what is fabric and its types fabric swatch

What is Fabric and its types

Crossing the big ‘0’, maybe 20, maybe 30, not telling! I decided to start a sleep ritual. Putting my new silk slip on, marvelling at the fabric’s soft and smooth texture; ‘what is fabric’ crossed my mind. Quickly followed by pings of other questions, I went down a rabbit hole and here we are now!


Fabric, [ fab-rik ], is a cloth;  ‘a pliable material made usually by weaving, felting, or knitting natural or synthetic fibers and filaments’, courtesy of Merriam Webster. [Source]

What is Fabric made of? Fibres or Fibers?

What are fibres then? Or what are fibers then? What is the difference between fibres and fabrics? or Fibers and Fabrics? Confused much? That was how I felt when I started looking for information. First things first, Fiber VS Fibre. Besides the British spelling for the former and American spelling for the latter, fibres are what makes up fabric, through a long transformation process. More about that later.

Lets talk about fabrics.

How many types of fabrics are there specifically. The types of Fabrics is such a long list, from the commonly known – cotton, linen, lace, leather, wool – to luxe fabrics like silk, social media popular ones like modal and viscose, some fancy ones that sound like dessert – Taffeta and Muslin, I’m looking at you!

Personally, I’ve taken to splitting it to two main classification of fabric types, natural fabrics and synthetic fabrics

Natural Fabrics & Fibres

Natural fabrics are well, natural – HA! No really, Natural fabrics must come from natural fibres, which are renewable resources, are biodegradable and readily available from natural sources. Natural Fabrics are commonly either animal or plant based, created from fibres occurring in nature like animals’ coats, plant seeds, leaves and stems. Some natural fibres are even found in minerals, but that’s for another day.

Animal based fibres are made up of a wide and various range of wool, silk, leather/fur. Not all animal fibres have the same properties even if they are the same type of animal, for instance, Merino wool is luxuriously soft while Cotswold wool is much coarser. Both are sheep!       

Types of Fabrics made of Animal based fibres



 what is fabric and its types wool fabric      what is fabric and its types wool

Natural wool is woven from animal fur, great for the animal, great for us. It keeps the fluffy sheep / goat cool in summer and us, warm in autumn and winter.

Durable, warm, a great insulator, really easy to dye into many different colours and to top it off, a rich history of Scottish kilts and tartans

Interestingly, a popular choice for sound absorption and noise reduction to create quieter environments and sound proofing.

Some types of wool fabric are Alpaca, Angora, Camel hair, Cashmere, Lambswool, Melton, Merino, Mohair, Shetland, Flannel and Tartan.


what is fabric and its types silk texture

Doesn’t it just scream decadence, elegance and luxury.

Silk is definitely lustrous and entirely exquisite, however it is quite costly and delicate. This natural fibre is easily among the ranks of one of the world’s oldest textiles and clothing materials.

The fibre itself is washable, however when made into a garment, washing and cleaning becomes more complicated. When washed, the fabric weaves that may tighten or pucker resulting in shrinkage of the clothing or garment.

what is fabric and its types silk label

I’ve been very careful to follow garment labels and use specially formulated products for delicate fabrics when handwashing. There’s of course the dry cleaning option, but it definitely creates a dent in the wallet unfortunately. Dry cleaning isn’t too environmentally friendly either!

Some common and sought after types of silk are Charmeuse, Chiffon, Crêpe-de-chine, Dupion silk, Georgette, Habotai, Organza and silk satin.


what is fabric and its types leather

Used to wide variety of items; clothes, footwear, automobile seats, furniture.

Some argue that leather isn’t a fabric as it is technically the skin or hide of an animal or reptile but I think we can all agree that it is definitely natural.

What about plant based fibres?

Plant based fibres can be categorised into: cotton, linen/ flax, Jute/ Bamboo.

Plant fibres are derived from various parts of plants. Almost the entire plant may be used to obtain various types of fibres – such as the seeds (cotton, kapok), stems (flax, jute, hemp, bamboo), leaves (sisal, manila), and fruit (coir).

Types of Fabrics made of Plant based fibres


what is fabric and its types cotton plant

Cotton comes from the cotton plant.

Honestly, isn’t it just cute! The cotton fibres are that fluffy bits, how can something so adorable and soft become the durable fabric that cotton is?

