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August 21, 2019


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Fabric University | Fabric Seminar | Fiber Characteristics | Frequently Asked Questions
Fiber Characteristics


The following are frequently asked questions concerning a variety of fabric related topics. If you have a question, let us know. For convenience, FAQ's are arranged alphabetically by topic.

  • Acetate
  • Acrylic
  • Cotton
  • Fiber Blends
  • General Fabric Related
  • Gore-Tex
  • Linen
  • Lyocell
  • Microfibers
  • Mohair
  • Nylon
  • Pilling
  • Polyester
  • Polyolefin (Olefin)
  • Ramie
  • Rayon
  • Silk
  • Spandex
  • Triacetate
  • Wool

    Isn't acetate only used in linings of coats and jackets?

    Acetate is still the fabric of choice for linings because it has no static or pilling problem. However, today it is a fashion fiber, being used in dresses, suits, sportswear, evening wear, bridal gowns, blouses, prom dresses, intimate apparel and robes.
    I bought a polyester dress that is lined with acetate. It says "Dry Clean Only." I'm wondering what terrible things will happen if I wash it in cold water and either line dry it, or tumble on low?

    The acetate lining will likely shrink and may turn stiff. You won't be happy. Best advice is to have the dress dry cleaned.

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    What makes acrylic athletic socks so popular?

    Acrylic fibers wick perspiration away from the skin to the surface of the sock, where it can evaporate. Cotton and wool absorb nearly twice as much moisture as acrylic. Consequently, the fibers compress, reducing both the cushioning and resilience, both of which can minimize the effectiveness of an athletic sock. The official socks of the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Assoication (NBA) are made of acrylic.

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    What is Cotton Incorporated?

    Cotton Incorporated is the reasearch and promotion company funded by U.S. cotton producers and importers of cotton goods into the United States. They are responsible for "The Fabric of Our Lives" ads you may have seen on television.
    It seems like everything has cotton in it. How does cotton rank in useage in textiles?

    According to Cotton Incorporated, cotton's share of the retail market in the United States for apparel and home fashion (excluding carpets) is 57.8%. Therfore, it is the most used fiber by far.
    What is Egyptian cotton? I've heard so many people singing it's praises, I'm very curious. I have not, however, had any success in finding it in fabric stores. When I ask for Egyptian cotton they show me linen. Help!

    Egyptian cotton is a general classification for the strong, lustrous, long staple cotton produced mainly in the Nile River Valley. The fibers average 1-1/8 to 1-1/2 inches long. The fibers are fine and vary from a light cream to a dark tan in color. Egypt is the world's largest producer of beter quality cottons.
    What are the softest bedsheets? What material, threadcount, or brandname, etc.? My girlfriend is extremely sensitive to sheet fabrics, some feel like sandpaper to her. What should she be looking for? She doesn't want anything that pills. She wants something that is soft, stays soft, doesn't pill.

    To meet your requirements, sheets should be 100% cotton and have a threadcount of at least 250. Any sheets with polyester will pill more. The ultimate sheet for softness and reduced pilling would be 100% Egyptian cotton with a thread count of 300. But, this would likely cost over $200 for a set of sheets.

    (Follow-up Comment- Thanks for the great info. Karen got some sheets, and they are great, even to me. Your advice was spot-on!)

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    Why do some designers and manufacturers use blended fibers?

    Blending of fibers is done to enhance the performance and improve the aesthetic qualities of fabric. Fibers are selected and blended in certain proportions so the fabric will retain the best characteristics of each fiber. Blending can be done with natural and man-made fibers, but is usually done with various combinations of man-made fibers or man-made and natural fibers. For example, when polyester is blended with wool, the fabric retains the beautiful drape and feel of 100% wool, and the polyester adds durability. In some blends the polyester even makes the fabric machine washable.

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    What causes variations in the appearance and feel of fabrics with the same fiber content?

    Variations in the hand and appearance of fabrics with the same fiber content can be caused by differences in the weave or finish used in each fabric. The use of textured yarns, a modification done to many fibers, prior to knitting or weaving, can also alter the appearance of a fiber from smooth, lustrous, and flat to crimped, dull, and soft.

