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Textile Fibers – the building blocks of the textile industry

Characteristics of textile fibers and its properties

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Fiber is a hair-like strand of material. It is flexible and can be spun or twisted for weaving, braiding, knitting, crocheting, etc. to make desired products. Fibers can be obtained in natural form from plants and animals as well as in synthetic form. Man-made or synthetic fibers are either made up of chemicals or by processing natural fibers to create new fiber structures/properties.

General Properties of Fibres

Staple Fibres

Natural or man-made or short length fibers which measure in inches or fraction of inch example 3/4 inch to 18 inches except silk, all other natural fibers are stapled fibers. Staple fibers are of limited length.


Long continuous fibers strands of indefinite length measured in yards or meters fibers of continuous length long enough to be used in fabric as such Natural silk filament is 360-1200 meters. Synthetic filaments can be made many kilometers long. The only natural fiber available is silk.


It is the tactile sensation experienced when the hand is passed over a surface. Staple fibers and fabrics made from staples are lightly rough while filaments and fabrics made from filaments fibers are smooth.


It means that when the fiber is compressed and later when the pressure is released. It will tend to return to its original shape. Resistance to compression varies from fiber to fiber. This quality causes the fabric to be wrinkle-resistant with the resistance varying according to the degree of elasticity inherent in the fiber. Wool has outstanding resiliency while it is poor in cotton.


It is seen when light is reflected from a surface. It is more subdued than shine. Silk and synthetics have more luster than cellulosic fibers. In fact, synthetics have a high luster which is purposefully removed during spinning.

Static Electricity

It is generated by the friction of a fabric when it is rubbed against itself or other objects. If the electrical charge is not conducted away, it tends to build upon the surface, and when the fabric comes in contact with a good conductor a shock or transfer occurs. This transfer may sometimes produce sparks. This is more feel during hot and humid conditions.


Wool fiber is more or less wavy and has twisted. This waviness is termed as crimp. Finer the wool more will be the crimps in it. Merino wool will have 30 crimps per inch while coarse wool has only one or two. This property of having crimps gives elasticity to the fiber.


It is the ability of stretched material to return immediately to its original size.

Cellulose fiber Synthetic Fiber
Low resiliency: material wrinkles unless any finishing is given High resiliency: Fewer wrinkles once laundry and carrying
High water absorbency: comfy for summer wears, smart for towel, hand scarf, and diapers. Low wet absorption: simply wash-and-wear and straightforward spot removing.
Cellulosic fibers are smart conductors of warmth. eg: Cotton could be a higher conductor of warmth however but that of cloth. Synthetic fibers also are smart conductors of warmth they soften with hot or ironic bits with hot objects.
Identification: polyose fibers ignite quickly, burns freely with smoke, and have a when glowing and when burning from grey feathery ash Identification: without delay burns and melts give a definite plastic burning odor.
Cellulosic fiber has a high attraction for dyes. Synthetic fibers have a low affinity for dyes.
Cellulosic fibers are proof against lepidopteron however less at risk of mildew thence damp garments mustn’t be kept. Highly proof against moths, mildew, and insects.
Cellulosic fibers would like ironing at low temperatures. Eg: wool Synthetic fibers are adjusted with high heat settings. thence it’s smart for decorated planning and straightforward for plant setting

Natural Fibres

  • Natural fibers have been used throughout the world for thousands of years.
  • Early civilization relied on crude coverings and simple clothing made from natural fibers collected in the wild.
  • Cotton, wool, silk, and flax are the most commonly used natural fibers found in the apparel and home textiles markets.

