Saturday, November 18, 2006

Concerning the fiber content of a fabric

The information we most want to know about a fabric is the fiber content; knowing this is to know a fabric's characteristics and advantages and disadvantages.

There are a number of tests, some along the lines of folklore (dampening and creasing a fabric to see how it behaves) and some more scientific (exposing a fabric to certain chemicals and examining it under a microscope), but by far the most accessible test is burning.

One web offering, Ditzy Prints Fiber Burn Chart is a great resource. You should know that burning fibers takes practice, and you must start with a little caution. You should burn over a sink or bucket so that if you get what seems like a fabric inferno you can ditch! Most necessary is a tweezers to hold the little fabric swatch, and a lighter. If you burn matches of any sort you will pick up the scent of burning paper or wood, throwing you off for discerning the burning fabric's odor.

If you are really serious about learning how a fiber burns, I recommend taking known fabric samples and examining how they smell and behave while burning, and look, feel and smell once burned.

Many fabrics are blends and will have characteristics of more than one fiber when burned. If you are lucky, the fibers are distinct in the fabric, so that you can separate the weft from the warp and discover the content of each fiber.

One giveaway is acetate, which is the only fiber that dissolves when dampened with acetone (i.e. nail polish remover).

To do a burn test, do your best to find as big a swatch as possible without damaging or conspicuous loss to a garment. Even a few threads are "readable" once you get good at this, but a piece of about 1" X 1/4" is a minimum necessity if you are just getting started. Hold one end of the fabric with the tweezers and expose the other end to the flame of a lighter. Notice if the fabric readily burns or takes some effort to light. Also, note if the fire burns out or continues until all the fabric is burned. Smell the burning fabric.

Then, once the fire is out, notice whether the remains are black or grey, and feel to decide if is harder (bead-like) or soft (ash-like). On the fiber burn chart all these elements will help you narrow the choices.

Your senses also will help determine a fabric's fiber content without burning, given a chance to learn. With experience a silk, wool, rayon, polyester or acetate are discernible just by look and feel...but the details of their look and feel are so much harder to describe online.

I wish everyone who cared to learn about fabrics could have a mentor lead them. From what little I know, a knowledgeable person and a guided experience with fabrics makes a very complex project so much easier and memorable. If you have a chance, be taught first hand!

Monday, November 6, 2006

Thursday, November 2, 2006

My "first impression" concept for ID-ing fabrics

One summer I read the Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles cover to cover (don't I know how to have fun?) and chose a collection of fabrics that seemed to come up in vintage clothing descriptions and in my observations. I whittled down the definitions to what I think is the basic for making an identification, then I arranged these by first impressions. This is really a very simple concept, looking for the best category, then scanning the list for the best possible choice. So, if your fabric is really light, but there isn't anything particularly pronounced about its look or texture, check FINE, LIGHT FABRICS. If it is ribbed, is it horizontally or vertically ribbed? Check the ribbed category that fits. This tactic for narrowing down the fabric type is inspired by bird identification, where the most pronounced feature is the starting point. In some cases, fabrics fall into more than one category; still I'd suggest grabbing what you think is its most notable aspect as a starting point. For instance, percale with an ombre pattern is more likely to be called--and be wanted--by its most obvious feature, the ombre pattern.

I have a long way to go, but I have positively identified examples of most of these fabrics, and I mean to grow the list and swatch samples. I hope that even the descriptions help others.

Illusion - Very fine, sheer net
Point d'esprit - Net with dots scattered all over
Tulle - Fine net with a hexagonal mesh.

Crepe de chine - Plain weave with fine crepe effect
Gauze - Thin, sheer open weave of plain or leno weave
Georgette - Sheer plain weave with a fine crepe surface
Handkerchief linen - Sheer linen
Mousseline - Broad classification of lightweight, sheer crisp fabrics
Organdy - Sheer, plain weave stiffened lawn
Organza - Transparent, crisp plain weave
Voile - Sheer plain weave with crisp, wiry hand

Batiste - Plain weave, with subtle lengthwise streaks
Cambric - Soft plain weave, slight luster
Challis - Soft plain weave, often printed w/ small florals
Charmeuse - Soft, drapey, smooth, semi-lustrous satin face, dull back
Crepe-back satin - Reversible satin weave, smooth & lustrous on one side, crepe on other
Gabardine - Twill weave w/ distinct rib
Lawn -Fine, plain weave, relatively sheer. Close construction
Percale - Plain weave, firm, balanced construction
Sateen - Cotton in satin weave
Surah - Silk or silky manufactured fabric in twill weave. Soft, lustrous

