What is a fibre, a yarn, a fabric and, Oh my, which one shall I choose?


There are books a plenty on all different kinds of fabrics and of those, there are too many to describe. Knowing which is what and what is that is more information than the room left in my brain for such fine knowledge. Sew, I am going to instill you with the know how of how to get from fibre to fabric. Hope you are ready for this.


First and foremost, fibres are fine hairlike substances that are used in making yarns that are woven or knitted into fabrics. Sew, how are the fabrics made, you may or may not ask. Well I am going to try to fill you in.

Sew, here goes.

Synthetic fibres are made from wood pulp (acetate, rayon and triacetate) or from petroleum coal air, and water. Natural fibres, on the other hand, are either protein or cellulose based. These are twisted together to form yarns. Silk fibres are the longest, silk yarn the shiniest and smoothest. Wool fibers are very short and the yarn is the fuzziest. Silk is unwound from the silkworm’s cocoon and the short fibres of wool from the fleece of a sheep. These are protein fibres where as Cellulose fibers like linen are from the stems of the flax plant and cotton, made from the seed pod of the cotton plant. Two or more fibres blended together improve the appearance, the performance or comfort. Combining fibres makes it easier to produce the fabric and combining less expensive with expensive fibres makes them go further.


Did you know that the length of a fibre affects the fabric? Well, let me enlighten you. Long fibres make fabrics wear better and are smoother. Synthetic fabrics are shorter and stronger. Natural (long) fibers make the best quality, wrinkle less, are more resilient, and pill less. Wool gabardine wears better than wool flannel because of long fibres. Have you noticed how Orlon acrylic sweaters look like wool, are soft, lofty and fuzzy even though they are synthetic? Oh go on, I’m sure you have. And why? Because synthetics are cut short to imitate natural fibers.


Now lets look at width. Microfibres are so fine, a mere pound can circle the earth at the equator which is 24,901.55 miles. (Thanks to my extremely intelligent friends at Palmer/Pletsch for all their research and knowledge on this topic). Ultrasuede, the first microfabric made, along with washed rayon and polyester are microfibre fabrics we love and use sew often.

Natural Fibres are more absorbent and more comfortable to wear, are less prone to static and clean more easily because they pick up body moisture and humidity. Quite the opposite holds true with synthetics. They are less comfortable and more prone to static electricity making them pill more. But, not being affected by body heat and moisture, they wrinkle less and hold their shape better. An exception to the rule of natural being more absorbent and synthetics less absorbent is rayon. It is as absorbent as most of the natural fibres.

As altering fibres and applying finishing change through time, so will fabrics. This is Fiber Modification. It is far more involved and complicated than anything written about above sew be relieved, I won’t dwell on it and you are welcome! Just know that modification can change the characteristics of the fabric in some of the following ways:

1. Less clingy and static prone

2. More resistant to soil

3. More breathable

4. Deeper and richer in colour

5. Less shiny


Yarns can also be texturized for stretch but only to thermoplastic synthetics fibers like nylon and polyester. Sorry to those made from wood pulp as you cannot be texturized for stretch.


We are getting closer to the end of this book, so I hope you will hang in there. If you aren’t totally bored by now, I’m pretty sure you will be pretty soon. No, just kidding, it’s still good.


We know now that fibres and yarns are made into different fabrics. They are Nonwoven, Woven, Stretch-Woven, Single and Double-knit, and all vary in the following ways.:

a. Nonwoven – Fibres bond together, don’t ravel, some stretch, some don’t and some stretch in only one direction.

b. Woven – Interweaving yarns at right angles, don’t stretch, do ravel.

c. Stretch-Woven – texturized yarns, may be one-way or two-way stretch, and ,yes, they too ravel.

d. Single Knits –made with single needle, stretch in both directions, roll to the right side when stretched on the cross grain, popular are sweater knits and jersey.

e. Double-Knits –made with two sets of needles, look the same on both sides, varieties include interlocks.


I am ending this long-winded lecture with a test. Don’t panic, it’s just 5 quick and easy tips to test when selecting fabric for your project:

i. Wrinkle test – hold a corner of the fabric in your hand and squeeze for 5 seconds. Do the wrinkles come out easily? Goes to wearability.

ii. Shape test – pull a small section of fabric with your thumbs for 5 seconds. Does it recover quickly? The warmth and stress of your thumbs will attest to it holding its shape when wearing.

iii. Pill test - remember, the shorter the fibre, the more it will pill and the less absorbent, the drier and more static-prone it will be.

iv. Sewing test – knits don’t ravel, stretchy and slippery fibres are harder to handle, pucker more readily.

v. Comfy test – lightweights and absorbents are more comfortable to wear. Thick knits and synthetics are warm and feel clammy, but they wrinkle less.


TA DA! That’s it. Except to say, always read the bolt-end label for fibre type and care instructions. If not on the bolt, ask a sales rep. Take a swatch of the fabric you choose and clip it to a card with all the information you can gain about it and keep the card for future reference.

Yes, that’s a lot of information. Some interesting I bet, some not sew much! Keep in mind, “what you know, will show, in what you sew!” Hey, that’s pretty good. I lay claim to that as my own, cause it is!

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