Natural Fibers

Download Natural Fibers PDF Chart


  • Оf аll the nаturаl fibers, соttоn is the mоst imроrtаnt.
  • Аррrоximаtely 125 milliоn bаles аre рrоduсed аnnuаlly, by fаr the lаrgest аmоunt оf аll nаturаl
  • It is рrоduсed in 90 соuntries аrоund the glоbe.
  • It is аn eсоnоmiс саtаlyst fоr develорing соuntries аs well аs а  mаinstаy оf industriаl nаtiоns.
  • Fluсtuаtiоn оf соttоn рrоduсtiоn аnd use is сlоsely mоnitоred beсаuse оversuррly аnd undersuррly аffeсt the рriсe аnd eсоnоmiс соnditiоns оf the entire рiрeline frоm fаrmer tо the соnsumer.
  • Stаndаrd bаle weighs 500 роunds (226.8 kilоgrаms)
  • Соttоn is а seed fiber – e. it is аttасhed tо the seed оf the соttоn рlаnt – аnd hаs been used fоr оver 1000 yeаrs.
  • It is the mоst widely used fiber in the wоrld.
  • The leаding рrоduсers оf соttоn inсlude the United Stаtes, Сhinа, Indiа, Turkey, Раkistаn, аnd Uzbekistаn. Egyрtiаn соttоn is оf high-quаlity, lоng-stарle соttоn.
  • Соttоn is сlаssified nоt оnly by its sрeсies, but аlsо by  its fiber length, соlоr, аnd сleаnliness (leаf аnd stem соntent), аll оf whiсh соntribute tо the соst оf the
  • The fiber length is the mоst imроrtаnt beсаuse the lоnger the stарle length, the better the fiber рrорerties. Аdditiоnаlly, соlоr аnd сleаnliness саn be аddressed in рrосessing.
  • It is а рlаnt fiber аnd henсe соttоn is соmроsed mаinly оf сellulоse.
  • It is а medium-weight fiber оf nаturаl сreаm оr tаn соlоr with а length between 1/2 аnd 2 1/2 inсhes (1.27 аnd 35 сm).
  • Mоst соttоn used is аbоut 1 tо 1 ½ inсhes (2.54 tо 18 сm) lоng.
  • Under а miсrоsсорe, соttоn lооks like а flаt twisted tube


  • The fiber hаs gооd strength аnd аbrаsiоn resistаnсe.
  • It is hydrорhiliс (8 1/2 рerсent mоisture regаin), аbsоrbs mоisture quiсkly, аnd dries quiсkly.
  • Quiсk drying gives а сооling effeсt, whiсh mаkes соttоn а соmfоrtаble fiber tо weаr in hоt weаther.
  • It hаs а 10 рerсent inсreаse in strength when wet, whiсh mаkes it соmрletely lаunderаble.
  • It is dry сleаn-аble аnd hаs nо stаtiс оr рilling рrоblems. It hаs fаir drарe аnd а sоft hаnd, аnd it is inexрensive.


  • Соttоn hаs little luster аnd hаs рооr elаstiсity аnd resilienсy.
  • It is аttасked by mildew аnd silyerfish.
  • It is highly resistаnt tо аlkаlies but is weаkened by resin сhemiсаls used in
  • It is аlsо соmрrоmised when exроsed tо асids whiсh саn be used tо сreаte а ‘wоrn’ lооk оr hоles in jeаns.
  • Соttоn fаbriсs fоrm lint beсаuse the shоrt fibers аre аble tо соme оut оf the fаbriс eаsily.

End Uses

  • The end uses оf соttоn inсlude а wide rаnge оf рrоduсts in the арраrel, interiоr furnishings, аnd industriаl аreаs.
  • Exаmрles inсlude blоuses, jeаns, jасkets, tоwels, sheets, trоusers, T-shirts, belts, аnd sneаkers.
  • It tаkes аbоut 24 оunсes оf соttоn fiber tо mаke аn аverаge раir оf jeаns аnd аbоut 8 оunсes tо mаke а T-shirt. ( 1 оunсe = 34 grаms)


  • Flax comes from the stem or stalk of the flax plant and is harvested by pulling the entire plant from the ground. When the fiber is processed into fabric, it is called linen.
  • It is generally considered to be the oldest textile fiber, having been used in the Stone Age.
  • The largest producer is France, with most of the other leading producers – including Germany, Belgium, and Russia. Northern Ireland, Italy, and Belgium are leading exporters of linen cloth.
  • Flax is raised for both its fiber and seed. The seeds contain linseed oil, used primarily in paints and varnishes.
  • The long fibers are used to make fabric, and short fibers are used for twine, rope, and rug backings.
  • Because it is a plant fiber, flax is composed mainly of cellulose.
  • It is a medium-weight fiber of naturally light tan color with a fiber length between 2 and 36 inches (5.08 to 91.44 cm).
  • The average is from 6 to 20 inches (15.24 to 50.8 cm).
  • The fiber, when viewed under a microscope is shaped like bamboo.