    The care label in my daughter's 100% polyester blouse says "dry clean only." Can I machine wash this blouse on permanent press or gentle cycles or should I just hand wash it with a mild soap?

    I agree it's undesirable to have to dry clean your daughter's clothes. Polyester is washable. However, if the label says dry clean only there may be a linig, collar, trim, embroidery or other embellishment which shouldn't be washed. When the label says "dry clean only," the word "only" is a warning which should be taken seriously. It's there for a reason.

    I have a long dress of rayon velvet that fell on the floor on the bottom of closet and is wrinkled. What can I do?

    Velvet, particularly high pile velvet, can not be pressed flat with an iron, because you will flatten out the pile. Typically, velvets should be pressed using what is called a "needle board". These can be purchased at most large fabric centers. An alternative might be to try to use a hand steamer, but don't let the steamer itself touch or press against the pile, otherwise you could flatten the pile. Let the steam penetrate the fabric and that should remove the wrinkles. Or, you could take it to a dry cleaner and ther could steam it for you.

    This assumes the dress is wrinkled and the pile is not flattened already. If the pile is flattened, depending on the degree it's flattened it may be difficult to return it to it's original shape. However, you can certainly make it better. Hope this helps.

    I've seen the fabric called "Charmeuse" in clothing ads lately. What type of fabric is it? Is it expensive? What kind of care is recommended - dry clean, hand wash, machine wash?

    Charmeuse is a lightweigt dress fabric made of silk, cotton, or manufacturered fibers. It is soft, smooth, and drapes well. It has a semi-lustrous face and a dull back. I'd put the cost of the fabric in the moderate range. The cost of a finished garment will also depend on other quality details.

    Regarding the care of charmeuse, some garments can be washed and some need to be dry cleaned, depending on the fiber content, stability of dyes, fininshes, and the presence of any lining material and/or embellishments. So, the best answer I can give is to check the care instructions on the label.

    How does light from incandescent or fluorscent lights fade the dye in natural fibers such as wool and cotton?

    Many light sources contain invisible ultraviolet rays, which can alter the chemical structure of dyes and cause fading. The ability of a fabric to resist color changes from exposure to light is a function of several factors, including the type of dye used, the fiber content of the fabric, the type of the light source (artificial/natural, direct/indirect), and the length of exposure.

    Most dyes will eventually fade from exposure to sunlight or artificial light. Fading will typically occur more rapidly on exposed areas such as shoulders, collars, and sleeves. Many blue, green , and lavender dyes are more light sensitive, especially on wool and silk. It is important for the manufacturer to select a dye that's appropriate for the fabric and it's end use. The consumer needs to take reasonable precautions to minimize exposure to light, including during storage/hanging.

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    What is Gore-Tex® Fabric?

    Gore-Tex® Fabric is a high performance fabric used in outdoor apparel to keep you dry and comfortable, even when exposed to extreme wet, windy and cold conditions. Gore-Tex® Fabric has a uniquely patented structure made up of two different substances. One is a ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethlene) membrane, which is hydrophobic or water hating. It contains 9 billion pores per square inch. Liquid water cannot penetrate these pores, but moisture from perspiration can easily escape. Integrated into the membrane is an oleophobic or oil hating substance, which prevents penetration of contaminants that might affect waterproofness or breathability. The Gore-Tex® line also includes Dryloft® Fabric, Gore-Windstopper® Fabric, Activent® Fabric, and Gore-Tex® Immersion Technology® and Ocean Technology® Fabrics.

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    Where does linen come from?

    Linen comes from the fiber in the stem of a flax plant. Major producers are the Soviet States, the largest producer, Belgium, France, Germany and Northern Ireland.

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    What is Tencel?

    Tencel is the Courtauld's Fibers, Inc trade name for the new lyocell fiber. Like rayon and acetate, lyocell is a cellulosic fiber made from wood pulp or cellulose. Although the Tencel fabric looks and acts very much like rayon, it is much stronger than rayon, and is machine washable.

