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Synthetic Fibers

Manmade artificial fibers

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The synthetic man-made fibers include the polyamides (nylon), polyesters, acrylics, polyolefin, vinyl, and elastomeric fibers, while the regenerated fibers include rayon, the cellulose acetates, the regenerated proteins, glass and rubber fibers

Synthetic fibres are artificial fibres; they are made from synthetic polymers, which come from oil, coal, and other petrol-based chemicals (monomers). The process of joining these monomers is known as polymerisation, and then the mixed polymers are spun (twisted) into yarns.
Synthetic fibres fall into groups based on the polymer that the fibres are made from, such as the three that are most commonly used in textiles: acrylic, polyamide (Nylon), polyester. There are others you may be aware of such as elastane (Lycra), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polypropylene (used in carpets). Synthetic fibres, which are made in chemical plants by a range of companies across the world, are given trade names. For example, the elastane fibre produced by DuPont has the trade name Lycra and the polyamide invented by DuPont in 1938 is named Nylon.

Developments in Synthetic Fibres

Microfibres are thin hair-like fibres made from polyamide or polyester. These fibres can be made up to 60 times thinner than a human hair, which makes them lightweight; they are strong and water repellent but also absorbent, breathable and have a very good handle or feel. The most common products made from microfibers are underwear, sportswear, hosiery, and water-repellent outdoor wear, but designers are using these fibres more and more in their fashion collections. Tactel Micro is often seen today as a label on sportswear or underwear; Meryl Micro is used in active sportswear.

Tactel Aquator was designed by DuPont for its moisture management properties. It is a non-absorbent fibre that takes moisture away from the body.

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Main properties of Synthetic fibres and fabrics

Synthetic fibres can be developed to have many different appearances and properties. They can be made as filament or staple fibres; they can be bulked or comped to give more volume; they can be made up as microfibres; and they can encapsulate chemicals, perhaps to give antibacterial properties or to be perfume scented.

Because synthetic fibres are plastics based, they have thermosetting and thermoplastic properties. These allow the fibres to be manipulated using heat, to create permanent pleats in fabrics and add textures, similar to some listed below:

  • Polyamide

    • Physical: Strong, hard-wearing, good elasticity, thermoplastic, does not decompose, melts as it burns, resists most alkalis, but can be damaged by strong acids
    • Aesthetic: Versatile, can be made into many finishes
    • Fabric names: Nylon, Tactel, Tactel Micro
    • End use: Clothing, Ropes, Carpets and rugs, Seat-belts, and sports belting
    • Advantages: Strong when wet, Durable, Reasonably inexpensive, Resists bacteria
    • Disadvantages: Poor absorbency, Can be damaged by sunlight, making it discolour and become weaker.
  • Polyester

    • Physical: Very strong when wet and dry, flame resistant, thermoplastic, does not decompose, Resists more alkalis unless very concentrated, but is damaged by strong acids
    • Aesthetic: Versatile, can be made into many finishes
    • Fabric names: Terylene, Polyester fleece, Trevira, Finesse, Miratec, Dacron
    • End-use: Wide range of textile products
    • Advantages: Strong when wet, dries quickly, Cheap, Hard0wearing, Resists bacteria
    • Disadvantages: Very poor absorbency
  • Acrylic

    • Physical: Strong but weaker when wet, thermoplastic, shrinks from heat and burns slowly, then melts
    • Aesthetic: Soft, can be made into fine and coarse staple fibres
    • Fabric names: Caourtelle, Amicor
    • End-use: Knitwear and knitted jersey fabrics, Toys, fake-fur products, Upholstery fabrics, Anti-bacterial socks and sportswear
    • Advantages: Can be made warm, insulating and soft
    • Disadvantages: Poor absorbency
  • Elastane

    • Physical: Very elastic, lightweight but still very strong, resists chemicals and biological damage from perspiration, Very hard-wearing
    • Aesthetic: Medium to coarse filament fibres
    • Fabric names: Lycra
    • End-use: Swimwear, sportswear and all clothing that may require extra elasticity, such as easy fit jeans or fitted blouses (Elastane fibres are always combined with a higher percentage of another fibre in these products, e.g. stretch jeans are 96% cotton/4% elastane)
    • Advantages: Very stretchy, keeps its shape, can resist sun and sea, lightweight but strong
    • Disadvantages: Very poor absorbency
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