There’s nothing as inspiring and comforting as strolling by fabric stalls or walking through a fabric shop for hours and touch and compare all the fabrics. As autodidact I’ve always experimented a lot with fabrics, on top of which I started knitting at a young age, giving me ample experience with the material. Because of this I know which effect a certain type of fabric has on a model, and which combinations work and which ones don’t. Each fabric has its own characteristics. There are for example soft or rough fabrics, thin or thick, absorbent or water resistant, warm or cool, supple or standing fabrics. These characteristics are mainly determined by the raw material, the production process, and the type of binding.
There are roughly two types of raw materials to distinguish in the production of textile: natural fibers and synthetic fibers. These can also be combined during the weaving or knitting process. Furthermore, certain chemical processes that are used to obtain synthetic fibers, can also be applied to natural fibers. We call these semi-natural or semi-synthetic fibers.
As the name already indicates, natural fibres are made from either animals or plants, for example cotton, wool or silk. Synthetic fibres on the other hand, are made by humans with petrochemical products, like polyester and elastan.
Each raw material has its own characteristics, like elasticity, absorption, insulation etc. Besides which every raw material has its particular impact on the environment (I’ll get into that a bit further, below).
“Production process” can indicate two different types of processes. First of all it can mean the complete production process, from the cultivation of the plant to the finished fabric. But it can also be used in a more narrow meaning, namely the way in which the raw material is transformed into the fiber.
This last process, from raw material to fiber, has a big impact on the eventual characteristics of the final fabric. Take viscose for example. It’s made in the same manner as modal, but due to a difference in chemicals, sequence and amount of repetitions of certain processes the modal fiber is stronger and more absorbent. The elasticity, strength, tendency to pill, absorption, all aspects that can be determined by this process.
The entire production process is furthermore (or in the first place…) of great impact on the environment. From the way cotton is cultivated or the type of tree that is used for the cellulose used for viscose, modal or lyocell, to the spinning, dyeing and weaving of the fibers. The use of organic seeds instead of GMO’s, the amount of land, water, fertilisers and pesticides that are used, the choice between organic or synthetic substances, the re-usage of materials and/or safeguarding their disposal. All examples of the impact of the production of fabric on the environment.
You can read a bit more about this subject here, and I will try to focus on it in later articles about specific types of fabric, because it can be rather complicated… The fact is that almost every fabric can be produced in an environmentally friendly or unfriendly way, depending on the choices the producer makes on all the described aspects.
Type of binding
Another aspect that helps determine the characteristics of a fabric is the type of binding, meaning how the threads are joined. Simply put we can differentiate two techniques: weaving and knitting.
There are many different weaving techniques, and each one has its own attributes. Differences in thickness, sturdiness, structure, and pattern in colour and relief. Some techniques result in a simple geometric pattern, while others lead to the most extraordinary scenes. The one constant is that woven fabric is non-stretch, unless some elastic material is incorporated.
Knitted fabrics on the other hand are always stretchable. You can find these fabrics under the name jersey or tricot (tricoter is French for “to knit”). Sometimes it will also be named T-shirt fabric. If you look closely at the fabric you can see the same kind of stitches as you would make yourself when knitting a scarf, for example. These stitches are just made with very thin yarn and needles, so you can’t see it well from a normal distance.