Home generalWhich types of fabrics are there? - An overview of the most common substances

Which types of fabrics are there? - An overview of the most common substances

  • material Glossary
    • Cotton (CO)
    • Linen (LI)
    • Wool (WO), new wool (WV)
    • Silk (SE, ST)
    • chemical fibers
  • Distinction after the yarn processing
    • Webware
    • Knitwear

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material Glossary

What is the difference between the different types of fabric? How are they made? Why do some and not others stretch? How do I recognize substances that have no information? Why are the care instructions for the same type of fabric often very different? We would like to answer these and many other questions today.

Here you will find a rough classification of the basic materials, an insight into different processing and finishing methods, examples of different types of substances and their use as well as explanations of the usual care instructions.

The different fibers

Basically, the following fibers are distinguished:

  • Plant fibers such as cotton and linen
  • Animal fibers such as wool and silk
  • Man-made fibers - Cellulosic (wood) and synthetic (petroleum)

Both vegetable and animal fibers are natural fibers. In addition, other fibers are produced from minerals and inorganic materials for specific uses, but these play only a minor role in private use. Therefore, these fibers will not be discussed here.

Cotton (CO)

cotton recovery
Cotton has been turned into fabric for several millennia. The main producing countries are USA, Brazil, India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Australia. The seed hairs are harvested from the cotton capsules, which are dried, ginned and spun. From the seed hair, which are too short for spinning, cellulosic man-made fibers are sometimes made. The seed can also be used for oil production.

For cotton quality, the longer the seed fibers, the finer and higher quality the cotton. Especially the harvest by hand stands for higher quality, because here really only ripe seed hair is picked. The color palette of untreated natural fibers ranges from white to slightly yellowish to cream, beige and light brown.

Since cotton fabrics are very soft, they are considered skin-friendly. The moisture absorption is very high, although it does not feel damp immediately. It also dries slower. Due to the fact that cotton almost always contains moisture, it does not become electrostatically charged and when wet it is even more tear-resistant than when dry. Cotton is very light and airy and is therefore not a good thermal insulator. She is not very elastic and wrinkles strong.

Through physical or chemical treatments, the properties of the cotton can be changed. When mercerizing, for example, the cotton is stretched under treatment with caustic soda, which makes the fabric shine more and becomes more robust. If it is enriched with cellulose (for example, with synthetic resins), it becomes more elastic and creases less, but it is no longer so robust and absorbent.

Examples of cotton fabrics

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Waxed cotton
  • sateen
  • denim
  • Cord
  • damask
  • terry
  • Molton
  • gabardine
  • calico
  • velvet
  • Interlock
  • Batiste and many more


  • Clothes (pants, dresses, skirts, jackets, blouses, underwear, etc.)
  • Accessories (bags, hats, handkerchiefs, pencil cases, patchwork, etc.)
  • Home textiles (bed linen, kitchen towels, table linen, bath towels, etc.)

care instructions
Basically, untreated cotton fabric can be washed at 95 degrees, bleached, tumble dried at normal temperature, hot steamed and ironed. However, these refinement instructions and motif imprints can drastically reduce these care instructions. The recommended treatment as well as the composition of the material are given by the respective distributor.

Linen (LI)

leash recovery
Linen has also been used as clothing by mankind for several millennia. Even the Egyptians knew about the innumerable possible uses, including wrapping their mummies. Especially in the Middle Ages, linen was also in great demand in Europe. The main producing countries are Belarus, Russia, China, Ukraine and France. The linen fibers are extracted from the stems of the flax plant. This is tapped with the root (extracted as a whole, so that the stem is not injured) and usually dried in the field, so that the fiber bundles can be dissolved out. To do this, the fruit capsules are separated from the stem (corrugated), the wood core is broken (broken), all wooden parts are removed (swinging) and finally the fibers are combed out (panting) in order to be able to spin them.

Also for the linen quality applies: The longer the seed fibers, the finer and higher quality of the finished fabric. Typical of linen fabrics are the easily recognizable knobbed thickening.

Like the cotton, linen is very durable and even more tear-resistant when wet. Linen fabrics are the least elastic, but very absorbent. They also quickly release moisture, making them popular summer fabrics - they feel light and cool. Linen is not elastic and therefore creases very easily.

In conjunction with cotton care can be facilitated - so-called semi-linen. But mixtures with other fibers are common.

Examples of linen fabrics

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Jäger Leinen
  • linen batiste
  • Jäger Leinen
  • pure linen
  • Half-linen and many others


  • Clothes (pants, dresses, skirts, jackets, blouses, costumes, insoles, etc.)
  • Accessories (bags, hats, shoes, etc.)
  • Home textiles (bed linen, table linen, upholstery fabrics, etc.)

care instructions
Basically, untreated linen fabric can be washed at 95 degrees, bleached, tumble dried at normal temperature, hot ironed with steam and damp. However, these refinement instructions and motif imprints can drastically reduce these care instructions. The recommended treatment as well as the composition of the material are given by the respective distributor.

Wool (WO), new wool (WV)

wool recovery
Wool was still processed before cotton and linen. For example, about 7000 years ago, wool was already being processed in China, among the Babylonians and in Egypt. The invention of cutting tools in the 14th century began sheep farming in Spain, where even today the breed is bred with the finest wool: Merino sheep. The wool dress (fleece) is sheared coherently. Then the wool is sorted (by quality), washed, carbonized if necessary (treatment with sulfuric acid to remove impurities) and then spun.

