In this post
  • Fibres, Yarn & Fabric
  • Natural fibres
  • Synthetic Fibres
  • Regenerated Fibres
  • Blended Fabrics
  • Fibre Production
  • Carbon Footprint

Fibres, Yarn & Fabric

Fibres are short fine hairs.
Fibres can be can be natural, synthetic or chemically produced hybrid called regenerated fibres.
Fibres can be twisted or spun into longer thread or yarn.
Threads can be woven or knitted into fabric.
The fabric often takes the name of the fibre such as cotton or wool.
It can also go under a trade name such as nylon.
Natural fibres include wool cotton and silk.There is of course a plastic alternative to every one of them.

So fibres (and then yarns and ultimately fabrics) can be can be natural, synthetic or chemically produced hybrid called regenerated fibres.

Natural fibres

Cotton – the world’s most widely used plant fibre. You can read more about cotton production here.
Flax is used to make linen. It is one of the strongest vegetable fibres.
Wools include
Sheep’s wool in a range of weights and qualities
Alpaca wool used to make high-end luxury fabrics.
Angora wool -The silky white wool of the Angora rabbit is very fine and soft, and used in high quality knitwear
Mohair is also from the Angora goat.
Cashmere wool comes from cashmere goats and has great insulation properties without being bulky

Silk strong and light weight but involves some cruelty.

 Read more….

Synthetic fibres are man-made from chemicals many of which are petroleum derived.

Acrylic, nylon and polyester come from oil and coal.

Acrylic fibre resembles wool and so is used to replace that natural fibre.

Nylon is used as a silk substitute. It is a very fine and strong fibre so can be used to make ladies tights.

Polyester is one of the most popular man-made fibres. It is the same  Polyethylene terephthalat, (frequently shortened to PET or PETE and was formerly called PETP or PET-P), that is used to make bottles and a lot of other plastic stuff. Read more

Do read this fantastic guide 

Regenerated Fibres

The base material is cellulose that can be obtained from a range of sources including wood, paper, cotton fiber, or  bamboo. It is then converted through a chemical process into a fiber.

  • Rayon
  • Bamboo Rayon-
  • Viscose,
  • Modal
  • Tencel (lyocell)
  • Read more…

Blended Fabrics
Mixing synthetic and natural fibres such as poly cotton a mix of natural cotton and synthetic polyester

Fibre Production

fibre pie chart

2013 figures

Global 2013 fibre production estimated at 85.5 million tons

• Global 2013 synthetic fibre production estimated at 55.8 million tons (i.e. excluding cotton, cellulosics and wool)

Natural Fibres
Cotton 25 million tons
wool production is around 2.1 million tonnes.
Silk 150 000 tonnes in 2006
Linen 147 000 tonnes of flax fibre 2007,
Alpaca 6 500 tonnes
Cashmere” after scouring and dehairing 6 500 tonnes
Mohair is estimated at around 5 000 tonnes a year, down from a high of 25 000 tonnes in the 1990s,
Angora is estimated at 2 500 to 3 000 tonnes

2009 figures  only – google let me down!

Carbon footprint

A study done by the Stockholm Environment Institute on behalf of the BioRegional Development Group  concludes that the energy used (and therefore the CO2 emitted) to create 1 ton of spun fiber is much higher for synthetics than for hemp or cotton:
KG of CO2 emissions per ton of spun fiber:

KG of CO2 emissions per ton of spun fiber:

crop cultivation

fiber production


polyester USA




cotton, conventional, USA




hemp, conventional




cotton, organic, India




cotton, organic, USA




Lots more great info on the carbon footprint of fabrics can be found here on this great blog.

You can see all our posts on clothing, fabrics and the plastic-free wardrobe here.

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4 thoughts on “Fibres, Yarn & fabric

  1. Absolutely. And you can get some amazing woollen fabrics still made in the uk. Bloody expensive though. If I can ever afford to make a skirt I will be keeping it forever!

  2. I have been grappling with the ethics of different fibres for a while now (for example Here in the UK I think wool may be our best option but it’s not always appropriate. Cotton, unless organic has all sorts of issues associated with pesticide and water use, not to mention human exploitation. As always, the best thing to do is reduce consumption and make what we do have last as long as possible.

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