We all know that certain fabrics are more suitable for some projects than others. Do you know where fabrics come from, or how to care for them? Here is a summary of the main types of natural fabrics and man-made fabrics:

Natural Fabrics

Cotton - comes from cotton boll (plant). Can be woven, pressed by heat into flannel, or used as knits. Good for almost all purposes, such as Apparel, Crafts, Quilting, Baby and Children's accessories. As a natural fiber, cotton "breathes" which makes it comfortable to wear. For quilters, cotton is the fabric of choice-- it handles and sews easily. Care: machine washable.

Linen - comes from flax (plant). Real linen wrinkles easily, but is cool, and like cotton, linen "breathes"-- making it a good choice for summer apparel. Linen is also great for table top accessories. To maintain its crispness, linen is often dry-cleaned. For a softer look, many linens can be hand-washed. Read your labels carefully.

Silk - comes from silk worms. The collection process is intricate and explains why silk is often expensive. Silk can have either a smooth finish or a nubby finish (raw silk). Care: usually dry clean, but many new silks may be hand washed. Read label carefully.

Wool - comes from animal coats (the animal is not harmed!) known for its warmth, wool is often blended with man-made fibers. Good for apparel, especially outer wear. Care: usually dry clean, although some wools may be hand-washed. Read labels carefully.


Man-Made Fabrics

Polyester - When it was first introduced, polyester became a favorite fabric for apparel. It is easy to care for (mostly machine washable . read labels carefully) and keeps its shape and color well. The disadvantage of polyester is that it does not "breathe," which means it retains body heat and moisture and its not as comfortable as some of the natural fibers. Depending on the manufacturer, polyester fabrics have different names, many of which you will recognize - Dacron, Fortrel, Kodel and Trevira are among the many. Polyester may be offered in the form of knits, jerseys or cotton and silk-like fabrics.

Rayon - Considered the most "natural" of the man-made fabrics, rayon is most often used for apparel. Depending on its construction, it has a soft draping quality, or can be made to look like linen. Rayon, too, has brand names such as Avril or Enka. It is more absorbent than polyester and usually is best dry-cleaned.

Nylon - New types are being developed yearly! Sometimes Nylon is mixed with other fibers for apparel. Some Nylon brand names are Antron and Viviana. Nylon is often a major fiber in knits, nylon tricot (underwear) nylon velvet and stretch swim wear. Machine washable.

Acrylic - (Brand names include Acrilan, Creslan, Orlon) is often used as a substitute for wool, in sweaters, fleece wear and other outer wear. (You'll also find acrylic-wool blends.) Like wool, acrylic is warm and wrinkle resistant. One of its advantages is that it is usually machine washable.

Fabric Types and Designs

Now you know the basic categories of fabrics. Within those categories, there are different types of fabrics, that are identified by their construction (how the fibers are woven together, or by their design). Here's a brief list of some of the terms you might come across when looking at fabrics.

Types of Cottons

Batiste - very fine, soft, usually sheer cottons, often used for handkerchiefs, nightwear and children's dresses.

Broadcloth - closely woven fabric. If you look closely, you'll see tiny crosswise ribs.

Calico - plain woven cotton, usually printed with tiny floral designs.

Cambric - tightly woven cotton, usually in solid colors, such as cambric blue. Used in apparel, especially casual shirts.

Canvas - heavyweight cotton, used for items that require strength, such as tote bags, knapsacks, and slipcovers.

Chambray - finely woven cotton, usually with white and another color. The white is very subtle, used in the crosswise (warp) yarns. A chambray shirt, for instance is usually pale blue, but if you look closely you will see the white yarn.

Chino - popularized by the GAP! This is cotton twill that has been pre-shrunk and mercerized. Most often used for sports pants and other sports wear.

Chintz - highly glazed cotton with a rich glossy finish. At Cranston, we call this "Cransheen finish." Chintz adds a decorator touch to home furnishings, and is also great for dressier apparel.

Corduroy - cotton pile that has been cut and woven with wide or narrow ribs.

Denim - the workhorse of cottons! Very strong, and similar to Chambray, in that it is often made with white filling.

Duck - another strong, durable cotton, used for projects that are meant to last, i.e. travel accessories, slipcovers, awnings, etc.

Flannel - very soft cotton, usually with a nap. Used often in baby wear. For children and baby apparel, make sure it is flame retardant.

Gabardine - can be cotton or wool. This is the twilled fabric that spans the seasons, and is often used in jackets, skirts and pants.

Gingham - yarn-dyed woven cotton, usually seen in the form of checks.

Khaki - another strong cotton weave - used in uniforms and other items that require strength.

Lawn - cotton lawn is a fine, crisp, combed cotton fabric, used in children's wear, nightwear and traditional quilting.

Madras - originally from India. Real madras is hand-loomed and dyed with vegetable dyes. Patterns are usually stripes or plaids.

Muslin - very basic plain woven fabrics. Depending on the type, muslin can be coarse or fine, dyed or unbleached. The unbleached variety is often used for pattern making or test garments.

Percale - finely woven cotton, often used for sheets. The higher the thread count, the softer the hand.

Piqué - cotton that has been woven with a raised, cord or weld effect. Also called dobby weave.

Poplin - usually heavier weight cotton that has a very fine rib running from selvedge to selvedge.

Sateen - cotton that has been woven with a satin weave.

Seersucker - crinkly cotton fabric, most often used in summer sports wear.

Terry - woven on knitted cotton pile with loops on one or both sides. Because of its absorbency it is very often used for toweling.

Voile - crisp, sheer, lightweight cotton, used for formal wear.