  • The fiber has excellent strength. It is the strongest of plant fibers. Flax is also 10 percent stronger when wet.
  • Its hand is good and the fiber has good luster.
  • It is more hydrophilic than cotton ( 12 percent moisture regain), absorbs moisture quickly, and also dries quickly.
  • These properties make it a good fiber for hot weather wear because quick drying has a cooling effect.
  • Flax is completely washable and dry cleanable. Sometimes, however, dry cleaning is mandated due to finishes applied to the fabric or the construction of the product.
  • It has the highest safe – ironing temperature (450°F = 232°C).
  • It has no static or pilling problems.
  • Linen fabrics are lint-free because they contain no very short fibers.


Flax has only fair resistance to abrasion, making it less durable than cotton.

It has poor drape, elasticity, and resiliency and it is vulnerable to mildew and silverfish.

End Uses

The principal end uses of flax include dresses, suits, sports jackets, luxury tablecloths, napkins, and wallpaper.


  • Silk is said to have been discovered in 2640 B.C. by a Chinese princess. It is a continuous strand of two filaments cemented together, which forms the cocoon of the silkworm.
  • The silkworm secretes silk by forcing two fine streams of a thick liquid out tiny openings in its head.
  • In contact with air, the fine streams of liquid harden into filaments.
  • The worm winds the silk around itself, forming a complete covering (cocoon) for protection while changing from a worm into a moth.
  • As much as 1,600 yards (1,463 meters) of fiber are used to make the cocoon.
  • Silkworms are usually cultivated and are raised under controlled conditions of environment and nutrition; this is called sericulture.
  • The food for sericulture silkworms consists solely of mulberry leaves.
  • These worms produce the finest, silkiest fibers. To keep the silk in one continuous length, the worms in the cocoons are subjected to heat before they are ready to leave.
  • Some moths, however, are allowed to mature and break out of their cocoons to produce the eggs for the next crop of silk.
  • Spun silk yarn can be made of short fibers taken from pierced cocoons, from the first and last part of the cocoon, which is of poorer quality, from waste silk that accumulates around the machines during the various operations, or from a combination of these sources.
  • China is the leading silk producer in the world. Other producers include India, Japan, Thailand, and Brazil.
  • Silk is composed mainly of protein because it is an animal fiber.
  • It is a medium-weight fiber of naturally white color. The fiber may look gray or yellow because that is the color of sericin, which is the gummy substance that makes cocoons hard.
  • The silk that has not had the sericin removed is called raw silk.
  • Silk is the only natural filament fiber.
  • When viewed under a microscope, silk has a rounded, triangular shape with an uneven diameter.
Related Posts

Polyester Fiber and its uses

Properties and application of Polyester Fibers and Polyester Yarn


  • The fiber has an excellent drape and a luxurious hand. It is the thinnest of the natural fibers.
  • It is lustrous and hydrophilic ( 11 percent moisture regain).
  • Silk has very little problem with static, and no pilling occurs.
  • Silk fabric can be washed or dry cleaned, although sometimes the dye or finish used necessitates dry cleaning only.


  • Silk has only fair resiliency and abrasion resistance. Its strength is good; it loses about 15 percent stronger when wet, but recovers when dried.
  • The fiber has poor resistance to prolonged exposure to sunlight and can be attacked by moths.
  • It is also expensive and turns yellow if washed with chlorine bleach.
  • It is weakened and made harsher by alkalies such as those found in strong soaps.
  • Silk also degrades over time by exposure to atmospheric oxygen, which makes it especially difficult to preserve, even in climate-controlled museum settings.

End Uses

  • The principal end uses of silk include dresses, ties, scarves, blouses, and other apparel.
  • Silk is also used in home furnishings, particularly decorative pillows, and can be found in washable sheets for the luxury market.
  • It takes approximately 110 silk cocoons to make a tie and over 600 cocoons to make a blouse.


