Natural Fabrics are fabrics created from natural fibers – No, that is a little too simple way of talking about this precious category of fabrics. So here is a more detailed explanation. Natural fabrics are those fabrics which are created from fibers occurring in nature like animals coats, plants seeds, leaves and stems and even minerals.
Man started making natural fabrics millions of years ago. They may even be as old as man – haven’t you heard of Adam weaving leaves from the Fig tree to make cloths ? Man then progressed to making clothes from animal skin. The oldest fabric ever discovered is a natural fabric (type of Linen) found in Turkey that dates back to 6500 BC. Egyptian Mummies in Pyramids like the Tutankhamen’s Tomb have also been found to be bound with fine linen cloth – that is some 3400 years before Christ. Cotton fabric was woven by the people in Indus Valley Civilization, dated from 3300 BC.
How is Natural Fabric made today ?
Making of natural fibers is a labor intensive process and it takes a lot of steps to process natural fibers to the final finished fabric. First of all it requires large acres of land to cultivate the crops and raise the animals ; these land and its products needs the supervision of lots of farmers and breeders and herders.
The fibers collected thus are in no way ready to be made into pristine fabrics that we buy from shops ; they have to be scoured (cleaned) and bleached. These natural fibers are taken to the concerned mills and made into yarns of different kinds. The yarn is then knitted or woven into the final fabric. Even then, they have to undergo lots of processes like dyeing, finishing to be made into the final fabrics that you buy.
Most of these steps involve a lot of chemicals (bleach, dyes, fabric finishes) and this is causing some concern because we live in an environmentally conscious age (and we have to) and people are questioning all these age old processes that can spell trouble for earth, if not now, but soon enough.
Despite all these problems and concerns, and slight inconveniences like a tendency to wrinkle, higher maintenance and the problem of higher cost than the synthetic fabrics, natural fabrics are valued for the comfort against skin, their natural luxurious look (imagine silk, linen and wool) and the fact that they are made from renewable fibers. As long as man is willing and land is available, you can make these fabrics for ever. They are also easy to dispose off, and does not cause long-term damage to the environment ( if you discount the problems in the manufacturing process).
Even after all these years and the many technological advancements in all spheres particularly textile production, there is still no better alternative to natural fabrics, when you consider all things including environmental impact, comfort, elegant and rich look etc.
Types of Natural fabrics
Fabrics from seed (Natural) fibers
This fabric is made from fibers taken from inside the seed of the cotton plant ( seed hair fibers). It is the most comfortable, absorbing, soft (depending on the make) and the most commonly used textile in the world. It is also inexpensive compared to other natural fabrics. Learn more about how cotton is made and the 90+ different varieties of cotton fabric.
Fabrics from Hard plant (Natural) fibers
Coir is made from fibers taken from the outer covering of coconut (coconut husk)
Sisal, Pina (from pineapple leaves), Agave, fiber from banana, Abaca, Bamboo and other palms
Fabrics from Soft Plant (Natural) fibers
This fabric is made from a bast fiber taken from the stem of the flax plant. The elegance of linen is unparalleled in the world. And it is also the world’s oldest ‘known’ woven fabric. Learn more about Linen fabric here.
Hemp, Flax, Jute, Nettle and Ramie are other soft fibers.
Fabrics from Animal (Natural) fibers
This fabric is made from animal fibers – ie they are made from animal coats taken from animals like Sheep, goats, rabbits, alpacas, llama, camel hair, cashmere, mohair. Sheep wool is the most commonly used and there are a number of breeds of sheep and they produce different qualities of wool. Woolen coatings, worsted suiting, made from sheep wool are very valued as dressmaking fabrics. Wool is very warm, insulating, soft and most often luxurious in feel. You can learn more details about the 30+ different types of wool fabrics , properties of wool fabric and the 10 main types of animal fibers and animal fabrics here.
Silk is made from fibers taken from the insect silk worm – it is made from the secretion of the silkworm. It is the most beautiful fabric you can ever hope to see, and the softest. You can learn more about How silk is made and the different types of silk fabrics
Fabrics from Mineral (Natural) fibers
Aesbestos is a mineral fiber fabric with many industrial uses.
How to maintain Natural fabrics
One major problem every one points out regarding natural fabrics is their tendency to wrinkle at the slightest wear. It needn’t even be worn, you just have to leave them a little too long in the dryer after the washing is done and the wrinkles will set in. It is in their nature. Best thing is to be careful – iron nicely and when it wrinkles, think of it as its charm.
Another problem is shrinkage. This is a concern when you buy fitted garments – a clothing that fit just right will become a little too tight after a wash or two. Usually it is the first washes that matter. If you buy garments which are made of pre-shrunk material this is of no concern
Yet another problem is shedding. Natural fabrics made from short staple yarns and they may shed with wear.
If you are unsure whether you have natural fabric or not and would like to test, check out this post on fabric testing – the fabric burn test is a simple thing you can do at home, to be sure that you have the real thing.