How to Identify Fabrics | Lesson 1: Fibers and Yarns


Hi everyone, it’s Emily! 

I’ve been getting quite a few questions about fabrics lately, and I figured I should make a blog about this topic. I’m referring to identifying fabrics. It’s probably one of the most useful courses I took in fashion design school. 

Understanding fabrics is SO important. A design is completely dependent on the fabric. It’s what brings your garment to life. Fabric is what allows you to structure a design. For example, you can’t create a bodycon fit with a stiff, woven fabric. You can’t achieve the fluidity of charmeuse with duchess satin. And you can’t substitute the sculptural effect of taffeta with a single jersey knit. 

Learning fabrics and fiber content takes time. It also takes using different fabrics and practicing with them to understand them. But you have to start somewhere. That’s what I hope to help you do today. 

For this first lesson, I’d like to start with the basics. That means starting with the building blocks of fabrics- the fibers. Stick with me here. Fibers are not the most fun part about fabrics, but are the foundation to understanding fabrics. :)

Defining fibers

Fibers are the building block of yarns. Yarn makes up fabrics. They are by definition a thread or filament from which a vegetable tissue, mineral substance, or textile is formed.

There are two types of fibers: Natural and Synthetic. 

Types of Fibers in Fabrics - Slow Fashion Blogger

Natural Fibers come from nature. There are two types of natural fibers: cellulose and protein. Cellulose fibers come from plants. Examples are cotton, flax, and hemp. Protein fibers come from animals. Think silk and wool. 

Synthetic Fibers are man made. Synthetic fibers consist of regenerated cellulose and protein fibers and chemical and regenerated chemical fibers. 

Regenerated Cellulose is a manufactured product of cellulose. Examples include lyocell, bamboo, rayon. An example of a Regenerated Protein fiber is soy. 

Chemical fibers have a chemical composition, structure, and properties that are significantly modified during the manufacturing process. Examples include acrylic, polyester, and rayon. An example of a Regenerated Chemical fiber is acetate. 

Identifying Fiber Content

With practice and time, you’ll eventually be able to see and feel a fabric and have some idea of what the fiber content is. 

When in doubt, you can also try a burn test. A burn test is performed by setting a small piece of fabric on fire, monitoring the flame as it burns, and inspecting the ashes after the flame is gone. 

burn test chart - fiber learning

In general, you’ll know if a fabric is made from cellulose if it smells like paper and has a light feathery ash. 

If a fabric contains protein fiber, it will likely smell like burning hair, won’t hold the flame, and create a gray-black bead that is easily crushed. 

Chemical fibers will melt when burned and produce a bead that is very hard to crush. 

From Fiber to Yarn

First thing to know in regards to fibers is that the length of fiber in a yarn determines the appearance of the fabric. There are two fiber lengths: staple or filament

staple vs filament yarn - slow fashion blogger

Staple fibers are shorter and create spun yarns. Staple fibers come from natural sources except silk. Silk is a filament fiber. Filament fibers are long, and they create filament yarns. They come from silk and manufactured fibers and are the strongest of the types of yarn.

There are three categories of yarn: spun, filament, and novelty. Filament yarns create fabric with a silky, smooth, cool feel. Spun yarns create fabric with a fuzzy, dull, warm feel. 

There are also novelty yarns:

  • Crepe: pebbly appearance
crepe yarn - fabric blog
  • Boucle: has loops
boucle yarn - slow fashion blogger
  • Chenille: velvet-like
chenille yarn - fabric blog
  • Eyelash: fur-like appearance
eyelash yarn - fabric blog
  • Slub: has bumps throughout the yarn
slub yarn - slow fashion blog
  • Metallic: film cut into strips
metallic yarn - identifying fibers and yarns
  • Tweed: different color flecks within the yarn
chanel tweed yarn

That’s all I’d like to cover today. Stick around for a much more fun lesson where we learn about fabric structures, so we can start identifying fabrics and what to use them for. 

Comment below if this blog helped you, and I will make another lesson! Let me know if you have any questions :) Subscribe to my channel and click the bell to get notified when I upload new videos. Thanks for watching and have a great day!

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