  • Wool is the fiber that forms the covering of sheep. It is also a fiber with history, known to have been used by people at the end of the Stone Age.
  • Approximately 40 different breeds of sheep produce about 200 types of wool fiber of varying grades.
  • Examples of well-known breeds of sheep raised in the United States are Merino and Debouillet (fine-wool grade), Southdown and Columbia (medium-wool grade), and Romney and Lincoln (coarse-wool grade).
  • Grading is the process of judging a whole fleece for fiber fineness and length.
  • Sorting is the process of breaking up an individual fleece into its different qualities.
  • The best-quality wool comes from the back, sides, and shoulder; the poorest comes from the lower legs.
  • The grades of wool vary widely, depending on the breed and health of the sheep and the climate. The thinner the fiber diameter, the better the properties of the wool.
  • Merino wool is considered the best grade of wool. It has the most crimp, best drape, most strength, best resiliency, best elasticity, softest hand, and most scales on its surface.
  • Shorn wool is called fleece wool or clipped wool.
  • Lamb’s wool is wool taken from a sheep younger than one year (first clip); it is desirable because it is fine in diameter, which can make a very soft product.
  • Leading producers of apparel-class wool include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and China.
  • Leading producers of carpet-class wool include China, Argentina, and Turkey.
  • Wool is mainly composed of protein (similar to human hair) because it is an animal fiber. It is a medium-weight fiber of natural cream, brown, or black color.
  • It has a lot of natural crimps, and it has a fiber length between 1 and 18 inches (2.54 to 45.72 centimeters).
  • When viewed under a microscope, its shape is round and it has a scaly surface
wool fiber
Image by Mabel Amber, still incognito… from Pixabay


  • The fiber has good resiliency.
  • Wrinkles come out if the garment is hung in a moist atmosphere.
  • Its hand is fair to excellent, depending on the quality of the wool fiber.
  • Wool has good drape and elasticity and is hydrophobic.
  • Wool has very little problem with static, but its abrasion resistance is good only if it is coarse.
  • Wool makes warm fabrics for two reasons.
  • First, it absorbs moisture vapor slowly.
  • Second, wool fabrics have an excellent insulation property because the fibers have a natural crimp, which prevents them from packing together and so forms dead air spaces (trapped air). The trapped air is the insulating barrier.
  • Wool’s crimpy fibers allow bulky fabrics to be made and also give strength; the high crimp allows it to be pulled with great force without breaking.


  • It loses strength when wet. It has poor luster. Traditionally wool garments must be dry cleaned.
  • Felting occurs in the presence of heat, moisture, and agitation, which cause the fiber surface scales to interlock with one another; this leads to a tangled mass on the fabric surface that cannot be combed or brushed out.
  • With these scales snagging adjacent wool fibers, the fibers cannot return to their original positions in the fabric.
  • Wool fiber surface scales can be either chemically removed or covered with a resin to create a washable fabric in which no felting and only a little shrinkage occur.
  • Wool is vulnerable to moths but can be moth-proofed.
  • Wool has problems with pilling, it turns yellow if washed with chlorine bleach.
  • It is also weakened and made harsher by alkalies, such as those found in strong soaps.
  • However, wool is highly resistant to acids.
  • Wool is an expensive fiber due to the limited quantities available and the cost associated with production.

End Uses

  • The principal end uses of wool include overcoats,
  • suits, sweaters, carpets, luxury upholstery, and felt fabric.

Comparison chart of the most commonly used fibers

Fiber Durability Comfort Appearance
Abrasion Resistance Strength Absorbency Resiliency Pilling Resistance
Cotton Good Good Good Poor Good
Flax Fair Excellent Excellent Poor Good
Silk Fair Good Excellent Fair Good
Wool Fair-good* Poor Excellent Good Fair

Other Natural Fibres

Specialty Hair Fibers

Specialty hair fibers are rare animal fibers that possess special qualities of hand, fineness, or luster. They are usually stronger, finer, and more expensive, but lower in abrasion resistance than most wool fibers.

Bast Fibers

Bast fibers are those that grow in the stem section of the plant and thus are cellulosic in content. Flax is the most important of these fiber types, with hemp, jute, and ramie also having commercial importance.

Leaf Fibers

Leaf fibers are taken from the leaf section of a plant such as a yucca, banana, pineapple, and other plants with similar leaf structures. Sisal is the most important of these fibers.

