Different classifications of fibres have different characteristics. Using fibres individually or as a combination, it is possible to achieve different finishing effects.
Some characteristics are:
So your favourite shirt is durable, but have you ever noticed how some material can form tiny little balls in areas that gets rubbed a lot? This is commonly seen at a person’s hips (especially if they carry a handbag or bag regularly) or under the arms. These little balls of fiber are known as pilling.
If you lower your fabric into a bowl of water, will it absorb that moisture? Some fibres, such as cotton and wool, are very absorbent; in that scenario you will actively see the water being absorbed. In fact many household cleaning cloths are designed out of cotton due to their absorbent nature.
Not all fibres are absorbent; polyester and nylon, for example, may get wet but won’t as readily absorb the water.
Can the fibre resist general wear and tear? The greater a garment’s durability, the longer you can expect it to last. If you want to wear that perfect top over and over again, then you want it to be made out of a durable material.
Some fabric may tear or may wear through to breaking point.
Durability is not the same as abrasion…
Some fibres can be stretched; think of lingerie, exercise and sport clothing. Elasticity will determine how far these fibres can be stretched and whether they will return back to their original length.
Not all fibres will return to their original shape after being stretched. This is measured by shape retention…
Some fabrics are matte, dull and boring. Other fabrics reflect certain amount of light, softly sheening when you move. Fibres that reflect lots of light produce fabric with a high luster. Just note that a fabric’s luster won’t affect its performance under the other categories.
Has one of your favourite shirts ever shrunk or very suddenly grown two sizes? Well this is a reflection of how resilient your shirt is to being reshaped. Will it return back to the original shape after being pulled or wrinkled?
Resilience is not the same as elasticity. A fabric that isn’t stretchy can still lose it’s shape.
When you wear your exercise clothing, do you notice that over time they seem to be stretched out of shape? Fingers crossed that your losing weight, but this is not always the case. Shape retention determines how often a fibre will return to its original shape.
Whilst shape retention and resilience are quite similar, the main difference in how fast a garment will lose it’s shape; the difference of a few minutes or weeks or years.
It’s not likely, but have you ever pulled and pulled on a piece of fabric until it ripped? Not all fibres have the same strength, also known as tensile strength. Some are quite fragile, breaking easily when pulled upon. Others can handle high tension and pulling. Under certain conditions certain fibres may act differently as well; for example cotton is stronger when wet.
Whilst this information isn’t always important in the garment industry, it is crucial – and potentially life saving – to have this knowledge in other industries such as construction.
How washable is the fiber? This will determine if the fabric can be thrown into the washing machine, or will you need to have it dry-cleaned? Being exposed to excess water can damage some fabric such as silk. If a fabric hasn’t been pre-treated with water before being sewn, it risks shrinking or dye leakage when washed.
If you’ve ever wondered why a man-made fiber such as polyester doesn’t “breathe,” yet another man-made fibre such as rayon does, now you know the reason: because polyester is a petrochemical and rayon is cellulosic.
This is a very discussed topic when it comes to the apparel industry; will the material draw sweat and moisture through the threads and away from your body in order to evaporate? This ability is known as wicking.
Polyester has a poor wicking ability, often making the clothing feel wet and uncomfortable. Cotton on the other hand is much better at wicking. Our bodies don’t handle exposure to moisture for long periods of time; we can develop rashes and even bacteria growth. This is just one reason to buy natural fibres when it comes to underwear.
Scrunch your shirt up in your hand, or let it just be piled up onto the floor. Will it develop wrinkles, or will it appear as if freshly ironed. Some fabric will need regularly ironing to look it’s best.