    I would be very intrested to know what type of trees are used for the manufacture of lyocell fibre. Are the trees specifically grown for the purpose of being turned into fibre? Just what is the process used to manufacture this fibre? This fibre sounds like it is a renewable resource and is only minimal in its pollution. I would appreciate as much information as you can provide on this new fibre.

    As you may know, Tencel is the trademark for Courtaulds Fibers' lyocell fiber. Lyocell is made from wood pulp from managed tree farms. I can't remember hearing what type of trees are used. You can learm about the process of making Tencel by visiting the Tencel web site at http://www.tencel.com/

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    Why are some micro-fiber garments labeled as 100% micro-fiber and don't include the type of micro-fiber contained in the fabric? (i.e. polyester, nylon, or acrylic)?

    The U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires that all textile products contain a label listing the generic name of all textile fibers which account for at least 5 percent of the total fiber content. Since "microfiber" is not a generic fiber name, this is improper labelling by the manufacturer.

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    Where does mohair come from?

    Mohair fiber comes from Angora goats. The goats are believed to have originated in the Himalaya Mountains in Asia. They found their way to Turkey, and derive their name from Ankara, the name of the province in Turkey where the goats thrived. The main mohair region in the United States is Texas, where 1,800,000 head of goats are raised.

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    Why does nylon have a static problem?

    Nylon fiber is hydrophobic, that is, it does not absorb much water. This is the reason it has a static problem. On the positive side, a hydophobic fiber will dry fast.

    What is Polyamide and why is it in hoisery? I have purchased some Levante stockings and they contain 84% polyamide and 16% Lycra.

    Polyamides are compounds formed by polymerization of amino acids or by condensation of damines with dicarboxylic acids. Wew! They are the basic fiber forming substances for nylon fiber. I suspect it a European term used for nylon, just as they often refer to rayon as viscose.

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    What can be done to minimize pilling?

    Pilling of a fabric occurs when groups of short or broken fibers on the surface of the fabric become tangled together in a tiny ball called a pill. Pilling results from rubbing (abrasion) of the fabric during normal wear and use. While pilling cannot be eliminated it can be minimized by proper handling during washing of the fabric/garment. Before laundering, turn the garment inside and out. Use a slower agitation and a shorter wash cycle. And, remove the garment from the dryer as soon as it is dry.
    How can you remove pills?

    To remove any pills on fabric, pull the fabric taut over a curved surface and carefully cut off the pill with scissors or shave the fabric surface with a safety razor. There are also battery operated pill removers, which shave the pills much like an electric razor.

    However, it's important to understand that once you remove the pills, they can come back. So you may find that you'll have to remove pills from time to time to keep your garment looking fresh and new.

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    Polyester seems to be in everything. Why?

    Polyester is the most used and most blended man-made fiber. Polyester fiber is strong, resists shrinkage, stretching and wrinkles, is abrasion resistent and is easily washable. It is used in essentialy every form of clothing, as well as in curtains, draperies, carpets, floor coverings and upholstery. Blends of 50 to 65% polyester with cotton provides a minimum care fabric used in a variety of shirts, slacks, dresses, blouses, sportswear and many home fashion items A 50/50 polyester/acrylic blend is used for slacks, sportswear and dresses. And blends of polyester (45 to 55%) and worsted wool creates a fabric which is wrinkle resistent.

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    What is polyolefin and where is it used?

    Polyolefin, or olefin, is a man-made fiber discovered in 1954 and first commericially produce in 1961. It is the only fiber which received a Nobel prize. Polyolefin has many important characteristics, such as excellent abrasion and stain resistance, high strength, low absorbency, high wicking action. colorfastness and easy care. For apparel it is used primarily in activewear and sportswear, socks, thermal underwear, and in lining fabrics. In home fashion it is used in in-door and out-door carpets, upholstery, and wall coverings.

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    What is ramie?

    Ramie is a vegetable fiber similar to the flax. It comes from stem of an East Indian shrub. It is also produced in Europe, China and Egypt. Fibers are generally 2.5 to 18 inches long. The fibers have good strength, a lustrous appearance, keeps their shape and does not shrink. But, fibers are brittle and have a low twisting and bending strength. Ramie is used in apparel and is blended with wool and rayon in carpets.