Buckram - Plain weave, coarse, open, heavily sized, used as a stiffener interfacing
Cavalry twill - Strong, rugged, pronounced double twill at 63° angle
Cheviot - Hairy nap wool or worsted, rough surface, fulled. Plain or twill weaves
Chino - Twilled mercerized cotton
Denim - Right-hand twill weave, colored warp, white filling (compare to drill)
Drill - Resembles denim, but left-hand twill
Duck - Plain weave, light canvas
Homespun - Plain weave, course, uneven yarns, similar to tweed
Hopsacking - Same as burlap. Basket weave, coarse, loosely woven
Lodencloth - Coarse wool coating fabric woven in the Tyrols w/ natural water repellancy
Melton - Plain weave, completely smooth, short nap, at least partly wool
Muslin - Firm, plain weave cotton; broad category from sheer to heavyweight
Serge - Most commonly twilled worsted suiting dyed navy blue
Whipcord - Twilled rugged fabric w/ wiry hand

Burn-out fabric - Made w/ 2 different yarns w/ pattern made by destroying one of the yarns in a printing process which uses chemicals instead of color.
Crushed velvet - Velvet processed to have irregular surface
Panne velvet - Flattened pile velvet
Plush - Surface longer than velvet, less closely woven
Velvet - Short cut warp pile fabric

Crepe - Wrinkled or grained surface effect
Embossed fabric - Raised design made by passing cloth through hot, engraved rollers
Matelassé - Puckered, quilted, waded effect
Plissé - Puckered stripes made by applying caustic soda
Seersucker - Puckered stripes made by weaving tension variations

Butcher cloth - Linen like, strong, heavy, plain weave
Donegal tweed - Plain or twill weave medium to heavy wool with colored slubbing
Doupioni silk - Irregular, rough silk reeled from double cocoons
Pongee - Plain weave, light to medium-weight irregular silk, often natural ecru color
Shantung - Rough, plain weave silk, heavier than pongee

Bouclé - Woven or knit fabric using rough, curly, knotted, fancy yarn
Ratiné - Plain weave, loosely constructed fabric using curly, knotty fancy ratiné yarn

Bengaline - Plain weave, filling courser than warp, but more warp yarns used, covering picks
Broadcloth - Unbalanced plain weave, finer rib than poplin
Faille - Plain weave, like grosgrain only flatter rib
Grosgrain - Firm, closely woven plain weave ribbed fabric or ribbon
Ottoman - Plain weave, cords larger & rounder than faille or bengaline
Poplin - Subtle but noticeable rib warp plain weave fabric, more rib than broadcloath
Rep - Plain weave, close spaced narrow ribs, less than bengaline, more than poplin
Taffeta - Broad category of plain weave, fine, smooth, crisp fabrics, usually w/ fine cross rib

Bedford cord - Heavy, plain weave corded fabric
Corduroy - Pile ribbed
Pinwale corduroy - Finely ribbed
Piqué - Light bedford cord, or also in fancy patterns (i.e. bird..s eye)

Brushed fabric - Softened feel from wire brushing process
Chintz - Plain weave cotton or cotton blend w/ glaze treatment
Flannel - Light to medium weight plain or twill weave fabric, slightly napped
Moiré - ..Watered.. finishing process, usually applied to ribbed fabric
Polished cotton - Luster from satin weave, or smoothing roller finish
Suede cloth - Woven or knit fabric finished to resemble suede
Sueded silk - Soft nap finish silk

Calico - Plain weave cotton or blend with small, busy, printed pattern
Foulard - Lustrous twill w/ small printed design on plain ground
Toile de jouy - Floral or scenic designs, classic motifs finely detailed

Brocade - Rich, heavy jacquard-woven fabric w/ raised patterns emphasized by contrasting surfaces or colors (see jacquard, damask)
Chambray - Plain weave w/ colored warp, white filling
Damask - Similar to brocade, but flatter
Dobby weave - Specific, small, geometric figures in fabric woven w/ dobby loom
Gingham - Plain weave, even check plaid
Heather effect - Vari-colored effect from blended woolen yarns, often greens, browns
Houndstooth check - Twill woven in characteristic pattern
Jacquard - System of weaving capable of producing complex and large woven designs
Oatmeal weave - Uneven weave in small repeat which produces speckled surface
Ombré (woven or printed) - Gradual shading from light to dark, or hue to hue
Shadow stripe weave - Indistinct stripes produced by using different yarns, in a plain weave
Sharkskin - Most often blk & white in close plain weave worsteds
Ticking - Strong, durable, close woven in any basic weave, characteristic stripe

Batik - Wax-resist dying
Birds eye - Small indentations
Dotted swiss - Can be woven or flocked dots on plain weave
Eyelet - Edge-embroidered cut-outs or eyelets
Flock - Fuzzy pile decoration applied with adhesive, not woven
Honeycomb - A woven in waffle appearance
Ikat - Resist dying employing tying fabric
Waffle weave - Cotton in honeycomb weave

Double knit - Thicker knit, made in knitting machine with two sets of needles
Interlock - Thick, firm, double rib knit
Jersey - Single, plain knit
Tricot - Knit w/ pronounced crosswise ribs on back

Lamé - Fabric w/ flat, metallic yarns woven in

These descriptions do not cover the fiber (i.e. wool, rayon, silk, polyester). Next time: How to tell the fiber from which a fabric is made.