How is fabric created?

Raw Materials for Fabric

The raw materials that make up fabric can be divided into three distinct categories: those derived from natural plant sources, those from animals and those that are man-made.

To understand how fabric is created, we must first learn how these materials are harvested or created, and what must be done before they're ready to be sent on their journey into fabric production.

Cotton - This material comes from the cotton plant and is harvested by machine, then sent to a cotton processing plant. There, it's run through a series of rollers, which remove the seeds, clear away any debris or impurities, and separate the material into bales.

Flax - The flax plant is used to make linen. The plants are pulled from the ground by hand, flattened to remove seeds and combed through to separate the fibers in preparation for fabric production [source: Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute].

Silk - This material is made by harvesting the cocoon of the silkworm, which is lined with a thin layer of silk filament that is softened and then removed as one single thread. This thread will be twisted together with several others before it is moved to the next stage of production, as single threads are too thin to work with.

Wool - The coat of a sheep is shorn, and the resulting fleece is washed and carded, or rearrange it into a shape that will be easier to turn into fabric. It can be done by hand or machine, and produces a square mat of fibers.

Rayon - Invented in the late 19th century, this material is a popular alternative to silk. It's made by forcing cellulose through a machine called a spinneret. This machine is similar to a showerhead, and it forms the cellulose from liquid to a solid filament. Cellulose itself is a simple sugar polymer derived from plants [source: FiberWorld Classroom].

Nylon - Nylon can truly be called the first man-made fiber. While it's produced the same way rayon is, the ingredients that go into nylon production are not derived from plant sources. Nylon is made from coal and petroleum by-products, water and air.

Polyester - This material is a step up from nylon and rayon in terms of strength and versatility. While it, too, is made by forcing chemicals through a spinneret, the chemicals used for polyester are derived from alcohols.