Cotton is a stable fibre and the cotton fabric, a stable item in most of our wardrobes. It is versatile, soft, breathable, lightweight, durable and inexpensive. The fact that is machine wash friendly makes it perfect for everyday wear! Can’t find any downsides to the cotton fabric really

The list of Cotton fabrics seems to be an endless list, so I’m just going to pluck some out – batik, canvas, chambray, corduroy, damask, poplin, twill and Flannel!

Yes Flannel.

No I’ve not mislabeled flannel as both a wool and cotton fabric. Flannel has a long and rich history, made since 17th century, in the United Kingdom (UK). It was once made of wool, but in today, the softest coziest flannel is 100% cotton.

Another titbit! Oh my, cotton is full of surprises.


what is fabric and its types denim fabric

Did you know that, Denim, the fabric and cloth associated with jackets and jeans, is part of this category – cotton is woven into denim using a twill. For the longest time, the weirdo that I am, thought that Denim was in a category of its own – strange I know, but hey! Make mistakes & learn right


what is fabric and its types linen fabric cloth

Linen a sustainable fabric made from flax fibres.

Flax / Linen screams summer, it is surprisingly hardy and durable fabric for such a light and breezy fabric. Machine – washable, saves a lot of hassle I can see why it’s popular in hot and humid areas for its incredible breathability and coolness

As a garment, linen is known to get softer with each wear and wash, without looking sloppy, sounds too great to be true? I can safely attest and vouch for that statement, I have linen tops, more than a decade old, still going strong AND looking great. Pieces that that I cherish greatly.

Linen, unlike cotton is distinguished by its texture and weave pattern. The common ones are Damask linen fabric, Plain woven linen fabric, Loosely woven linen fabrics and Sheeting linen


what is fabric and its types jute sack

Stiff, sturdy, durable, a rich pattern and grain – no I’m not talking about a solid oak or teak table, although the similarities are there. Jute is often used to make ropes or sacks. Jute sacks can take an amazing amount of weight. Those 10kg sacks of rice or grains? All nicely supported by jute gunny bags. Its durability makes it a popular choice of material for sail cloth too.

what is fabric and its types Bamboo

Bamboo can hold its own ground too, a fascinating plant and material. Some species of bamboo plants can grow 40 mm (1 12 in) an hour  – that’s 910 mm (36 in) within a 24-hour! It has similar properties to linen and is an increasingly popular material for bedsheets, household textiles like towels and clothing.

There are three main types of bamboo fabric. These variations include Bamboo viscose, Lyocell-type bamboo fabric, Mechanically-produced fine bamboo fibre.

How Natural Fabrics are produced

Before any amazing things can happen, animal based and plant based fibres have to be spun into thread, filament, yarn or rope then knitted, woven, matted or bound to be transformed into fabric . The transformation process from fibre to fabric is complex and long; Spinning, washing, dyeing, treating, knitting and weaving are all parts of it.

How old are Natural Fabrics

what is fabric and its types mummy

This process may sound technologically advanced but you’ll be surprised to know that the creation of fabrics is actually much older. In fact, excavation sites around Turkey have uncovered flax/linen fabric strips, for mummification, dating back to 6000BC! Picture this, cavemen with their animal pelts, amusing visualization isn’t it, guess what – natural animal based fibres!

Synthetic Fabrics & Fibres

Synthetic fibres for a lack of a better description are simply not natural, man made fibres produced through chemical processes. Synthetic fibres are valued in the textile industry as well, but for different reasons – to be explored in a different post!

How Synthetic Fabrics are produced

Synthetic fibres are made of man-made materials, usually formed through chemical processes. The liquids from the chemicals are forced through a spinneret, a device that produces filament. These filaments are then continuously twisted together to form fibres.

In short, all that science-y stuff aside; chemical to man made fibres to man-made textile / fabric. That’s how I remember it at least. Of course, like its natural cousin, synthetic fibres aren’t just one type. There are many types of synthetic fibres and fabrics too.

The growth of synthetic fabrics

The textile industry began creating synthetic fibres as cheaper and more easily mass-produced alternatives to natural fibres.  It started off in 1938 with the Nylon stockings craze then came the polyester fame, over the years, Lycra, Spandex, Acrylic made their debut in the world too.

Today, the list of synthetic fabric may well be comparable to that of Natural fabrics. Especially when some synthetic fabrics are a mix of natural and synthetic fibres.

