You live surrounded by fabric. Your clothes, the curtains in your home, maybe even the upholstery in your car is fabric. With so many types available, there are a few basic things you should know before you select a fabric.

What are natural fiber fabrics?

Natural fibers are those that occur in nature. They may be supplied by plants or animals. Most fall into the following categories.

  • Cotton, linen, and hemp are the products of cotton, flax, and hemp plants, respectively.
  • Silk is the material produced by silk worms as they spin their cocoons.
  • Leather and fur are the skins and pelts of animals.
  • Wool is produced by sheep, alpacas, and llamas.
  • Cashmere and mohair are harvested from goats.
  • Angora is made from the hair of angora rabbits.
What are synthetic fabrics?

Synthetics are man-made fibers. There are a few cellulose fibers, like rayon, that straddle the line between natural and man-made. Some of the more common synthetics are as follows.

  • Rayon, which includes viscose, modal, and Tencel, is made from wood pulp. The pulp is chemically processed to produce fibers.
  • Nylon is a versatile plastic fiber that can be formed into anything.
  • Acrylic is a plastic-like chemical polymer.
  • Polyester is also a chemical polymer. Synthetic polymers differ in their specific chemical structures.
What are the differences between fashion and home-dec fabrics?

Fashion fabrics are used to make clothing. Many can be classified as “top-weight,” which are thinner fabrics for shirts and dresses, or “bottom-weight,” which are heavier fabrics for slacks.

Since clothing fabrics are worn on the body, they have properties to make them more comfortable. For example, cotton breathes, wool retains heat, and nylon may be windproof.

Home-decorating fabrics need to be durable. The are heavier and have a coarser weave. Curtain fabrics may be resistant to UV light, and upholstery fabric may be fire-retardant. Home-dec fabrics often have larger prints than clothing fabric.

Outdoor fabrics are made to withstand the rigors of being left outdoors. They are often water, mold, and UV-resistant.

These categories are not exclusive. Clothing fabrics can be used for curtains and quilts, and outdoor fabrics can have indoor applications.

How is fabric measured?

Fabric is measured by width and length. Clothing fabrics are usually either 45 inches or 60 inches wide. Home-dec fabric is commonly 54 inches wide.

Lengthwise, fabric is measured in eighth-yard increments. For example, you might need one and seven-eighths yards, or four and one-half yards. When you have fabric cut from the bolt, you can get lengths as short as one-eighth of a yard.

Small pieces of precut cloth, called “quarters,” are packaged for quilters and crafters. They are about 18 inches by 22 inches. You may also find “remnants,” which are leftovers. Remnants may be any size and shape.

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