Time for another post about fabrics for dummies, don’t you think? This time, natural fibres. As wool got its own post, this one will cover the rest of the most common naturals: cotton, linen and silk. A post on leather/fur might come up at a later point once I get to study up on them. Let’s get to it!
Cotton gets its fibres from the fluffy cotton plant (looks like this). The fluff is harvested, either by machine or hand, and then spun into thread, which can be knitted or woven into a fabric. You can treat cotton in many ways with chemicals to make it shiny or wrinkle-resistant, for instance. When talking about cotton, the concept of thread count often comes up. This is simply a way to measure how coarse/fine a fabric is, and the higher the number, the better. Problems with cotton are the often not-so-nature-or-people-friendly-production, and that it needs to be washed often to keep fresh (you can read more about this in my post about eco-friendly, NICE fashion).
When it comes to clothing, cotton is usually very comfortable. It’s usually quite soft, breathes well, is strong and can be found in both super-affordable and super-expensive shops. As with most fabrics, if the quality is good, the fabric will behave well. If it’s not, however, cotton can drastically lose its shape, pill easily and generally look cheap.
Bear with me, people: the fabric in this picture is not linen. I just didn’t want to “borrow” a photo from a random source, and I actually don’t own any linen myself. The reason for this is simple: whenever I’ve bought a linen garment before, it has shrunk and wrinkled like crazy. A curvy hourglass such as myself needs clothes that either provide some stretch or is perfectly fitted to my body. As linen doesn’t stretch, this means trouble for me. The fabric itself can be quite lovely, though, as it is fantastically cool and thus perfect for warm summers (just keep in mind that linen is often slightly transparent, so linen pants are tricky). It comes from a plant, like cotton, but is much stronger and doesn’t feel damp until it’s quite wet. Still, I avoid linen like the devil because of its fit problems. I find myself suddenly considering some linen bedding, however…
Ah, silk. Wonderfully luxurious, and usually very expensive. It’s created by tiny silk worms who spend their life eating leaves and spinning silk threads into cocoons. The next part is what makes it troublesome for some animal lovers out there: the cocoons are then steamed or boiled to kill the worm and detangle the silk threads. There are other problems with silk as well. It stains easily, is hard to clean (usually dry cleaning), can get very static and can lose its shape if it’s handled roughly when wet. Many people find it worth the hassle, though, and silk can create a wonderful fabric if combined with other fibres, such as wool.
Coming up is my random-facts-and-tips-about-fabrics-and-clothes-in-general-post! In the meantime, Lindsay of Un Petit Bijou recently wrote a wonderful post about how to shop for cashmere – definitely recommended reading.
Slightly older post, but definitely relevant: Eco-friendly, NICE fashion