How is fabric created?

Fabric Color and Design

Of course, fabric fresh off the loom and processed is still not ready for clothing and textile manufacturing, unless everything you're making is white! The material must be treated for color and dyed before it's ready to ship.

The first step in dyeing the fabric is to run it through a machine called a Mercerizer. The Mercerizer contains a chemical solution, including caustic soda (also called lye), which is kept at moderately low temperatures. The mercerization process increases the size of the pores on the fabric threads, making it easier for them to accept color during the dyeing process. Without mercerization, bright, bold fabrics would not be possible.

Next, the fabric is washed, and while it's still wet, it's stretched across a metal frame and pulled tightly. This aligns the weave patterns and also opens up the fabric to accept even more color.

Throughout history, fabric dye has been made from a variety of protein and plant sources, including the same cellulose used for making rayon that was discussed in our raw materials sections. Crushed berries, roots and other plants were also popular, and have been used to color fabric for thousands of years. In 1856, William Henry Perkin, a scientist searching for a cure for malaria produced the first synthetic fabric dye, known as aniline, by extracting quinine with alcohol. His discovery revolutionized the fabric dyeing process and helped pave the way for new dye colors and more effective coloring techniques [source: Druding].

Today, reactive dyes are the most common. These dyes are made in the lab from chemical compounds. When they're applied to wet fabric, the dyes react to the very molecules in the fabric fibers themselves, forming a strong bond that will hold the color in place at the molecular level [source: Burch].