Fabric manufacturing is a complex and intriguing process that renders the bedding, drapery, upholstered seating, blankets, clothing, and so much more that we use on a daily basis. It's so commonplace to simply purchase these fabrics that you may have never stopped to consider how they were made in the first place. What goes into making the soft, delicate feel of velvet? How does chenille get its plushy nature? What separates canvas from linen? We break down the manufacturing process for 10 of our favorite fabrics to give you a better insight into the materials you use throughout your home and wear every day.
Historically, canvas fabric was produced using hemp. The name "canvas" comes from the Latin "cannabis," which means "made of hemp." Today, canvas is mostly woven with cotton. The fibers in canvas are thick, and you can see the woven crosshatched pattern when looking closely. During manufacturing, two-ply yarns are tightly woven together in a plain weave. Sometimes, two single yarns are used and just twisted together. Then, the vertical (AKA warp) threads on the loom are held in place while the weft threads are woven over and under the warp.
When ethylene and chlorine are combined, they create polyvinyl chloride, or what we simply call vinyl. The process of creating vinyl is called cracking. First, petroleum oil is broken down via high temperatures and pressure. Then, it breaks down into several different substances: ethylene, butadiene, propylene. Once only ethylene is left, salt is added to create chlorine. Finally, vinyl resin in powder form is mixed into the chlorine and ethylene mixture to produce vinyl.
Like cotton, linen is created from a natural plant source. Flax plants are grown worldwide, which makes linen such a commonly used material. To begin, the fibers of the flax plant must first be naturally degraded in a process called retting. Bacteria are used to decompose the pectin that binds these fibers. Sometimes this is carried out chemically, but it can damage the fibers. After retting, the flax plant stalks are primed to be scutched. Scutching removes the outer wood-like casing of the stalks by smashing them between rollers. Next, the flax fibers are combed out in another process called heckling. It's these long fibers that are spun into yarns. When woven, linen fabric is created.
Similar to canvas, burlap can also be made of hemp, but other plant materials like flax and jute. Today, it's mostly made of jute. While we refer to this fabric as burlap, it's commonly known as hessian or jute in other countries. When fully grown, jute's golden colored stems are bundled up and soaked in water. Then when the stalks are softened, the internal fibers are removed to be washed and dried in the sun. Once fully dried, the fibers are blended into a yarn. This yarn is treated, pressed, and thinned after being twisted and spun. Finally, the new yarn is wrapped in spools to be woven into burlap.
Velvet is a super soft and luxurious fabric that everyone adores. It's classified as a woven pile fabric with pile made up of vertical fibers. Originally made from silk, velvet is now made from both natural and synthetic fibers. It's made on a double cloth loom, which produces two pieces of velvet at the same time. There are seven different types of velvet, each made in a different way. These include crushed velvet, panne velvet, embossed velvet, Ciselé, plain velvet, stretch velvet, and pile-on-pile velvet.
This is not to confuse velvet with velveteen or velour. Velveteen has a shorter pile and uses horizontal weft threads. It's heavier and less shiny. Velour is made of cotton and polyester to make it stretchier, making it great for sportswear and dance clothing.
Real suede is a natural material that comes from animal hide. To create suede fabric, the hide must first be fully dried and limed. Lime is used to rid the hide of all hair follicles. Then, natural enzymes called tannins are applied to the hide, where they transform it into leather. The suede leather is treated, thinned, and split. This creates a nappy sort of texture. Finally, the suede goes through a texturing process that gives it its soft and smooth feel. After it's dyed, suede can be used in both accessories and garments.100% Cotton
Cotton is one of the most widespread fabrics in the entire world. The process from plant to fabric begins with automated cotton gins. These machines process cotton bales, working to remove seeds, dirt, and other debris from the fibers. Once thoroughly cleaned, the cotton is considered pure. It can then move on to production, where the cotton fibers are formed into long strands known as silvers. Yarn is created from these strands, which makes up the basic form of 100% cotton. It can be woven into countless types of apparel, bedding, household items, and much more.
Everyone loves denim. From jeans to jackets and beyond, denim is a favorite fabric everywhere. While the majority of denim yarn is made up of cotton, it's easy to find denim fabric that's blended with spandex for an extra fit of stretch. The "blue jean" look comes from indigo dye, which was the original way to color denim. Today, it's mostly dyed with synthetic indigo dye. After it's dyed, the cotton yarns are woven together on a shutterless loom. Once complete, the new denim goes through sanforization. This process stretches and shrinks the fabric before cutting and manufacturing to help decrease the amount of shrinkage that would occur after washing. Then, the denim fabric is ready to be used in a textile application.
Muslin is another fabric made of cotton yarn. It has countless uses throughout the home and even for cooking! You'll often see it used in baby blankets and other items, as it's very breathable, durable, and natural. Once natural cotton is turned into yarn, the silvers go through more stretching so that they become tighter and longer. They're wound onto roving bobbins, which are what manufacturers use to create all kind of different cotton-based fabrics like muslin. The end result is a fabric that is quite thin and gauze-like. The lower the quality, the rougher it feels. The better the quality, the softer.
In French, chenille means "caterpillar." This is the perfect name for this fabric, as it's soft and fuzzy with a lovely pile. It is a lot like velvet, but can be made using cotton, silk, olefin, polyester acrylic, or rayon. One of the most interesting attributes of chenille is that it looks like a different color in different light settings. To produce chenille, threads are wound around a cotton core fiber. Short pieces of yarn (the piles) are wrapped around two primary threads at the core that are twisted tightly together. This method is repeated until the fabric's edges stand at right angles from the center of the fabric.