Textile fibers: everything you need to know about the subject: Audaces manual 11 min read

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Textile fibers are the fundamental element of every fabric: they give rise to the yarn that is used to make fabrics that, in turn, can be used in various elements, from furniture to an entire clothing collection! 

Try an experiment and look around: how many fabrics can you recognize? Don’t just think about the fabrics of the clothes you wear, but also the upholstery of the chair or sofa you’re probably sitting on, the curtains, or the seat in your car. 

But how many types of textile fibers are there? How can they be classified? What characteristics distinguish them? If you are interested in discovering this and everything about the universe of fibers, yarns, and fabrics, follow this incredible manual that we have prepared for you: 

Classification of fibers in relation to origin

Regarding their origin, textile fibers can be of three types – natural, artificial, or synthetic: 

Textile fibers of natural origin 

Natural fibers represent 40% of the textile fibers used in the world and are found in nature in the form of more or less long filaments. They are called natural because they come from animals and plants. 

In this sense, they are divided into two categories: 

Fibers of animal origin 

These are fibers obtained from the animal hair bulb and those obtained by secreting the cocoons of lepidopterans or mites, such as the silkworm. The first species, derived from animal hair, include fibers such as sheep’s wool, alpaca, vicuña, cashmere, and camel, the main examples of this type of fiber. 

The second species is silk and byssus. The best-known silk is that produced by the glandular secretion of the silkworm in its larval stage, before starting its metamorphosis into a chrysalis and then into a butterfly. The areas where silk production reaches its maximum diffusion and quality are China, Japan, India, and Italy. 

And what are the main characteristics of these fibers? Both silk and wool are fibers that are easily dyed, absorb perspiration, and are poor conductors of heat. They should be washed at a low temperature, with neutral or slightly alkaline detergents. 

skeins of wool

Fibers of vegetable origin 

They are fibers obtained from the cellulose of plants and can be obtained from various parts of the plant: from the seeds (such as cotton and kapok), from the stem (flax, hemp, jute, ramie), from the leaf veins (raffia, sisal) and from the fruit ( poop). 

Of all these fibers, the most commonly used is cotton, made from the down that surrounds the seeds of a plant in the Malvaceae family. 

Typically, plant fibers have excellent thermal recovery, high thermal conductivity, and dye easily. They absorb perspiration well, although not as well as wool. 

cotton fibers

Artificial textile fibers 

Artificial fibers are produced by man from natural fibers, usually cellulose, through simple chemical transformations. These transformations are carried out because polymers in nature have an irregular surface or insufficient length to be made into long strands. 

The most common fabric in this category is rayon, a term used to describe all yarns produced from cellulose derivatives. Depending on the chemical process used, different types of yarns can be obtained (viscose, cupro, acetate, etc.). 

These fibers, precisely because they are artificial, have several advantages: their diameter can reach the desired fineness and length, their gloss and opacity can be controlled, they can be dyed at any time during processing and there is a higher yield due to the absence of impurities. 

rayon yarn on spools

Textile fibers of synthetic origin 

Synthetic fibers are obtained through complex synthesis processes using raw materials that are rarely available in nature. They are also known as man-made. 

Synthetic fibers represent 55% of the fibers produced for clothing and furniture and are divided into “families” according to the classification of the polymers that compose them. The main synthetic fibers are nylon, polyester fibers, and acrylic fibers. 

Synthetic fibers are characterized by a low specific weight, which allows high fabric yield, thermoplasticity, water repellency, easy washing, and wear resistance. On the other hand, the negative characteristics are low thermal stability, low moisture absorption, low breathability, and electrostatic. 

In addition, because they are water-repellent fabrics, they are difficult to dye and require special dyes. 

Textile fibers often include short-fiber materials that are not spun but rather adhered together to form a layer of a certain thickness and fabric consistency, such as felt. 

nylon lines

The relationship between fibers and yarns 

  • In the textile segment, it is from the various spinning processes of the fibers that we obtain the yarns – which, in turn, generate the fabric. Often, when combining effects, fibers and colors, a multitude of types of yarns can emerge, offering new textures to fabrics. 
  • Depending on the combinations of fibers, their length, twists and thickness, the quality and price variations that the textile segment offers are obtained. 
  • Check, below, the main characteristics of the threads used in the textile segment, according to the Sewing, Use and Conservation of Fabrics Booklet developed by TexBrasil Decor: 
  • The title, which is the yarn number, is expressed in TEX units. The higher the value, the thicker the yarn; 
  • Its twists, which are indicated in twists per meter, for yarn. Depending on the application, we need higher and lower twist yarns. 

Why is it important to know about textile fibers? 

A manufacturer has a duty to know the raw material that will be used. Not only the yarn construction process but also the textile fibers that compose it must be studied. 

Knowing the origin, characteristics, and indications of applications of textile fibers is of paramount importance since they directly interfere with the quality of the final product. Natural, artificial, or synthetic fibers have specific characteristics that should receive special attention, especially when the yarn produced with them is applied in the clothing industry, in fashion shows, and in the collections of the main fashion events in Brazil and around the world. 

