)
  • + more

– tencel.com

 

TENCEL can be used for a range of products, but scaling and quantity of production is an issue for now:

  • Global production of TENCEL was just 243,000 tons in 2014 compared to 28.6 million for cotton

– businessinsider.com.au

 

Jute

Jute is a natural fibre that comes mainly from the White jute plant.

It’s more of a harsher looking fabric, that isn’t as smooth looking as other fabrics – so this limits it’s usage in fashion to an extent.

What It Looks & Feels Like

  • Golden and Silky Shine
  • High Tensile Strength
  • Low Extensibility
  • Breathable
  • Good Insulator On The Body
  • Not As Good For Rugs & Floor Coverings – because it can wear down and be hard to clean, change colors, and hold odor

 

What It’s Used For

  • Not As Heavily Used In Clothing As Other Natural Fabrics
  • Many different fabrics, but moreso harder wearing fabrics
  • Ropes, twines and packaging materials
  • Floor coverings
  • Bags
  • Food
  • + more

– jpdepc.org, and cleanfax.com

 

Sources

1. https://www.tencel.com/general 

2. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-tencel-compares-to-cotton-2015-9?r=US&IR=T 

3. https://www.elkieark.com/blogs/eco-living-sustainable-living/organic-bamboo-bed-linen 

4. https://www.sustainablefashion.com.au/blogs/news/not-all-bamboo-fabric-is-created-equally 

5. https://www.cariloha.com/about/bamboo-qualities 

6. https://cleanfax.com/rug-cleaning/know-jute-rugs/

7. http://www.jpdepc.org/about-jute.html 

8. https://www.ecofashionsewing.com/fibres-textiles/fabric-fashion-industry-synthetic-fibres/ 

9. https://www.barnhardtcotton.net/blog/know-fibers-difference-between-polyester-and-cotton/ 

10. http://www.fabriclink.com/University/Hemp.cfm 

11. http://www.fabriclink.com/University/Linen.cfm  

12. http://www.fabriclink.com/University/Cotton.cfm 

13. https://sleepsherpa.com/organic-cotton-vs-regular-cotton-whats-difference/ 

14. https://www.simplififabric.com/pages/organic-cotton  

15. https://www.organiccotton.org/oc/Organic-cotton/Benefits-of-organic-cotton/Benefits-of-oc.php 

16. https://organiccottonplus.com/pages/faq 

17. https://www.elkieark.com/pages/fairtrade-organic-cotton-farming  

18. http://www.fabriclink.com/University/Polyester.cfm 

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