Fabrics are made of fibers - strands that are much longer than they are wide and generally round on cross section. These fibers may be from natural or synthetic sources. Humans originally made cloth from natural sources, but have subsequently found the means to make their own fibers starting from basic chemicals. Each type has different properties of flexibility, ability to serve as insulation, ability to conduct
Wool - From
sheep most commonly, but also from a host of other
animals including Llamas, vicunas, alpacas,
horses, camels, etc. Good insulation, flexibility,
may resist wetting.
Cotton - From the
fibers of the seed pod of the cotton plant,
Gossypium. Good flexibility, wearing qualities.
Linen - From the fibers
of the stem of the flax plant, Linum. Heavier than
cotton, but still flexible. Excellent wearing
characteristics. Transmits water.
Jute From the surficial fibers of a small tree of the Linden family, Cochorus. Very tough, rough, not too flexible. Often more for rope, but may be made into cloth.
Hemp - From the stem fibers
As for Jute.
Tapa - from
the bark fibers of Broussonetia. Soft, but not
very flexible. Rare in western culture.
Cotton and Linen are by far the most widely used.
And there are a LOT more. Seek out a text on
Economic Botany and consult the chapter on
"cloth" if you want to learn about
More recently, humans have learned to
make their own fibers, primarily from two sources.
First, by dissolving the cellulose found in the
cell walls of plants and then re-forming it into
thread. This is the source of Rayon. Since
cellulose is the primary constituent of all but
the wool fibers noted above, we are just
re-inventing the wheel.
Second, by synthesizing cellulose-like molecules from oil. By example, Nylon, polyester.
The synthetic forms tend to be quite flexible, but often are very poor at "breathing", that is, letting body heat and sweat out. Hence they are often mixed with cotton.
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