Updated on August 19, 2022 by Sarina

what is modal fabric

Modal fabric is a manufactured fabric made of regenerated cellulose fibers. It is made from the cellulose of beech trees. Modal fibers can be combined with other fibers to make superior quality dressmaking fabrics.

Modal fabric is a comparatively recent entree to the luxury garment fashion industry. This manufactured fabric has recently become very popular as an alternative to cotton and other soft natural dressmaking fabrics. It is commonly used for making athletic garments like socks, sweatshirts and regular T-shirts. 

Different types of modal fabric

Micromodal is a super fine variety of modal. Tencel™ Modal is a branded modal fabric – it is incredibly soft and flexible. Modal fleece fabric is a very soft but thicker material, suitable for making tops and dresses just right for cold winters.

Modal-Poly fabric will have about 70% modal fibers and 30% polyester fibers – and has all the goodness of both the fibers.

A lightweight rib-knit modal is best for making casual tops. Modal sweater knits are used for making cardigans and sweaters.

Modal Ponte Roma Knit fabric is a very stretchy fabric with some spandex fibers incorporated into it giving it super elasticity. Cotton with modal is another favorite. Modal flannellete is a thick fuzzy material with a napped surface, used for blankets.

Advantages of Modal

Modal fabric is an improvement on the other fabrics made using cellulose fibers, viscose and rayon. The reason for the popularity of modal is that it is a very very soft and comfortable eco-friendly fabric. 


Better strength

Viscose and rayon are not very strong fibers, especially when wet. But modal is stronger than these cellulose fabrics.

Stretch

You will find that a lot of modal fabrics are knits with very good natural stretch. It is highly flexible and does not shrink or get wrinkled. These properties make modal a perfect material to design lingeries and athletic wear.

Soft

Modal feels amazingly gentle on the skin(almost twice as cotton). It has the texture and finish of silk while having the comfort of cotton.

Breathable

Modal fabric is highly breathable. It doesn’t trap sweat from the skin nor produce odor. Modal fabric clothes do make you feel uncomfortable like synthetic materials.

Absorbent

Modal fabric is approximately 50% more absorbent than cotton, absorbs sweat, and helps in easy and quick evaporation. But it doesnot turn soggy like cotton.

Durable

Modal fabric has a strong weave. The long fibers help in its tight weave, making modal clothes long-lasting and durable.

Eco-friendly

Sustainable fashion is the recent buzzword of the garment industry, and modal fabrics fit the definition perfectly.

Modal fabric is sourced organically from the cellulose of the beech trees. Beech trees are plantation crops and beneficial for the environment. Being a bio-fabric, modal is biodegradable and recyclable. So, it is helpful for the environment.

Vivid Colours

Modal fibers can be dyed in a variety of colors. And the colors last if the fabric is maintained well. The color of the fabric also does not turn yellow like cotton, after storing for some time. 

Less Creasing or Shrinkage 

Modal fabric is resistant to creases and shrinkage to a degree than other fabrics like cotton or rayon.  There is no need for heavy ironing of the fabric.

Looks good

Other than its soft feel, it also drapes well without clinging to the body, making it perfect for gowns and fashionable dresses. The modal fabric is resistant to pilling. 

Disadvantages of the Modal Fabric


It is not always sustainable.

The primary purpose of creating modal fabric was to promote sustainability and make the process eco-friendly. With passing of time and increased commercialization of the process, the modal fabric manufacture process no longer remains 100 % sustainable.

Slightly high maintenance

These fabrics are not as easy to care as synthetic materials. Modal fabric will retain the color, fall, and texture only if you maintain it with some care or give for dry cleaning.

Does not retain much body heat

Modal fabric is not the best option for winter wear.  Modal cannot trap heat, just as it cannot trap sweat. So, these are great as workout clothes but not ideal for cold weather. Modal blended with acrylic fibers make good warm sweater knits.

Weak when wet

This is a problem with all cellulosic fabrics. 

Fades when exposed to heat and light

If you plan to let the modal fabric dry out under strong sunshine, it can lose color. The dye retention capacity of modal fabric does not work optimally under heat

May stretch out of shape

As with any stretchy fabrics, modal clothes may look stretched and out of shape after some wear or improper washing. 

How is the fabric Made?

Manufacturing modal fabric includes the following processes in sequential order:

Harvesting Beech Trees

Harvesting the beech trees is the first step for modal fabric production. The cellulose of beech trees is used to manufacture modal. Beech trees are grown in large areas as plantation crops and harvested for their cellulose.

Cellulose Extraction

The second step of the process is extracting the organic cellulose from the beech trees. The trees are felled and disintegrated into more minor chips, then processed to obtain the raw cellulose. The cellulose is further purified and processed.

Sheet Steeping

The cellulose thus obtained is processed into large sheets. These sheets are now dipped in vats of caustic soda. The process is called steeping the sheets.

Crumbling

The cellulose sheets are now crumbled into further smaller fragments. The cellulose crumbs are now dipped in carbon dioxide to produce a chemical intermediate known as sodium cellulose xanthate.

Fiber Creation

A syrupy solution is produced when the sodium cellulose xanthate is re-immersed in caustic soda. This solution, when passed through a spinneret, creates the modal fibers.

Formation of Yarns

The modified regenerated cellulosic fibres thus produced will be molded into yarns of modal fabric by dipping them in sulfuric acid. The yarn will pass through processes like bleaching, rinsing, and drying.

Finishing

The final product is the modal yarn ready for weaving. It is used in the textile industry for manufacturing various fabrics on its own or blended with other yarn to create superior blended fabrics.