Synthetic textile are made from either inorganic products or a mixture of organic ones and chemicals. Some are found to be profoundly strong and durable, while some dry much quicker than others, or may be more absorbent and easier to dye.

The most common natural fibers in clothing are silk, wool, cotton, and linen. Their often luxurious and soft texture are now easily duplicated and synthesized to a point where a number of consumers have switched to man-made fibres instead of going au naturel. These days, they are substituted for nylon, rayon, polyester, spandex, acrylic, and acetate.

Types of synthetic fibres


what is fabric and its types birth of nylon

Nylon grew to fame during WW2, created as a cheaper alternative to silk stockings and silk parachutes. It was an instant hit from the time it was introduced, fraction of the price, cost effective and undistinguishable to the naked eye.

Certainly doesn’t hurt that Nylon is durable, has amazing elasticity and stretch, resistant to tears. This is especially in comparison to silk, the natural material it was inspired by.

Today, Nylon is found in many and varied products, from umbrellas, toothbrush bristles, strings of tennis rackets and of course, stockings.


what is fabric and its types polyester suit

Poor Polyester has a tacky history page, the plastic looking suits from the 70s. Wrinkle free for the Saturday Night Fever! But not in a good way. Polyester then was loud, bright, cheap and uncomfortable.

Today, mostly found in clothing, polyester is wrinkle resistant, lightweight and quick drying. A little less … stifling. However, one thing remains unchanged, Polyester is hydrophobic. As a fabric, it does not absorb perspiration, or other fluids well. When soaked in water, and hung out to dry, polyester fabrics dry quickly as it repels water. But as a clothing item, it does not wick perspiration away from the body, unlike cotton, a most unpleasant feeling in the summer.

Sounds like a terrible choice for clothing doesn’t it. But polyester is still an extremely popular choice of fabric for clothing, check your clothing labels, you’ll definitely find at least a couple of polyester pieces in your wardrobe.

Why the popularity?

Polyester clothing feels silk like to the touch, and at a fraction of the cost. Its colours are generally brighter too. Not to mentioned, it is a fabric that is easily manipulated and modified for different uses, from fast fashion wear to sleeping bags and luggage. Industrial polyester fibres can also be used for conveyor belt fabrics and seat belts.

Seems like polyester might be here to stay for a bit


what is fabric and its types Rayon pile

So far, most fabrics have fallen into the natural or synthetic category easily. I’ve had a bit of a problem with Rayon. Rayon is a semi-synthetic fibre.

How can something be semi synthetic?

Welcome Rayon! A man-made fibre and yet, no 100% synthetic. While rayon is actually made from natural materials like bamboo, it then undergoes intense chemical processing – which makes it a manufactured fibre.

Rayon can be categorised into 3 main types, Viscose rayon, Modal, Lyocell. These 3 type of fabrics shares the advantages of natural fabrics, such as its breathability, softness and sheer comfort and cosiness. Hence its popularity for bedsheets and clothes.


what is fabric and its types spandex shapewear

Aerobics, tapes of women and men in bright coloured leotards and tights working out. What’s what I visualise when I hear spandex. Oh, that and, shapewear.

To be frank, none of those imagery looks too comfortable.

Pure Spandex is highly stretchy, up to 5-8 times its normal size, hence its usage in form fitting apparel. For most garments, small quantities of spandex are woven into other synthetic, semi-synthetic, or natural fibers.

Shapewear may not be comfortable but spandex is more than just that. Garments with a tiny mix of spandex in it can give a better fit and comfort, sometimes a longer lifespan too. Spandex allows the garment to retain its original length and shape. A good example would be skinny jeans, without spandex, it’ll be impossible to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans


what is fabric and its types acrylic

Commonly associated with this plastic sheet, but acrylic is not always solid.

Acrylic fabric is made up of different plastic like fibres. In fact, a garment that’s 100% acrylic is wearing nothing but synthetic fibres that are basically plastic. Strange, perplexing and amusing.

Acrylic is inexpensive, stain and wrinkle resistant, soft, holds colour well, and blends well with other fibres. This makes it an excellent and popular wool substitute.

The world of fabrics and its types is vast. I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg! This fabrics exploration has piqued my curiosity about my wardrobe and the various fabrics that makes up the garments within. In recent months I’ve taken to buying cotton, linen, and silk pieces. Wait-


But are they 100% natural?



I’m going to take a peep at the clothing labels.