The History of Fabric


By Jay Swinkler

When it comes to fashion, the overall quality of a clothing item is determined by the fabric. For starters, the overall look and feel of a certain outfit will depend on the fabric used. The fabric may also limit the use of the resulting outfit to certain occasions. For instance, wearing your pajama suit to the office will only paint you as a clown, won’t it? This is also why some fabrics are more suited to underclothes, whereas others do well when used in designing workout apparel. Still, some fabrics such as cotton may be used to make different types of garments, including pants, blouses, shirts, and even accessories like caps or household upholstery.
Whether you are buying a suit or out shopping for undergarments, it is important to understand the various types of fabrics. Doing so enables you to ensure you are getting quality pieces that are not only fashionable but also worth what you are spending. But then again, the history of fabric goes thousands of years back even before the Egyptians wove flax into fabric in 5500 B.C. It is not uncommon to get a bit confused by the many different types of fabrics. Even designers experience this problem from time to time. This is especially because the various types of fabric are also available in a wide range of quality grades. Nonetheless, fabrics range from natural to synthetic fiber, knitted to woven.
Before getting ourselves even more confused, let’s look at eight of the most common fabrics out there and how to identify them.
1. Cotton
Cotton is the most common fiber in the textile and clothing industry. It is termed as a staple fiber since it is composed of different varying lengths of fibers. The fiber from cotton is almost pure cellulose. Thanks to the invention of the cotton gin in the 18th century, cotton is plucked from the plant's part called the boll, which encloses the fluffy cotton fibers.


The plucked cotton is spun into yarn, which is then woven into durable fabrics used in making clothing and other items. 
Various tests are used to identify high-quality cotton, including the light test, tactility test, and uniformity test. In most cases, however, you can spot original cotton from a distance if you know the characteristics of this fabric. This fabric is generally durable, doesn’t shrink, twist, or wear out easily. Cotton fibers also respond well to dyes and thus the fabric does not fade easily. Moreover, clothes made from cotton are generally more comfortable, flattering, and stylish.  
2. Linen
Linen is usually very strong and lightweight and comes from the flax plant. Most products and items made from this fabric usually have the terms "linen" on them. It is mostly used in making towels, tablecloths, napkins, and bedsheets. Most jackets and coats have an inner layer commonly referred to as lining, made from linen fabric. The lightweight characteristic of the fabric makes it suitable for making summer clothing. It is usually absorbent and easily breathable and hence the preference in making clothing worn in hot weather.
3. Jersey
Jersey, which was originally made from wool, is a soft, stretchy knit fabric. The fabric is today made from cotton, cotton blends, and other synthetic fibers. It has two sides. The right side of the fabric is usually smooth with a single slight rib knit. The backside is, on the other hand, piled with loops. Being a light to medium weight fabric, the fabric is used to make items like bedsheets and sweatshirts.
4. Silk
The silkworm usually makes this fabric as a material for its nets and cocoons. It is normally shiny and soft. The material is very strong and is commonly used in making official clothing, accessories, and more.
5. Satin/Sateen
Well, the terms satin and sateen are sometimes used synonymously but they refer to two different types or variations of the fabric. It is important to understand the difference between satin versus sateen because in most cases, these fabrics pretty much look alike. Well, to begin with, both of them are synthetically made from other materials such as silk, polyester, and nylon. However, satin is made from woven filament fibers of silk or nylon and polyester.
On the other hand, sateen utilizes short spun yarns of rayon and cotton or other material. Therefore, sateen tends to be tougher and more durable, making it a perfect choice for garments that need a higher level of resistance to wear and tear.
6. Lace
Lace was originally made from silk and linen. Over the years, this has changed and is currently made by combining cotton and synthetic fibers. Lace is usually a delicate fiber which is characterized by open-weave designs created through different methods. It is majorly used as a decorative material used to accent and garnish clothing and home décor items. The fact that it takes time and expertise to produce makes it a highly regarded luxurious textile.
7. Velvet
This fabric is common in evening wear and dresses for special occasions. This is because it was initially made from silk. To make the fabric cheaper, cotton, linen, wool, mohair, and synthetic fibers can also make it. Velvet is soft and has a dense pile of evenly cut fibers with a smooth nap. This characteristic gives the fabric a uniquely soft and shiny appearance. Like lace, velvet is a common feature in home décor.
8. Leather
Leather is usually any fabric from animal hide or skin. The difference in leather fabrics is based on the type of animal they are made from, and the treatment techniques they are subjected to. Any animal skin can be made into leather. Cowhide is, however, the most popular animal skin that is used in leather making. It contributes 65 percent of all leather that is produced. Leather is durable depending on the type of animal from which it is taken, the grade, and the treatment technique it is subjected to. It has a wide range of uses and is often a bit more expensive owing to its durability. 
9. Canvas
Canvas fabric has a reputation for being durable and resilient. It is made from cotton yarn and, to a lesser extent, linen yarn. When cotton is well blended with synthetic fibers, the canvas becomes water-resistant or even waterproof. This characteristic makes it suitable as a great outdoor fabric.
The type of fabric one decides to use in making their product usually determines the quality of the product. The fabric's choice to use in making any product should depend on its destination, its use, and its durability. Fashion designers thus need to be aware of each fabric's symbolism, their uses, and durability before making a selection on which one to use. Consumers are also better off if they can recognize a fabric either by either looking at it or touching it to ensure they are getting the real deal.