Fabrics are composed of hundreds and thousands of fibres. If you pull on the raw edges of a piece of fabric it will unravel, revealing the threads that make a weave. If you take that thread and untwist it, you will find each individual fibre.
Each of these fibres can be grouped as natural, manmade or synthetic:
Natural fibres come from animal coats, silkworm cocoons, and plant seeds, leaves, and stems. These fibres are made from a fibrous substance known as cellulose, making them biodegradable and recyclable. In recycling, the fabric is shredded back to fibres, re-spun into a coarse yarn, and then rewoven or knitted. Wool is the most common recycled fabric, but cotton can be recycled and made into industrial wiping cloths, mattress filling, and carpet backing.
Most natural fibres are measured in inches or centimetres, making them staple fibres. Silk is the one exception, being known as a filament fiber, it is measured in yards or meters.
Manmade fibres are manufactured from plants or cellulose based (vegetable fibres or wood pulp) that are put through various chemical processes. These include acetate, lyocell, rayon, and triacetate.
Synthetic, manufactured entirely from chemicals by first forming a liquid slurry of the particular product being used; the liquid is then forced through a spinneret (something like a shower head); the stringy liquid that’s extruded is called a filament, and when dried, is referred to as a continuous filament fibre. Many synthetics are made from petroleum products such as polyester; other chemical-based man-made fibres are acrylic, dacron, nylon, olefin, and vinyl.
Fibres are also further classified by their generic names, often representing the composition of the material. For example wool, cotton and polyester are generic names, representing material used.