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    What causes rain water to stain a rayon dress, so that even a dry cleaner can't remove the "spots"?

    Water can cause a rayon garment labeled "dry clean only" to fade tremendously. The "spots" you see where rain drops hit the dress are caused by fading, or running of the dye, and are not actually stains on the fabric. So, whenever wearing a "dry clean only" rayon garment in stormy weather, be sure to wear a raincoat and bring an umbrella! But, read the label, because some rayon is washable.

    Why are some rayon garments labeled "washable" and some labeled "dry clean only"?

    Originally rayon was a "dry clean only" fiber. However, washability in rayon can be achieved by putting certain finishes on the surface of the fabric after it was knitted or woven. But since this also adds to the price, many rayons in the marketplace remain untreated, and are therefore "dry clean only". It's very important to read the labels, and be aware that just because you may have purchased a washable rayon last week, that doesn't mean that all rayons are washable.

    I've heard that you can still wash a "dry clean only" rayon if you're careful. Is this true?

    Anytime a rayon garment labeled "dry clean only" is washed, a risk is taken that one of three problems may happen. First the garment can shrink tremendously, sometimes as much as two or three sizes. Second, the garment may fade, or a printed pattern may bleed. And third, the fabric may lose its soft hand. The rayon that was once soft and drapeable may become stiff and harsh.

    Can washable rayon be machine washed and dried?

    Most of the washable rayon garments today are labeled "hand wash, cool water, drip dry or dry flat". And, it's important that these directions are followed. When rayon is wet, it loses up to 30% to 50% of its strength. The constant agitation of the washer, and tumbling of the dryer will eventually cause the fiber to break down, and will shorten the life of the garment. To get the maximum life out of your washable rayon garment, it's best to hand wash and drip/hang dry.

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    What is wild silk and how does it differ from other silk?

    Typically, silk comes from the cocoon of a silkworm, which feeds only on mulberry leaves. A diet of mulberry leaves produces the finest, silkiest fiber. Wild silk comes silkworms which feed on a variety of leaves, including oak and cherry trees. Wild silk is often brown or somewhat nonuniform in color, thicker, and less lustrous.
    I purchased a "raw silk", washable ready-made outfit that has a peculiar odor. When the fabric is warm (from the iron or from extended wear) it has a musty odor (reminds me of cantaloupe). It's been washed several times and the odor is less noticable, but still there on warm days (I'm in Arizona!) When cool, there is no discernable smell.

    What is my problem, and how can I permanently neutralize it? I've noticed this odor on other people, but assumed it was a perfume(probably expensive, probably designer - you know if you put a celebrity name on anything someone will buy it!).

    Regarding your smelly silk, it is probably the dyestuff chemicals used in the dyeing and finishing processes that is causing the odor.

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    What's the difference between Lycra® and spandex?

    The first commercial production of spandex in the United States was in 1959 by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc. Spandex is a lightweight durable fiber, most often blended with nylon and used in such garments as bathing suits, bodywear, and panty hose. It is more flexible than conventional elastic threads, and has two to three times more restraining power. It can also be repeatedly stretched over 500% without breaking and still recover instantly to its original length. Spandex is the generic classification for this type of fiber, and Lycra is DuPont's brand name for it's spandex fiber.

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    How is triacetate dfferent from acetate?

    Like acetate, triacetate is a cellulosic fiber, which means it has wood pulp as one of its major consituents. Essentially, triacetate fibers contain less cellulose than acetate fibers. The result is that triacetate are washable, wrinkle resistant, and have excellent pleat retention. Triacetate is used in dresses, skirts, sportwear, and garments where pleat retention is important.

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    What are woolens?

    Woolens are fabrics woven or knitted from short wool fiber, which give the fabric a hairy appearance.
    Why does wool dye so well?

    The wool fiber has tiny pores that open and take the dye right inside the fiber. That why it look so rich in color.
    What is Superwash?

    Superwash is the highest standard of machine washable wool. Licensed manufacturers use Superwash to identify product that will withstand repeated machine laundering while still retaining softness, shape and color.


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