Specialty hair fibers

Angora: It comes from the Angora rabbit raised in France, Chile, China, and the United States. The fiber is very slippery due to its shape and is often blended with other fibers. it is used in yarns for the hand knitting market.

Alpaca: It comes from the alpaca of South America. It is durable, silky, and very lustrous. Alpaca is frequently used in sweaters, ponchos, and craft items.

Camel hair: It comes from two-hump camels of Mongolia, Tibet, and other areas of Asia. It is a weak fiber with a wool-like texture. Its scales are not as defined as wool. Camel’s hair is mainly used for overcoats.

Cashgora: It is produced in Australia and New Zealand. The fiber comes from the breeding of cashmere and angora goats. It has characteristics similar to both cashmere and angora and is used for less expensive overcoats and suits.

Cashmere: It comes from the inner coat hair of an Asian Cashmere goat. It is extremely fine and is noted for its outstanding softness. China is the world’s leading exporter of cashmere fiber. The hair from three goats is typically needed to produce one cashmere sweater. Principal end uses include scarves, sweaters, suits, and coats for the luxury market.

Llama: It comes from the llama of South America. It is weaker than camel hair and alpaca, but still fairly strong. Uses include sweaters and blankets.

Mohair: It comes from the Angora goat, found mainly in Turkey, South Africa, and the southwestern United States. It is the strongest of the specialty animal fibers, with very good abrasion resistance. It is the most resilient natural textile fiber. It possesses little crimp and its scales are flat, resulting in a slippery, smooth hand and high luster. The fiber can be dyed bright colors and is often used in fashionable specialty clothing, boucle yarns, etc.

Qiviut (pronounced key-vee-ute): It is the underbelly hair from the musk ox found in Alaska and Canada. This fiber is straight, smooth, and has hardly any scales, which make it resist shrinking and felting. It is odorless. Qiviut is second to Vicuna in cost and is used in overcoats.

Vicuna: It comes from the vicuna of South America. It is the finest and softest of all wool and specialty fibers but is also quite weak. The fiber has very fine scales with a smooth hand and high luster. It is three times warmer than wool. Vicuna is the rarest and most costly of the specialty fibers because attempts to domesticate the animals have not been successful. Additionally, the fibers grow very slowly so shearing occurs every 3-4 years. It takes the wool of six vicunas to make a sweater.

Yak: This fiber comes from Mongolia and is a fiber traditionally used by Tibetan nomads. The fiber from the undercoat is compared to cashmere at substantially discounted prices.

Bast Fibers

Hemp: It is a yellowish-brown fiber from the hemp plant that grows easily and quickly in many parts of the world. Leading producers of hemp for textile applications are China, Romania, and Australia. It is a fast-growing fiber requiring little or no pesticides. Land planted with hemp can yield 2% times the production of cotton and 6 times the production of flax. This fiber resembles linen but is coarser and harsher.

It is strong and lightweight and has very little elongation. Hemp was used in canvas for the early sailing ships and was later used to make the first Levi’s jeans. Today its principal end uses are twine, rope, and cordage. Hemp has gained popularity as a specialty fiber for the apparel market as an environmentally friendly “green” textile.

Jute: It is a yellowish-brown fiber that grows mainly in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. It is coarse and harsh, with good resistance to microorganisms and

insects. The fiber has moderate dry strength but low wet strength. It has low elongation, which helps it retain its shape when made into items such as sacks.

Jute is shorter than most hast fibers and is inexpensive to produce. It also has fair abrasion resistance. Its main end uses include fabric for interior furnishings, carpet backing, and cordage.

Ramie: It is a white fiber that is also known as China grass. Although China is the major producer, ramie is also grown in other countries, such as the Philippines and Brazil. It is a fine, absorbent, and quick-drying fiber. It is the most resistant to mildew and rotting of all plant fibers, and it is the strongest. Ramie is slightly stiff and has high natural luster and low elongation. It is similar to flax, and its end uses include apparel for the mass market, some interior furnishings, ropes, and industrial threads.

Sisal: It is a fiber taken from the yucca or cactus plants that grow in warm climates. The fiber is rough, coarse, and woody. It is primarily used for cordage for its strength, durability, and resistance to degradation from saltwater. It is also used in a natural or bleached state to produce mats or rugs. Due to its unique structure, it is also used for wall coverings.

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