In this section we provide a brief explanation of the main fibers which contemporary clothing is made from, to assist you in making informed purchasing decisions.
Fibers, yarns, and fabrics
Fiber brand names
What makes a good fiber / fabric?
Absorbency, wickability and air permeability
Natural fibers and man-made/synthetic fibers
Man-made and synthetic fibers
SHUKR would like to encourage all of its customers to familiarize themselves with the products they buy. This applies not just to SHUKR clothing, but to any product which we, as Muslims, purchase in the marketplace. There are many considerations to bear in mind when purchasing products, including questions like: What is it made from? (very important for food items which might contain alcohol or animal by-products); Where was it produced? (maybe you might not want to buy products produced in certain countries or under certain conditions); Who produced it? (maybe you might want to avoid products produced by certain companies).
Before we dive into an explanation of the different types of fibers, we should first be clear what we mean by the term "fiber", as well as a few other common textile terms. A fiber is a thread-like tissue, either natural or manufactured, which is twisted into yarns, and then used in the production of a fabric, the end material which clothes are manufactured from. Yarns are used to create fabrics by either weaving or knitting. Woven fabrics are composed of two sets of yarns. One set of yarns, the warp, runs along the length of the fabric. The other set of yarns, the fill or weft, is perpendicular to the warp. Woven fabrics are held together by weaving the warp and the fill yarns over and under each other. Knitted fabrics, on the other hand, are made from only one set of yarns, all running in the same direction. Some knits have their yarns running along the length of the fabric, while others have their yarns running across the width of the fabric. Knit fabrics are held together by looping the yarns around each other. Knitting creates ridges in the resulting fabric. Wales are the ridges that run lengthwise in the fabric; courses run crosswise.
A brief mention should also be made of the process of blending fibers. Often, one will find that a garment fabric is not made up of just one type of fiber, but rather a blend of two or more, in order to enhance the performance and improve the aesthetic qualities of the fabric. Fibers are selected and blended in particular proportions so that the fabric will retain the best characteristics of each fiber. Blending is usually done using various combinations of manufactured fibers or manufactured and natural fibers.
Note, finally, that many manufacturers have trademarked names for their particular fiber brand. For example, Lycra is DuPont's brand of the spandex fiber, and Lyocell is the Acordis' group brand name for their lyocell fiber. You might see these brand names on your clothing labels as well.
There are many characteristics of fibers and fabrics to take into account:
Abrasion resistance / durability:
The ability of a fabric to resist wear from the continual rubbing of its surface.
The ability of a fabric to take in and hold moisture. Absorbency is an important property, which effects many other characteristics such as skin comfort (good absorbency = greater comfort), water repellency (poor absorbency = good water repellency and quickness to dry), static build-up (poor absorbency = static), shrinkage (good absorbency = tendency to shrink), stain removal (poor absorbency = hard to remove stains) and wrinkle recovery (poor absorbency = less tendency to wrinkle)
Appearance / Hand:
Appearance refers to the way the fabric appears to the eye. Some fabrics are lustrous, others dull. The way the fabric feels when it is touched is called its hand. Descriptions like softness, crispness, dryness, and silkiness are all terms that describe the hand of the fabric. The comfort of a fabric is heavily dependent upon its hand.
The dyed fabric's ability to resist fading due to washing, exposure to sunlight, and other environmental conditions.
The way the fabric falls. Some fabrics flow while others are stiffer.
The stronger the fabric the less likely it is to tear. Garments made from fabrics that possess both high breaking strength and abrasion resistance can be worn often and for a long period of time before signs of wear appear.
Some fibers, especially natural fibers, shrink appreciably when washed, unless they have been specially treated. Fibers which shrink normally have to be dry-cleaned.
Fabrics differ in the degree to which they wrinkle and require ironing. A closely related concept is resiliency, which refers to the ability of a fabric to spring back to its original shape after being twisted, crushed, or wrinkled.
A pill is a tangled ball of fibers that appears on the surface of a fabric as a result of wear or continued friction or rubbing on the surface of the fabric.
Some fabrics build up a lot of static due to contact and brushing with other surfaces, including the skin.
Is the fiber dry-clean only, hand-wash or machine washable? Some fibers are easier to care for than others, cleanable by all methods
The ability of a fabric to move moisture away from the skin to the surface of a fabric where it can evaporate.
It is easy to get confused between these three characteristics of fibers/ fabrics and we thought that they deserve a special mention because of the desire amongst many Muslims, especially sisters, for 'breathable' clothes. The breathability of a fabric is called its 'air permeability', and this refers to the degree to which a fabric allows air to pass through its construction.
Cotton is famous for its breathability. What is not as well known, however, is that when cotton becomes moist or wet, its breathability is significantly reduced. This is because cotton is a very absorbent fiber, and absorbency, don't forget, refers to the ability of a fiber to take in and hold moisture. Cotton is excellent at absorbing liquid, but not so good at releasing it, and so has poor wickability.