Modal as a Dressmaking Fabric

Modal fabric is increasingly used as a popular alternative to cotton or silk and even Rayon in dressmaking. It is common to use modal silk in making tank tops,  bike shorts, yoga pants, and swimwear. 
Modal fabric is incredibly soft and has a soft satin finish. So everyone I know can only gush about the softness of the fabric.

It is almost twice as light and soft as cotton. So clothes made of this fabric feel comfortable and cozy on the skin.

Another popular reason for using modal fabric is that, it is pretty sturdy and long-lasting.

The fabric is resistant to wrinkles and keeps its shape intact even after multiple rounds of washing and ironing.

Modal fabric is used as a lingerie fabric for the same reason. It is highly comfortable and breathable. Even the close-fitting garments made from modal do not stick to the skin, unlike nylon.

Modal fabric is considered as an ideal fabric for hot weather as it is thin enough and does not produce sweat. You can use modal fabric easily, even in the hottest weather as it does not trad sweat and create odor.

Since modal is flammable, it is not used to manufacture nightwear. It is durable and practical to clean and maintain.

Since it feels as soft as silk without its difficult-to-care-for lable, active modal wear is a favorite of sports enthusiasts. You can wear it over the skin for a long time and not feel uncomfortable.

Modal fabric sportswear is more expensive than lyocell or viscose rayon fabric.

How to Sew with Modal?

Modal is a stretchy fabric that is soft and smooth, just like silk. It has a beautiful fall and does not crease.

Dressmakers increasingly prefer modal fabrics over any other fabrics because of these qualities.

Here are the most important things to keep in mind while sewing with stretchy fibers like the modal fabric:

Choose appropriate needles: Most modal fabrics are knits and knits are sewn best with ballpoint needles. These needles will not create unnecessary holes in the fabric and make it easier to handle stretchy fibers like modal. If your fabric is woven (with spandex) use microtex/sharp needles to sew.

Polyester Thread: It is best to use polyester threads for modal sewing fabric as it will have some stretch. It is advisable not to use cotton threads for sewing modal fiber dresses, if there is stretch. 

Zig Zag Stitches: When sewing knits with an ordinary sewing machine, the best is to sew the seam with a zig-zag stitch – it will stretch with the fabric and not break.

How to care for Modal Fabric?

Modal, though it is easy to care for, is still a soft, stretchy fabric that needs a degree of special care. Here are some pointers –

Wash in cold water: Modal fabric should always be washed in cold water because heat can destroy modal fibers and fade the color.

Dry on low heat: As already explained, high heat spoils the color of the modal fabric.

Do not expose the fabric directly to intense sunlight.

Modal fibers are flammable, so keep them away from flammable objects.

Do not use chlorine bleach products: Oxygen Based Bleach is preferred for cleaning stained modal fabric. Keep the fabric away from any chlorine bleach-containing cleaning products

Do not soak the fabric long in water – the modal fibers are weaker when wet.

More questions on the fabric

How is modal different from Viscose/ rayon?

As a dressmaking fabric, modal is considered superior to rayon.
Modal fabric is more lightweight than viscose or rayon.
Modal fabric is more breathable than rayon.
Modal Rayon is more resistant to pilling.
Modal fabric is resistant to creases and wrinkles and maintains its structural integrity even after long-term usage.
Modal fabric is cheaper than rayon or viscose because of the fewer steps involved in production. Not only does this diminishes the cost of production, but it also produces lesser waste.
Viscose rayon was a popular alternative to traditional rayon. But manufacturing viscose rayon involves many steps that make the process complex and expensive and generate a massive amount of waste.
Modal is somewhat identical to viscose rayon but uses a more straightforward manufacturing process and costs less. Manufacturing modal fabric produces a significantly less amount of waste.
Modal Rayon feels much more comfortable and softer than viscose rayon.
The significant moisture-wicking profile of the fabric makes it popular for bedsheets.

Why is modal considered an eco-friendly fabric ?

In textile jargon, modal is a fabric made from natural polymers of vegetable origin. The process of manufacturing this material totally complies with the safety of the environment. Due to the lesser number of steps in production and lesser amount of caustic soda used, it is considered as not so dangerous for the environment as some other fabrics.   
Other fabric made from cellulosic fibers like Rayon has to undergo an elaborate process in manufacturing involving lots of chemicals. Modal fabric is produced in an exclusive environment that is CO2 neutral; thus, the fabric is environmentally friendly.

Why is modal considered a sustainable fabric?

A sustainable material refers to something that is made so that the material from which it is made is not depleted or permanently damaged.
Modal fabric is made by processing the cellulose obtained from beech trees. This is considered sustainable and eco-friendly. The raw material for making modal fabric is obtained from renewable sources – trees. Beech trees are a renewable resource as it can be planted again and again. Beech trees are very easy to grow than any other material and need less water and time for growth. Beech trees do not require any artificial irrigation to grow.

Modal is biodegradable. And it can be easily recycled.

Lyocell Vs Modal- which is better?

Modal fabric is very similar to Viscose, Rayon, and Lyocell. But modal is usually compared to lyocell, which is the organic form of Rayon.
Modal and lyocell are both organically sourced; Organic Rayon or lyocell is obtained from the eucalyptus tree. The steps involved in the production process are very similar. However, Lyocell or organic Rayon, as it is also called, is more eco-friendlier than modal. The production of modal fabric uses a chemical known as sodium hydroxide. The manufacturing process of organic Rayon does not involve any chemicals and is entirely eco-friendly.

Who are the producers of Modal fabrics?

Japan was the first country where the modal fabric was produced, and today, China is the biggest exporter of modal fabric.
The Australian company Lenzing AG is the world’s most reputed modal fiber brand, and they manufacture premium quality, sustainable, long-lasting modal fabrics.

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