What is Acrylic?
Acrylic is a synthetic, man-made fiber made out of a synthetic polymer. To be more specific and technical, it is a polymer fiber made of acrylonitrile compounds derived from natural gas, and monomers are added to improve its properties. Acrylic fiber is spun into Acrylic yarn – this is used to make acrylic fabric. It was first manufactured in Germany in 1893 but came to be used widely to make clothes and other things only by the 1950s.
The Acrylic fabric made out of acrylic yarn has many similarities with wool. An acrylic sweater can look like the identical twin of a real wool sweater; I bet that you find it difficult to distinguish them from regular wool sweaters as I do. I am talking about both sight and feel.
Today there are some very popular trademarked brands like Orion, Sayelle, Acrilan, and Zefran.
When you consider Acrylic fabric as a fabric for dressmaking or acrylic yarn for knitting, you should consider all its advantages. It has ‘most’ of the advantages of wool fabric/yarn. It has some advantages which are even better than that of wool fabric/yarn.
Advantages of Acrylic fabric
Acrylic clothes keep you warm, it is soft on the body. It is easily maintainable. It is very lightweight and soft. It is very strong and durable. The clothes made of these fibers drape very nicely on the body.
The advantages of acrylic over wool are very clear, other than what is mentioned in the above para – acrylic is much cheaper than wool. Wool has superior softness (not all wool, but some are super soft) but acrylic can sometimes even be softer than some wool.
Acrylic provides bulk even as it is lightweight. Wool of the same look can weigh more.
The warmth of acrylic can be counted almost the same as that of wool – It is possible because the fiber traps heat inside and wicks moisture away from the skin and keeps it warm. (The moisture absorbing quality of acrylic is not as excellent as wool, nor is it as warm as wool)
And because it is not a natural fiber, moths do not attack acrylic clothes as much as they do wool clothes. So no need to worry about those holes – for a long time.
Acrylic fabric is very easy to care for – you can toss it into the washing machine to wash it and even dry it (depends on the care label of your product). Because of its resilient quality, it does not stretch and sag in the wash – it will go back to its original shape after it is stretched (the technical term is shape-retentive).
The elastic quality of the acrylic fiber makes it good for making shapely clothes
Acrylic material as backing
It is a good backing material because it provides flexibility, prevents seam slippage and prevents fraying or curling. It is usually used as a backing under silk materials and such dressmaking fabrics.
The acrylic knitting yarn is very popular among hand knitters. It is used to knit sweaters, socks rugs etc. It is dyeable to the color of your choice, though not as easy as wool to dye.
You use acrylic yarn to make things you know will take a lot of use – like rugs, stool covers, cushion covers, blankets. And of course socks. It does not damage easily and will last a long long time.
Because of its softness and the hypoallergenic quality acrylic yarn is used by knitters to make baby items – it will not cause allergies. When buying Acrylic yarn for making baby things you can check whether it is free of harmful chemicals – there is a certification for that.
Disadvantages of Acrylic fabric
First and foremost it is not a natural fiber – and this offsets all its advantages for some people.
The wool is derived from a sheep, and the acrylic is derived in a factory – this makes different people feel different things. Some like the fact that it is not made from anything related to causing casualties (injuries, hurt, emotional stress) to animals but some dislike the fact that it is a chemical-based fiber.
If you are not too careful it may stretch out of shape; some acrylic clothes also shrink, especially if washed in hot water. Because it is synthetic, you have to be careful with these clothes around heat. It can distort, change color etc.
Pilling is another problem, but then you may have to wear the pilling like battle wounds or try to prevent them or remove them.
Here are some ways to check pilling in clothes.
The most lasting and persistent concern in using acrylic for an environmentally-conscious consumer is its polluting nature which includes emissions from oil processing.
But if everything was as it should be (no ecological concerns, no pilling etc) acrylic is a very superior dressmaking fabric. No need to look out for sheep or do it any harm to keep yourself warm – that too, in style.
Updated on September 23, 2022 by Sarina Tariq