Wickability refers to the fiber's ability to transport moisture perspiration away from the body to the surface of the garment, where it can evaporate quickly. So cotton is a good choice for someone looking for a breathable garment, and its high absorbency means that it offers great comfort, because small amounts of perspiration will easily soak into the garment from the body, preventing the build-up of sweat on the body itself. However, cotton is not so wise a choice if that person sweats so much that the garment becomes wet. Nor is it a good choice for sportswear – the specialist sportswear materials are normally synthetic and made from fibers with high wickability.
Natural fibers have been used for apparel for thousands of years. Flax, cotton, wool, and silk were the main fibers of choice, used according to their availability as well as environmental considerations. Fine linen was used as burial shrouds for the Egyptian pharaohs before 5000BC and wool was used by people of the Late Stone Age. Man-made fibers, on the other hand, are a relatively recent invention, only dating back about a hundred years. Technology developments in the 20th century have seen the introduction of many different types of man-made fibers, and that progress continues today, with refinements and improvements to all the existing fibers
Man-made fibers refers in general to all textile fibers which do not occur naturally. The term applies in particular to the group of fibers made from cellulose, extracted from the raw material of plants and trees. Four main manufactured fibers - rayon, acetate, triacetate and lyocell - are cellulosic fibers. Synthetic fibers are produced from chemicals made from refined petroleum and natural gas. The main synthetic fibers are polyester, nylon, acrylic, polyolefin and spandex.
Both natural and man-made fibers have their advantages and disadvantages. Natural fabrics are absorbent and comfortable to wear, but they shrink and wrinkle easily. Man-made fibers, on the other hand, are durable and easy to care for, but they aren't as absorbent and comfortable to wear. Having said that, it is hard to generalize, because with the advent of blended fibers, and technological advancements in man-made fibers, the distinction between natural and man-made fibers is often blurred.
A luxury fiber obtained from the soft fleecy undergrowth of the Kashmir goat of Tibet, Mongolia, China, Iran, Iraq, and India. It has an extremely soft, luxurious and silky finish and is very light in weight.
Uses: sweaters, shawls, suits, coats, accessories.
The most famous natural fiber, cotton is the most widely used textile fabric in North America. It grows in the seed pod of the cotton plant and its widespread use is largely to do with the ease with which these natural fibers are spun into yarn. Its popularity stems from its comfort, breathability, absorbency, soft hand, durability and easy care. Unfortunately, cotton wrinkles and shrinks and therefore it is often treated to control this or blended with polyester to create a minimum care fabric.
Uses: wide range of wearing apparel, including shirts, blouses, childrenswear, dresses, skirts, pants, underwear
A fabric made from linen fibers obtained from inside the woody stem of the flax plant. Due to the natural wax content in flax, the resulting linen fabric has excellent luster. It also has a crisp hand. Linen is similar to cotton in that it is comfortable and highly absorbent, but wrinkles and shrinks easily unless treated. However, linen excels in its strength, being twice as strong as cotton. Linen has poor elasticity and does not spring back readily after being pulled out of shape.
Uses: dresses, separates, blouses, shirts, pants, jackets, suits.
Often mistaken for linen, ramie is a bast fiber similar to flax linen, taken from the stalk of the ramie plant grown in South-east Asia, China, Japan, and southern Europe. The fiber is stiff, more brittle than linen, and generally acknowledged to be of lower quality. However, it is stronger, more absorbent, and highly lustrous.
Uses: dresses, skirts, pants, blouses, shirts, suits
A natural fiber produced in filament form by the silkworm in the construction of its cocoon. All silk comes from Asia, primarily Japan and also China, where it was first discovered. Normally soft, comfortable, luxurious, with a brilliant sheen, silk is one of the finest textiles. The thinnest of all natural fibers, it is normally used for light clothing items like dresses and accessories.
Uses: dresses, blouses, scarves, ties, undergarments.
The term "wool" is usually associated with fiber or fabric made from the fleece of sheep or lamb. However, "wool" can also apply to all animal hair fibers, including the hair of the Cashmere or Angora goat or the specialty hair fibers of the camel, alpaca, llama, or vicuna. Wool is well known for its comfort, luxuriousness and warmth. It is also very absorbent and resistant to wrinkling. Wool can be used to produce two very different finishes. The wool fabrics which have a soft feel and fuzzy surface are called woolens. Worsted wool, on the other hand, is tightly woven and so has a hard, smooth surface. It is often used for men's tailored suits. Wool of both types can easily shrink if improperly laundered and so is normally dry-clean only. Wool is often blended with polyester or other man-made fabrics to create a fabric which retains the beautiful drape and feel of pure wool, but is more durable and easy to care for. 'Virgin wool' refers to wool which has never been used or processed into fabric before. Some wools are reclaimed from processed fabrics.
