Clothing Fabric

Clothing Fabric: Introduction

Clothing which we wear to serve a variety of purposes like protection and safety are usually made of fabrics. There are thousands of clothing fabric types, which humans have perfected over hundreds of years to cater to a wide array of needs and other factors. 

Prehistoric humans used fur of animals, grasses and leaves to make their clothes. As humans evolved, so did their clothing habits and fashion sense. Nowadays, in most parts of the world, clothing is seen as a metric of fashion and style. There are places even today where people still have to make their clothes from fur and other such material. For example, people living in the poles still wear clothes made out of bearskin. Invention has also been an integral part of discovering newer clothing fabric types. Special types of clothing are invented regularly to serve the purposes of a certain needs.

The figure below shows some of the dress material types which are used by us regularly.

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Different Types of Dress Materials

There are thousands of different clothing fabric types, out of which we only use a handful in our daily lives. The main type of material used in a region depends much on the geographical characteristics of that place. Below, we provide a brief overview of all the popular types of cloth materials with pictures. 

  1. Cotton

Cotton is a fluffy and soft plant fibre, usually growing inside a protective covering called bolls. Cotton plants are of genus Gossypium of the mallow family Malvaceae. The plant fibre obtained from inside bolls is purely made of cellulose and plant proteins. The plant grows mostly under tropical and subtropical conditions in continents like America, India, Egypt and Africa. Mexico is the largest producer of cotton, followed by Africa and Australia.

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Remnants of cotton have been most famously found by historians at Peru, dating back to 6000 BC, and while excavating parts of the Indus Valley, dating back to 5000 BC. Though cotton had been cultivated and used since the time modern history started to materialise, the invention of cotton gins was the first step towards cheaper production and distribution of the crop. 

Cotton is measured worldwide via a unit called bales. According to surveys, at present, the yearly production of cotton is around 25 million tonnes, among which India is the largest producer and the United States, the largest exporter of the crop. 

Almost every piece of textile we see and use in our daily lives contains cotton in one form or the other. It is used in making denim for jeans, corduroy, twill and terrycloth for making absorbent towels. Other than clothing, cotton is also used in making coffee filters, hiking tents, fishing nets and for binding books. 

Did You Know?

Cotton is the most utilised natural fibre in the world today.

  1. Linen

Sourced from fibres of the flax plant, linen is characterised by its strength, durability and absorptive power. In many such ways, linen is even superior to cotton and often used in garments for hot and humid weather. But linen also has some disadvantages, one of which is it is extremely inclined towards wrinkling. This is the reason why linen is still not as popular as cotton.

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Though the fabric is grown in many parts of the world, Ukraine and parts of western Europe are known for the best quality linen. Over the years, mass production of linen has been shifted to eastern Europe and China. However, producers of Ukraine, Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Poland and Austria are still known to be the top-quality producers. The linen industry fetches around a billion dollars every year. 

Quite same as cotton, the use of linen is dated back to almost 30,000 years after dyed linen fibres were found in prehistoric caves of Georgia. Egypt and early Mesopotamian civilisation were also known for using linen. The Bible references linen many times throughout, which again emphasises on humans' dependence on the fibre.

Products like aprons, towels, bags, tablecloths, chair covers and summer garments are universally made from linen. There are special strains of linen-like Madeira linen, which is specifically used for making beautiful pieces of handicraft. Canvases for painting are also popularly made from linen. 

Pop Quiz 1

  1. Which kind of textile helps in making clothing fabric paint canvases?

    1. Linen (Answer)

    2. Cotton

    3. Wool

    4. Denim


  1. Polyester

Unlike linen and cotton, polyester is both an artificial and natural fabric. Polyester consists of polymers which especially contain the ester functional group in the primary chain. In chemical terms, polyester is also referred to as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Substances like cutin from plants and synthetics like polybutyrate are found in the fabric. Most synthetic polyesters are non-biodegradable, but some of the natural ones are. 

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The main usage of polyesters is clothing. Many times, polyesters are combined with other naturally growing fibres like cotton to develop hybridised properties. Blends like cotton-polyester are resistant to strain, wrinkle, tear and are easily washable. High resistance from natural phenomena like wind, fire and water can also be achieved from such hybrids.

It was in 1926 when a US-based textile firm DuPont first started research on producing artificial fibres and patented nylon, which was also the first synthetic fibre ever to be made. After the research was bunked by DuPont, it was taken up by British scientists Dickson and Whinfield, and they patented PET in 1941.

As said earlier, polyester and other synthetic clothing fabric types are widely used for apparels and home products. Jackets, hats, bedsheets and computer mouse mats are some of the products which are made from polyester. Some natural polyesters are attributed to be important contributors for abiogenesis or the origin of life.

  1. Silk

Like other natural clothing fabric types, silk is another example of a plant fibre, which is then woven to manufacture textiles. Silk is mainly made of a protein called fibroin and is produced by insect larvae, which form cocoons around them to store silk. One of the most striking characteristics of silk is the presence of prismoid-like structures on its surface, which makes light reflect in different directions. This also allows silk to be of different colours, as per the light reflected from it.  

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Production of silk, also known as sericulture, is the most unique production process among all types of fabric. The first step of sericulture is the cultivation of silkworms, on mulberry leaves to extract the raw material. When the larvae start forming the cocoons, they are treated in boiling water to filter out the long fibre threads. The threads are wound around reels to be used later. 

Did You Know?

More than 100 kg of mulberry leaves is eaten by over 3000 silkworms to produce a single kilogram of silk.

The two most prolific producers of silk are China and India, who account for around 70 per cent of the world silk production. When subjected to sericulture, silkworm Bombyx mori produces a supreme quality of silk.

The use of silk can again be dated back to thousands of years ago in parts of China, Europe and South Asia. Many Chinese paintings have, throughout the years, provided the necessary information to produce the best quality silk.

Pop Quiz 2

  1. How many silkworms are needed to be fed on mulberry leaves to produce high quality of silk?

    1. A few

    2. Hundreds

    3. A few thousand (Answer)

    4. Millions of them

So, this was all regarding clothing fabric types, their uses, and how did they first come into existence. If you want to know more about topics or other topics of Chemistry, download the Vedantu app today. Offering easy access, we host numerous other guides, tutorials and reference notes for easy studying and revision during and before your exams.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is cotton, and which countries are the major producers of it?

Ans. Cotton is a fluffy and soft plant fibre, usually growing inside a protective covering called bolls. Cotton plants are of genus Gossypium of the mallow family Malvaceae. The plant grows mostly under tropical and subtropical conditions in continents like America, India, Egypt and Africa. Mexico is the largest producer of cotton, followed by Africa and Australia.

2. What are the most important uses of linen?

Ans. Products like aprons, towels, bags, tablecloths, chair covers and summer garments are universally made from linen. There are special strains of linen-like Madeira linen, which is specifically used for making beautiful pieces of handicraft. Canvases for painting are also popularly made from linen.

3. How did polyester first come into existence?

Ans. It was in 1926 when a US-based textile firm DuPont first started research on producing artificial fibres and patented nylon, which was also the first synthetic fibre ever to be made. After the research was bunked by DuPont, it was taken up by British scientists Dickson and Whinfield, and they patented PET in 1941.

4. How is silk produced?

Ans. Production of silk is also known as sericulture. The first step of sericulture is the cultivation of silkworms on mulberry leaves to extract the raw material. When the larvae start forming the cocoons, they are treated in boiling water to filter out the long fibre threads. The threads are wound around reels to be used later.