Types of fibres

Types of fibres

Types of fibres

In this article we would like to introduce you to the most common types of textile fibres used for weaving fabrics and their characteristics. Fibres can be divided into 4 groups according to their origin. Each of these groups requires certain specifics in their cleaning and maintenance, and it is these specifics that are met by the 4 types of detergents we recommend.

1. group of textile fibres

Fibres whose origin is animal. These are wool from the hair of animals, either wild or directly bred for the purpose of obtaining fibre from the hair.


This is a textile fiber made from the hair of the domestic sheep. Sheep live to be 10-12 years old, and each animal can grow at least 3 kg of wool per year, with some breeds producing up to 18 kg. The wool is sheared once or twice a year (a skilled shearer shears over 20 sheep an hour). The shorn wool is stored as a whole fleece, the different parts of which are later classified into certain quality classes.

Raw, sweaty wool contains on average less than half the weight of the worsted fibres, 10-45% is fat and sweat, 5-20% is dirt that has entered the coat on the pasture, in addition the fibres can hold up to 25% moisture. The fat and sweat is removed by washing (the lanolin obtained can be used in cosmetics) and the vegetable impurities are carbonised with sulphuric acid. The pure fibre consists of keratin, pigment and chemically bound moisture. Of the chemical elements, 50 % is carbon, with a further 40 % oxygen and nitrogen. The surface of the fibre is flaky. The special structure of the chain molecule gives the fibre excellent elasticity and flexibility (E-module). The wool is therefore almost wrinkle-free, but thus also less strong than other textile fibres and loses a further 10-20 % of its strength when wet. Dyeing two lots of wool to exactly the same shade is hardly possible. Wool products must be protected against moths. Wool is considerably more expensive than conventional textile fibres.


Cashmere wool from Cashmere goats is one of the finest textile fibres. Although today this wool is not sourced only in Kashmir, the term has remained to this day because it was originally sourced in Kashmir. Cashmere yarn is valued for its properties of lightness and softness, and because it is very warm.

Approximately 5000 tons of fibers with large variations in the coarse hair content (65-85 microns) of the surface of the coat enter the world market annually. Quality assessment is also difficult because cashmere and sheep wool can only be distinguished from each other under a microscope.

Cashmere is at least ten times more expensive than sheep's wool. Cashmere is therefore usually not processed pure, but in a mixture with wool. The finest yarn is made in 17.5 tex, double skimmed, i.e. 35 tex.

Cashmere is used not only in the traditional production of scarves, but also in the production of various types of high-quality outerwear (skirts, suits, men's suits, jackets, coats, etc.).

Cashmere wool products are prone to wrinkling, the water for washing them must not be hotter than 30° C.


The coat of the Angora rabbit gives the absolute finest wool (12-17 µm), 12-75 mm long, smooth and very light. The fibre is oily on the surface, so it repels moisture, is easily electrostatically charged and retains heat.

The fibres are combed out of the rabbits twice a year and sheared once. This yields 700 to 1000 grams of wool from each animal. The length of the fibre is decisive for the quality classification. Fibres longer than 60 mm are the most expensive, as they can be tightly twisted into a yarn bundle and the products do not flake and fray, as often happens with shorter fibres.

Angora fibres (unlike sheep's wool) do not need to be washed before being processed into yarn. Pure angora is spun into carded yarns and blended with merino wool or polyester. Core yarns, in which the polyester fibre core is spun with angora, have proven to be very successful, with a fineness of up to 7 tex.

Yarns made of angora are particularly suitable for the production of underwear for rheumatics, but knitted outerwear is also well known.


The llama pacos or alpaca is a domesticated llama. It is primarily bred to produce very high quality wool (similar in quality to down). This species has never been used for labor. The alpaca llama, like the llama, is a type of camel. There are about 350 000 of them in Bolivia and Peru. The coat is sheared every two years, each shearing yielding 3 to 4 kg of wool in up to 22 colours. The fibre measures 15 to 26 microns, has little frizz, a very soft feel and a silky sheen. Knitted or woven products are sold at twice the price of comparable pure merino wool products.


The vicuña, or vicuña llama (Vicugna vicugna), is a wild species of llama found in the high Andes of southern Peru and Bolivia and in the northern regions of Argentina and Chile. Most of the animals are protected and are also kept in large nature reserves and fenced preserves, such as Kala-Kala in Peru. A certain number of animals are kept in a semi-domesticated state at research stations. The vicuña llama is a wild relative of the llama, also in the camel family, with a valuable coat. Vikuna fibre could be procured virtually only from dead animals. Since 1968, however, the hunting of vicuñas has been banned and the wool of this species has therefore disappeared from the market altogether. It is considered the finest wool ever.


