Textiles 101: Fabric Structures


This is the first of Line + Tow’s Textiles 101 series. In these posts, I (Grace) will explain the basics of textile production, garment manufacturing, and the fashion industry. My goal is to help our community navigate the in’s and out’s of the textile world so they can make responsible buying decisions.

 

Why do you need to know about textiles?

We use multiple, forms of textiles everyday - usually without much thought. With the rise of fast fashion, pollution, and unfair labor; now, more than ever it’s important to have awareness of where and how products are created.

I’m a textile nerd, so I’ll try not to get too technical when writing these posts. My goal is to give you basic information about the industry, in plain terms.

All textiles are created from one of three fabric structures. In this post, I’ll explain what each fabric structure is, how it’s made, and give familiar examples of each. We tend to use these fabric structure terms frequently, but many times don’t understand what they actually mean. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to identify the different structures and have a basic understanding of each.

 

What is a textile?

A textile is a fabric - the clothing on your back, the sheets on your bed, or the bandaid on your knee. There are three main categories of textiles: Knit, Woven, and Non-woven.

 

Knit

Knit fabrics are seen in many different products. Examples of these are your swimsuit, the netting on your backpack, an ugly Christmas sweater, and even the popular jersey sheets. The most common knit fabric that we deal with is the basic t-shirt.

 

The Process

A knit fabric is made from one continuous yarn that forms one loop after another in a row. You could think of it as a series of little slip knots - if one comes out, it starts a chain reaction. This is why knit fabric unravels and, for example, creates a hole in your sock or stocking that gets larger and larger.

Knit fabrics have a natural stretch, even if there is no elastic in it, and can be identified by the v-shape the yarn makes. Take a close look at your t-shirt! You’ll see hundreds of rows of “v’s”.

Knit fabric, such as those used in t-shirts, use the same concept as the knitting your grandma (or you - I do!) does. It’s simply a lot smaller and is a mechanized process. Your chunky knit sweater is created with the same process as those soft jersey sheets on your bed!

 

Woven

Woven fabrics are the most common textiles and are used to create many products that aren’t apparel. These include denim, home decor goods (curtains, sheets, towels, tablecloths, napkins), gauze, canvas, and cheesecloth.

 

The Process

Woven fabrics are made by over-lapping and under-lapping yarns that are perpendicular to each other. These yarns are referred to as the warp and the weft. The warp threads run longitudinally and the weft threads cross over and under latitudinally (we're gonna pretend that's a word).

These fabrics have no stretch unless they have elastic in the fiber content or if you pull them at a 45 degree angle to the orientation of the fibers - for instance, if you pull on the corners of a square of fabric. This is called the bias of the fabric.

You can distinguish a woven fabric from a knit by looking for yarns running top to bottom and a separate set running left to right. An obvious example of this is distressing on jeans. When there are only white fibers running across in one direction, this is because the blue perpendicular fibers have been removed or worn away.


Non-woven

This type of fabric is more common than you may think - there are hundreds of uses for it.The most well known include baby wipes, some reusable shopping bags, dryer sheets, and felt. Non-wovens vary in strength and can be made from a variety of material, both natural and synthetic.

 

The Process

Non-woven fabrics are made of fibers just like woven and knit fabrics; however, they are joined in a random order. The most common ways are by heat, needle punching, or glue.

Non-woven fabrics that are formed with heat are only made with synthetic fibers (natural fibers would burn, not melt) and are melted in a specific way to create a textile. The most common example of this are baby wipes. The small shapes and patterns in each wipe are melted areas.The rest of the wipe is left open so it can absorb liquid.

Needle punched fabrics, such as felt, are made by taking a mass of fibers and repeatedly punching them with needles in an organized manner to create a flat shape. This is almost identical to the needle felting process and has a very similar outcome.

Fabrics made with glue use an adhesive to press the fibers down into a sheet. An example of these are dryer sheets.

 

Take a look around your home for textiles you use on a daily basis. Are they woven or knitted? Perhaps you use products with fabrics that are synthetic, such as a reusable shopping bag. We hope this post bolstered your understanding of textiles so you could spot the differences in each of these items.

If you have any questions, or would like to know more, please send me an email at grace@lineandtow.com, or comment below!


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