Uses: sweaters, coats, suits, scarves, dresses, blouses, skirts.
One of the cellulose-derived fibers, acetate is normally soft, luxurious, and has an excellent drape. It does not absorb moisture readily, but dries fast and resists shrinking. It is used commonly as lining in coats and jackets because of its drapeability and resistance to pilling and static. It is normally a dry-clean only fabric.
Uses: blouses, dresses, linings, special occasion attire.
Soft, light and warm, acrylic is a fabric which resembles wool. However, it is much easier to care for, being machine washable and resistant to shrinkage. It has outstanding wickability, drawing moisture away from the body, which explains its use in sportswear and socks. Excellent colorfastness is also a characteristic of acrylic. Static and pilling can be a problem
Uses: sweaters, socks, knitted garments, sportswear, children's wear
The newest cellulosic fiber, lyocell is similar to rayon in appearance (soft with excellent drape), but is stronger (especially when wet), more durable and easier to care for, normally being machine washable. Lyocell possesses low shrinkage characteristics, as well as good absorbency and wrinkle resistant qualities.
Uses: dresses, suits, blouses, skirts, pants.
Microfibers are a recent development, referring to an ultra-thin fiber (finer than the most delicate silk) made into a fabric with extremely high aesthetic and performance qualities. Microfiber, as such, is not actually a fiber unto itself, but rather refers to superfine fibers made from polyester, nylon, rayon or acrylic. Aesthetically, microfiber has a very soft and luxurious hand, with a silken or suede touch, as well as excellent drapeability. From a performance point of view, microfiber is easy to care for, strong, shrink-resistant and insulates well against the wind, rain and cold.
Uses: outerwear, hosiery.
5. Nylon (Polyamide)
The first completely synthetic fiber produced, nylon is known for its exceptional strength. It also has good abrasion, wrinkle and shrink resistance qualities. These characteristics, as well as the fact that it is light, easy to wash, and quick to dry, mean that nylon has been used extensively in women's hosiery and lingerie. It is also sometimes blended with wool to improve the wool's performance.
Uses: hosiery, lingerie, swimwear, sportswear, outerwear.
6. Olefin (Polypropylene, Polyethylene)
Olefin fibers are products of propylene and ethylene gases and so sometimes the fibers are named separately as polypropylene and polyethylene. The lightest of all fibers, olefin is also strong, abrasion resistant, and its high wickability produces a very comfortable fabric. This fiber has increased in popularity in recent years for apparel and other textile use, and now ranks second only to polyester in terms of world-wide production of manufactured fibers.
Uses: underwear, socks, activewear, sportswear.
The most used manufactured fiber, and second only to cotton in world-wide usage of all fabrics, natural and otherwise. Polyester is strong and resistant to shrinkage, stretching, wrinkling, and abrasion. It is readily washable and dries quickly. These qualities make polyester the best wash-and-wear fiber. On the negative side, its absorbency is poor and it and can have static and pilling problems. It can be produced in a number of weaves and hence is a particularly flexible fiber, being used for all types of clothing. It is also used extensively as a blend with other fibers, improving the durability and ease of care of many natural fabrics like cotton and wool, as well as man-made fabrics like rayon and acetate.
Uses: every form of clothing.
This regenerated cellulose fiber was the first manufactured fiber developed, dating back over a hundred years. It is soft and comfortable, drapes well and is highly absorbent. It is static and pill resistant. It also dyes and takes prints excellently. One of the main concerns with rayon is its washability. Originally rayon was a dry-clean only fabric, although recent developments have seen the introduction of washable fabrics. Be careful not to wash dry-clean only rayon, or else you may find that it shrinks tremendously, it dyes bleed or fade, or it may become stiff and harsh. Today, various names for rayon fibers are taken from different manufacturing processes. The most commonly used production method for rayon is the viscose process, and so sometime you may actually find viscose rather than rayon written on the fabric content label of your garments.
Uses: dresses, blouses, linings, lingerie.
A fiber characterized by its ability to be repeatedly stretched up to five times its original length without being damaged. Spandex is lightweight and resistant to body oils, perspiration, and detergents. Lycra (registered trademark) is the most familiar spandex fiber and is DuPont's brand name for its spandex fiber. Elastoester is another stretchable fabric which can be used as a substitute for spandex.
Uses: articles where stretch is desired, like athletic apparel, bathing suits and hosiery.
A regenerated cellulose fiber closely related to the acetate family. Like acetate, it is luxurious with excellent drapeability. However, it is considered an improvement over acetate because of its easier care – triacetate is machine washable. It also has excellent pleat retention. Uses: dresses, skirts, garments where pleat retention is important.