Similar to the thread count and weave variety in options, the types of fabrics don't fall behind. With the hope of to not confuse you too much, I am going to describe the properties and differences in the ranges of textiles as best as I can.
To begin with, I would like to share a very simple fact which contributes mostly to choosing a material – the type of fibres used when producing a fabric. Contrary to common belief, there isn't necessarily a better or worse option that you can choose, we are all unique in our visions and preferences, so choosing the ‘right’ fabric only comes down to choosing what is ‘right’ for us, so please do keep an open mind while reading through the descriptions.
There are 3 types of fibres: natural (cotton, silk, wool and linen), man-made (polyester, nylon, acrylic, tencel and modal) and a mixture of both (poly/cotton for example but it can be any blend of natural and man – made). Note that, within the man - made fibres, there are the synthetic fabrics (polyester, nylon, and acrylic); and there are also the ones which are made from natural vegetable fibres, made by extracting the cellulose of various types of plants (Tencel is made out of the wood pulp from Eucalyptus trees; and Modal from Beechwood). Hence, some man-made fibres share similar properties with the natural ones:
Natural moisture absorbency;
Anti-allergic nature, thus suitable for sensitive skin;
Easily treatable in order to create even greater, and softer finishing;
All of these fibres are white, and thus, absorb and contain dye;
Durable and extremely resistant to degradation by heat, making them easy to maintain (can machine wash and dry clean).
A breathability quality and an excellent conductor of heat (when it comes to cotton, it depends on the weave construction whether a fabric will keep you warm or cool at night; whereas Tencel and Modal are adaptable).
The other man-made fibres (polyester, nylon and acrylic) are all synthetics made from petrochemicals, and their biggest advantage is that they are even stronger in construction in comparison with the natural ones, and because they have undergone so many chemical treatments to accomplish their softness and shiny look, that they become very resistant to crease, stretch and shrinkage making them extremely easy to maintain. However, their largest disadvantages comes not only from the fact that they are obviously not pure in consistency, but they are also have a great heat retention, making these types of fabrics irritable to sensitive skin and especially uncomfortable to sleep in.
The above descriptions and characteristics of the two fibres which make up most fabrics, should have covered the ‘nitty gritty’ and most confusing part about the topic. Now let’s move on to the range of textiles that are made out of them.
Cotton is made out of the cotton boll plant.As previously mentioned, the quality depends on the length of the fibre the longer they are, the smoother and softer the fabric is. The thread count and weave structure of the ready finished fabric give a different feel to the skin.
Egyptian Cotton is produced by using the fibres of another plant Gossypium Barbadense which only naturally grows in Egypt along the river Nile. Its ‘staples’ (fibres) are renowned to be extra long, meaning there is more of a continuous fibre to be put in use when composing the yarns, leading to less seams and a stronger, finer and more lustrous fabric. Be on the look out, however, for companies that are simply taking an advantage of the popularity of this cotton, and may be using this name without even sourcing the fibres from Egypt, but are grown in Pakistan and India (due to the soil compositions there, the quality is certainly not the same).
Flannel Cotton is another type of plain weave, which undergoes a chemical process of brushing, where a fine metal brush buffs up the fabric and create fine fibres from loosely span threads. This gives it a nice velvety feel against the skin and makes it very attractive for the cold winter nights.
Poly/Cotton is a type of blending a man-made fibre (the synthetic polyester) with a natural one. The proportion can vary but typically, the bigger percentage of cotton consistency there is the more expensive it is but it provides for a better sleep in terms of buying bed sheets. It is, however, considered as longer lasting and a lot easier to maintain because of the synthetic fibre within.
Silk is in my opinion one the biggest and most beautiful wanders in nature, which is 100% organic and can be made in the most environmentally friendly ways of all. It is produced from an animal protein fibre (the cocoon from larvae, silk worms). So lustrous, soft and with an amazing sheen, one of its many qualities also include a resistancy to dust, bacteria and mould as it is a natural repellent to them. Due to its unique nature, this fabric is typically quite expensive.
Linen is a fabric quite different in feel to the rest. It is also made out of a vegetable fibre, but from a flax plant, which when woven and made into a fabric, is washed many times to increase its incredibly soft and lustrous feel. Needless to say, the more you wash it at home, the better it becomes. Due to its high water absorbency quality, and its fibres, it can last up to 3 decades, as opposed to 3-5 years like cotton does.
Tencel: produced by a man-made fibre called Lyocell, this is derived from the cellulose of the wood pulp from Eucalyptus Trees. This fabric gives you the best of 2 worlds and creates a 3rd one all on its own. It is strong and durable, as well as soft and smooth with a fantastic drape; and due to its nature, it is not only hypoallergenic, but a great body temperature regulator. It absorbs all of the excess body fluids and releases it into the atmosphere. Moreover, it has been shown by many recent studies, Tencel production can be considered even more environmentally friendly than cotton: its water consumption is 10 to 20 times less; the wood used is sourced from non-agricultural plantations which practice sustainability in comparison to the agricultural land used to grow Cotton, which makes it a direct competition food production; and all the products made from Lyocell fibre are can be recycled. (If you would like to find out more please click here)
So, just like I pointed out at the beginning of this article, there is an extensive variety of fabrics, and they can make your head spin with confusion when shopping (especially for bed linen); but it all comes down to personal preferences and values. Some are extreme cotton lovers to their core; some prefer the luxury feel of the slippery silk; some would go for the extreme softness and practicality of the linen; and others would opt for something new and innovative combining all of the above – Tencel.
I hope I have at least helped in clarifying a few misperceptions and definitions :) !
Aleks RD UK x