What Are the Different Types of Textile Raw Materials?

Alex Newth

Textile raw materials are fibers, either naturally derived or synthetic, that are used to make clothes, blankets, towels and other textile items. Wool and silk are derived from living creatures — sheep and silkworms, respectively — and provide warmth or softness. Cotton and bamboo fibers are derived from plants, though bamboo tends to need extensive chemical work before it becomes a fiber. Nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals and are synthetic. Different raw materials are often merged into a blend that allows the different fibers to complement one another.

Textile made out of bamboo.
Textile made out of bamboo.

Wool and silk are two textile raw materials that are derived from living creatures. Sheep primarily are used for wool, but camels and goats also can produce wool. This fabric is not known for being comfortable, but it is good at insulating, and the material is very absorbent. Silk is made from taking apart a silkworm’s cocoon and is known for being shiny, comfortable and soft.

A closeup of cloth made of nylon.
A closeup of cloth made of nylon.

Two plant-based raw materials for textiles are cotton and bamboo. Bamboo fiber is typically soft and somewhat stretchy, and bamboo plants grow quickly. To make bamboo into a fiber, harsh polymerized chemicals are required. Cotton is one of the oldest types of fabrics, and it is soft and absorbent. It can easily retain color and, because it is durable, printing on the cotton is usually easy.

Polyester fabric.
Polyester fabric.

Synthetic fibers are often counted as textile raw materials, even though they are not naturally derived. These synthetic fibers, such as nylon and polyester, require the use of petrochemicals either to create the fiber or as an additive. Nylon typically has elasticity and normally is used for swimwear, parachutes and sportswear. Polyester is sometimes used as a substitute for cotton; it tends to be a little shinier and does not wrinkle easily.

A folded square of linen.
A folded square of linen.

Blended textile raw materials combine two or more fiber types to create a product that merges the qualities of different fibers. For example, cotton and wool may be blended to create a warm garment that is more comfortable and has more stretch to it than a purely wool garment. There is typically one main fiber and a small percentage of other fibers, but some blends may merge equal amounts of different fibers. Another common reason to blend fibers is to make a fiber that can easily be dyed, so fewer materials are needed to create colorful clothes and other textile items.

Silk comes from the cocoon of the silkworm.
Silk comes from the cocoon of the silkworm.

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Discussion Comments

Ocelot60

@spotiche5- Real and artificial silk are very similar, and most people who are not trained in textiles would not know the difference between the two materials. However, real silk is more durable and luxurious, in my opinion.

Another difference between real and artificial silk is that real silk is warm material that holds in heat. If you want to wear the look of silk in warm weather or to an event where you will be in the direct sun, you may want to choose artificial silk garments instead instead of authentic silk.

Spotiche5

Does anyone have any thoughts about the difference between real and faux silk? Other than the real thing being more expensive and difficult to make, aren't they about the same?

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