Mohair is wool from the Angora goat, 120-250 mm long, with a fineness of 25-50 μm, a strength about one third lower than sheep's wool, with a special sheen and a pleasant feel. The fibres are easy to dye, mohair products do not mellow and have extreme resistance to wear. Mohair is about twice as expensive as sheep's wool, to which it is usually blended. When mixed with wool or man-made fibres, it can be processed into worsted yarns up to a fineness of 14 tex. These are then used to make fabrics for lightweight, shiny suits (popular in the 1980s, for example), suits with a rough feel and home furnishings. Under the trade name mohair (or Mohair), a light, bulky fabric with a mohair yarn weft was known in the last century, from which curls lay on the surface in the form of bouclé. Much of the yarn is cut and processed into hand and machine knitted products.

2. group of textile fibres

Fibres whose origin is animal. These are fibres derived from animal secretions.

Natural silk

The majority of natural silk is obtained from the excrement of the silkworm. It is the only "endless" natural textile fibre. Silk originally comes from China. The first records of silkworm farming date back to the 3rd millennium BC. The invention of its production is the stuff of legend: According to this legend, the discovery of silk fibre dates back to 2640 BC. The story goes that a certain Chuang-Ti asked his wife to find out who was harming his mulberry trees. The wife discovered white caterpillars that formed shiny cocoons. Later, she accidentally dropped one cocoon into hot water and discovered that she could pull out a fine thread and wind it onto a spool. Apparently, she thus discovered a silk-making technology that remained a Chinese secret for more than 2,000 years. Silk was a very valuable trade commodity. It was imported from China as far away as Persia and Rome, where it was popularly used. China maintained a monopoly on silk production until the 6th century (AD), and attempting to export the technology was punishable by death.

The technology is said to have spread thanks to two monks who managed to transport a pair of silkworms to Europe. From the 7th century onwards, the silk industry developed mainly in Byzantium. The trade with the Arabs allowed silk to spread south. Its production finally developed during the Crusades, when the Crusaders (with the help of the Venetians) brought silkworm farming with them after the sack of Constantinople. Thanks to the Venetians, silk spread throughout southern Europe. In the north (e.g. Poland), it faced problems due to the lack of natural food for the butterfly, the white mulberry (Morus alba).

One silkworm cocoon contains up to 4,000 metres of filament wrapped and glued together with sericin (a type of glue). The sericin softens in hot water, the fibres from 5-6 cocoons are joined together, and when wound onto a spool they are re-glued together by the cooling sericin.

First, 500 - 1000 metres of the outer layer containing the inferior fibre is unwound from each cocoon, which is later processed in a similar way to carded wool into the so-called buret yarn. The spinning line is about 167 tex, the products being little uniform and speckled.

The middle part of the cocoon, about 1,000 yards in one piece, is the finest fibre, called greige. It contains up to 30% more sericin. It is only after it has been removed in lye that the fibre gets its proper lustre and flexibility. To compensate for the loss of weight after the sericin is removed and to make the fibre more workable, it is then impregnated with various salts.

About 2,000 metres of fragments 20-40 cm long remain from the inside of the cocoon. These are used to produce chap yarns up to a fineness of 2.5 tex, using a production process similar to that used for spinning worsted wool. Silk is often mixed with wool or linen, and the yarn is used for fashion fabrics. Tussah silk is also usually processed in this way.

Wild silk

Wild silk is a textile fibre obtained from the excrement of the caterpillars of various moths living in the wild (not kept for breeding) in tropical regions.

The best known, but not the only fibre of this species is tussah. The term tussah silk is often used to refer to the entire group, which includes, in addition to tussah, the following:

Wild silk cannot usually be unwound continuously from the cocoons, so it is largely used only as "spun silk" i.e. processed into chap or burlap yarn.

Wild silk accounts for 10-15% of the total silk yarn production i.e. in the order of 15,000 tons per annum. The shares of each species are not known.


Viscose fibres (international abbreviation: CV) are products made from regenerated cellulose. In the early 20th century, the first viscose fibres came on the market as a (much cheaper) substitute for natural silk and later for cotton and wool.

In both world wars, imports of all important textile materials into Europe were blocked, leaving viscose fibres as almost the only raw material for the textile industry.

Ordinary viscose fibre reaches only about 80-90% of the strength of cotton when dry and drops to half its own value when wet.

Modified types of viscose are produced with up to twice the strength of cotton, and this drops to only about 25% wet strength.

Products made from viscose fibre have a pleasant feel, good absorbency and (in blends with other fibres and depending on the fabric structure) wrinkle resistance. However, they shrink easily at higher temperatures and are not resistant to biological influences.

