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Tuesday Textiles: Man Made Fibers

How Rayon is Made (click on image)
How Rayon is Made (click on image)

DuPont adopted the advertising slogan “Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry” in 1935.  Most people use the variant “Better Things Through Chemistry” when they mention the impact of chemistry on our everyday lives.  One area that it has impacted, that I doubt people think about when shopping, is on clothing and textiles in general.  Every time you pick up a cotton/poly blend, the cotton has been “improved” by the pairing with a test-tube creation–polyester.

The first commercially used man-made fiber was rayon and made its appearance in 1885.  Early man-made fibers–rayon, nylon, and acetate–were developed to duplicate silk.  In fact, rayon was called artificial silk until 1925.

Truthfully, the chemical terminology about how man-made fibers are created went over my head as I was learning about man made fibers.  But, if my understanding is correct, man made fibers are composed of billions of atoms that bond together to create these long molecular chains through a process called polymerization.  Apparently, these chains are soooo small that they can’t be seen, even with the assistance of an optical microscope.  However, the longer the molecular chain is, the stronger the fiber.

Except for silk, all filament fibers are man-made.  A filament is a long, continuous strand of indefinite length measured in miles (or kilometers).  So, essentially, when the manufacturer creates a fiber, unlike natural fibers that are very short (called “staple”), the fiber can be miles and miles and miles and miles long.  These filaments can either be smooth to produce silk-like fabrics or crimped in some way to create cotton or wool-like fibers.

The shape of the fiber is controlled by opening of the spinneret opening and the spinning method.  The advantage of man-made fiber over natural fiber is that the size, shape, luster, length, and other properties can be varied within the production process.

For more information visit:

Man Made Fiber Chart (PDF) Provides all sorts of technical information about man-made fibers

Manufactured Fibers at Fabrics.net Provides a list of common man-made fibers along with their benefits and uses

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  2. Terrific information. It engages my mind when thinking about the process and the types of fibers. For instance when buying carpet would you want a carpet made with filament fibers or staple fibers? How would it wear? Now that we know what the difference is?

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