From the most varied spinning and fiber mixing processes, specific yarns for each garment can come out, such as yarns with a high level of perspiration for summer pieces, with thermal properties to protect from the cold or even hypoallergenic for direct contact garments. with the skin, thus justifying the importance of knowing each textile fiber. 

How are fabrics and textile structures formed? 

Fabrics are textile structures manufactured in the form of flexible sheets. They are the result of the intertwining in an orderly or disorderly way of threads and fibers that compose them. For such entanglement, the obtaining system must form a dimensional structure in which we need some processes and even combinations. 

Between the crossing of wefts and warps, or even by fusion and chemical processes, the types of fabrics arise and acquire visual structures and physical behaviors such as flexibility, folds, stretching, elasticities, among many other factors added to the textile material. 

There is a classification of the fabrics as to their structure, as to the result of the intertwining. These structures can arise: 

by interlacing the threads; 

by adhesive action of fiber fusion; 

by results from textile fiber solutions; 

and the so-called “specials” which are mixed solutions. 

To get an idea of the textile complexity, understanding the countless details and materials, there are several genetic classifications of manufactured chemical fibers, not including natural ones, adding up to at least 25 basic fabric structures and variations thereof. 

Denim fabric with a focus on intertwining fibers

Recognition of right and wrong in fabrics

A curiosity: did you know that it is essential to define the right side of the fabric so that the making of clothes comes out in the right way, without errors and waste? 

In some cases, recognizing the front and back of the fabric is quite simple. This is the case with prints, for example. In other cases, it is necessary to use common sense. However, some criteria that can facilitate the recognition of the reverse side of the fabric: 

Fabric take-up: the back of the fabric is normally on the roll; 

Shine: silky fabrics have a higher shine on their right side; 

selvedges, when the name of the fabric producer is printed on the selvedges, this is the right side, when it is embroidered or woven, this is the right side; 

Touch: the smoothest side is the right side and the roughest side is the reverse side; 

Weft: usually the warp is more visible on the wrong side; 

Lace: The reliefs on the lace indicate the right side of the fabric. 

Due to its importance for the segment, it is essential that all professionals involved in the planning of the production process of clothing know the main characteristics of fabrics, their classification, and properties of fit and suitability.

Fabric improvement: 10 main treatments to know 

The fabric can go through different textile processing after weaving is finished. Each of these finishes to which it is submitted has the objective of transforming the appearance and/or structure of the fibers, modifying it in terms of malleability and hardness, removing impurities that remain in the fibers, among others. 

Check the list of the main treatments that can be applied to fabrics in order to modify them for Industry and clothing: 

1. Bleach 

This processing is carried out with the application of bleaching chemicals – hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite, or sodium chlorite – which are intended to lighten the fabric fibers. 

The procedure is usually applied with natural fibers that have a yellowish color and prepares the fabric for the following processes, such as optical bleaching, dyeing, or printing. 

After finishing the bleaching stage, the fibers must be washed to remove the chemicals from the material. 

2. Optical whitening 

Some fabrics, even after going through the bleaching process, tend to reflect a yellowish color, being necessary to apply the optical whitening procedure on them. 

This processing consists of the use of a (hot) product that will reflect the blue and violet rays, fighting the yellow ones and making the fabric appear even whiter. 

3. Branching 

Attached only by the selvedges, the fabrics go through an oven for drying and/or thermosetting. The material faces do not come into contact with any other surfaces during the process. Generally performed in synthetic fibers, this processing tends to fix the width and weight of the fabric, as well as to stabilize the threads. 

4. Sanforization 

Procedure performed with the purpose of causing the mechanical shrinkage of the fabric in the direction of the warp (length). During the fabrication of the material, the threads are stretched and tensioned and if they do not go through a process of relaxation of the fibers, they tend to shrink after washing. This process is generally applied to cotton fabrics. 

5. Calendaring 

In this procedure, the fabric is squeezed at high pressure and temperature when passing between cylinders in equipment. In this way, the material has a flattened surface and gives greater light reflection, providing more intense shine and better touch to the surface of the cloth. 

6. Scorching or gassing 

This process aims to eliminate by burning the fibers that protrude over the fabric, leaving the surface of the material uniform. 

The small disordered filaments can be eliminated by hot plates or flames. If the method is not done, problems may occur in relation to the solidity and regularity of the prints, for example. 

7. Desizing 

This method is applied in order to remove ironing substances added to the filaments during the fabric production stage. 

These elements need to be eliminated from the fibers, as they tend to create a protective layer on the fabric and prevent the proper application of other processing. 

8. Purge 

It consists of a wet cleaning process applied in an alkaline medium and aims to eliminate the impurities present in the fibers: fats, resins, paraffin, oils, among others. 

9. Flanneling 

In this process, small filaments are drawn on the surface of the fabric, leaving the fabric with a fuzzy appearance. 

10. Sanding 

The application of this method aims to obtain a fibrous surface on the tissue, however, it appears smaller than in the flannel effect. To achieve the result, cylinders wrapped in sandpaper are used and their movement causes the “peach skin” effect. 

Did you see just how many processes are involved in the classification, treatment, and destination of textile fibers? Here on the Audaces blog, you can find out about everything about Industry 4.0, technology for clothing, and development. 

Now, how about finding out more about digital transformation and how it is impacting clothing in Brazil and around the world? To the next! 

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