There are no problems with dyeing with conventional dyes (even in fibre) and bleaching with viscose.

For average cotton, one often pays twice the price and for wool four times the price of ordinary viscose fibre.

3. group of textile fibres

Fibres whose origin is vegetable.


Cotton is the most important of all crops grown for the production of textile fibre. The fibres are obtained from the fruit of the cotton bush and are composed of cellulose.

Cotton fibres are present in more than 50% of the textiles produced today. Cultivation of cotton has had a significant economic impact since cotton was first domesticated approximately 5,000 (perhaps even 10,000) years ago.

Cotton was unknown in Europe until the late Middle Ages. However, by the time of the Industrial Revolution, cotton had become very important to the textile industry due to its physical properties and by the end of the 19th century it accounted for approximately 80% of all textile materials by volume. Today, although cotton retains its position as the most important natural fibre, its importance has been largely eroded by synthetic fibres. Cotton accounts for about 30 % of today's textile production.

Cotton has good tensile strength (245-373 mN/tex) and abrasion strength, which even increases by about 20% when wet. Therefore, it is used preferably especially for products that are stressed in this direction and have to be washed frequently.

The products have a pleasant feel and can absorb a considerable amount of moisture, for example sweat. This is also one of the main reasons why cotton has expanded into bedding and 100% cotton is now the most widely used material in the industry.

One of the main reasons for the high consumption of cotton in the world is the very favourable ratio of the overall performance to the price of the products.

Disadvantages include the fact that cotton products wrinkle easily, wrinkle and offer limited protection against cold.


Linen textile fibre is obtained from the stalk of the linen plant (Lat.: Linum usitatissimum L.). In raw flax, the individual fibres, 20-50 mm long, form a bundle 50-90 cm long.

The earliest findings of linen products date from around the 7th millennium BC, according to some accounts from South America, according to others from Iran. Linen came to Europe about 4 thousand years later (found in Switzerland). At the end of the 18th century, flax accounted for a significant proportion of the total textile fibre consumption in Europe with 18 % (wool 78 %).

In 2009, the global annual production of linen fibres (including tow) could be estimated at 0,5 million tonnes (about 0,6 % of all textile fibres). China accounted for 50% and the EU for 47% of the total. Of the global sown linen area (approx. 320 000 ha), the EU accounted for less than 40% in recent years, with 700 ha recorded in the Czech Republic in 2007.

Elementary fibre is on average slightly longer and, at 5-8 cN/dtex, stronger than, for example, cotton. Wet strength increases by up to 20 %. The fibres have low elasticity and good thermal conductivity. Flax products have a cool feel, tolerate washing well, but have a strong tendency to crease.

Linen yarns are 20-30 % stronger than cotton yarns and their strength increases by a further 30 % when wet. They are characterised by their unevenness ('flaxen' appearance in the fabric), hard feel and low tenacity (2-5 %).

The fabrics are most often produced in plain or twill weave, but jacquard-weave products are also known. Only very uniform, expensive yarns can be used for the warp, so linen weft is most often combined with cotton warp in the fabrics.


Ramie, Ramie snow-white (Boehmeria nivea) is a tropical plant with leaves similar to nettles. The plant reaches up to 5 metres in height, the stem is about 2 centimetres thick and is grown for its bast fibre.

The earliest evidence of ramie cultivation comes from China. Excavations in Hemudu (Zhejiang province) have found ropes of ramie and leaves from the plant dating back to around 4000 BC.

About 1 kg of spinnable fibre is obtained from 100 kg of cut stems of mature plants. A hectare yields 3 tonnes in three harvests per year. Separation of the fibres from the stalk is carried out by chemical means (dew treatment, as with other bast fibres, is not possible because the pectins cannot be broken down by bacteria). In 2006, the global harvest was estimated at 280 000 tonnes, the vast majority of which came from China.

The bundle of technical fibres is up to 4 metres long. Elementary fibres with a fineness of 15-50 µm reach a length of 50-250 mm, have a strength of up to 90 cN/tex, can hold up to 20% moisture, are bright white, have a silky sheen, a slightly harder feel than cotton and are easily dyed.

4. group of textile fibers

Artificial textile fibers.


Microfibre is an artificial textile fibre finer than 1 dtex (by some definitions: finer than 1 denier). Because natural fibres are much coarser (cotton about 3×, wool 4×), blended yarns can only be made from microfibres& mixing with natural materials is hardly possible.

Staple or filament yarns consist of a higher number of fibres, which create a much larger surface area. Microfiber products repel moisture and cold from the outside, and the large number of pores in the product allows sweat to evaporate easily. The look and feel of the product resembles that of natural silk, the surface is resistant to pilling, and it does not lose its positive properties through washing and cleaning.

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