The softer the wool, the higher the quality. The wool on the legs of the sheep is coarse and short and is therefore already discarded when shearing.

Due to the wide range of wool qualities, individual insulation needs can be addressed. Voluminous wool yarns keep you warm. It is water repellent because it absorbs moisture rather than steam, but here it can absorb up to one third of its own weight without feeling wet. It can bind sweat chemically. The finer the fibers, the softer the wool feels. Wool is very easy to stretch, especially when wet. Therefore, woolen textiles should always be dried lying down, so that they do not deform.

By treating with water vapor wool fabrics can be made safe to run in, so they can not change their shape (decating). By means of chemical treatment, even felting can be prevented, so that the wool fabric can be washed in the washing machine. Even by intentional felting (walking), the wool fabric can be changed. He enters and becomes dimensionally stable.

Examples of woolen fabrics

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  • felt
  • Loden
  • flannel
  • fleece
  • tweed
  • Bouclé, etc.

There are also fabrics from other animal hairs such as cashmere (goat), alpaca, angora (rabbit) and many more.


  • Clothes (sweaters, coats, jackets, suits, costumes, etc.)
  • Accessories (hats, scarves, gloves, etc.)
  • Home textiles (upholstery fabrics, carpets, blankets, etc.)

care instructions
Basically, untreated wool fabric can be washed at 40 degrees as fine wash in a special cycle. You should not bleach it in any case and only appropriately labeled textiles made of wool may be dried in a dryer. Otherwise, woven wool fabrics hanging, knitted wool fabrics are dried lying down. Ironing is allowed at 110 to 150 degrees and also with steam, being careful not to deform the fabric.

Silk (SE, ST)

are gaining
According to a legend from China, silk has also been known for almost 5000 years, but silkworm eggs were not smuggled to Europe until around 550 AD, since silk has been produced in the Mediterranean since then.

The cultivated silk of the mulberry spinner is qualitatively higher than natural silk, since the caterpillars are killed in the cocoon and thus do not damage it. The thread can be spun as a whole. There are 7-10 cocoon threads wound together to achieve a sufficient thickness. Of the wild silkworms, the tussah spinner is the best known and most used.

Silk is considered warm and cool at the same time. Like wool, it can absorb about one-third of its weight as steam without feeling wet. However, it is relatively elastic and does not wrinkle so much. Silk is delicate and needs to be protected from the sun, sweat and odors. It is essential to feed garments! The so-called "silk cry" refers to the sound that occurs when you wrinkle silk. It sounds like a step in fresh fallen snow.

Examples of silk fabrics

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  • organza
  • taffeta
  • twill
  • satin
  • Duchesse
  • chiffon
  • Bourette, etc.


  • Clothes (blouses, lingerie, clothes, etc.)
  • Accessories (scarves, gloves, scarves, hats, handbags, etc.)
  • Home textiles (decorative fabrics, lampshades, bedding, wallpaper, etc.)

care instructions
Silk should only be cleaned by hand washing, carefully and only with mild detergent. Then it is rinsed cold with a dash of vinegar. Bleaching and drying in a tumble dryer can make the fabric unsightly. Silk fabrics are basically dried lying down. Silk can be gently ironed at 110 to 150 degrees from the left. Steam and water can cause stains.

chemical fibers

fiber production
There are several ways to make chemical fibers. A distinction is made according to the starting material cellulosic (wood) and synthetic (derived from petroleum) fibers. It is often not easy to distinguish manmade fibers from natural fibers, as they can be made into any desired shape. In addition, new compositions appear on the market over and over again.

Examples of chemicals

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Polyester satin
  • Viscose (CV)
  • Modal (CMD)
  • Lyocell (CLY)
  • Polyamide (PA)
  • Polyester (PES)
  • Elastane (EL)

Distinction after the yarn processing


Woven fabric is less stretchy and is processed with pointed needles and straight stitch patterns.

plain weave
The simplest weave, in which warp (fixed thread, vertical) and weft threads (thread that is "shot in", horizontally) lie alternately together. The binding points (points of intersection of warp and weft threads) touch each other.
The right and left sides look the same and the resulting fabric is very durable, smooth and elastic.

twill weave
The weft thread is always under a warp thread and runs in the connection over two warp threads away. The next weft yarn starts offset by a warp thread, creating a diagonal pattern, which is especially for denim (jeans) is typical. It is also called a twill or diagonal ridge. A distinction is made between Z degrees or S degrees, depending on which diagonal the weft threads are offset.
The result is a coarse, particularly robust fabric with a firm grip, which is very hard-wearing.

satin weave
The weft passes first under a warp thread and then over at least two warp threads. The next weft yarn starts offset by AT LEAST TWO warp threads. The result is a fabric on the right side of the weft threads outweigh, giving it a shimmering shine. This type of binding is also known as satin binding.

The resulting fabric is particularly noble due to its smooth shimmer, is light, even and fine. He falls very light and fluent and can be printed well.


One or more threads (depending on the technique) are placed for this type of goods in slings and connected together, so knitted. As a result, these substances are much more elastic and then easily slip back into their original form.
For processing, needles with "round" tips (spherical tip) are used to prevent the yarn from tearing and thus holes and runs. In addition, stretch stitches such as various zig-zag stitches or overlock stitches are used.
There are now a variety of different knitwear, of which some are presented here.

Jersey, Interlock, cuffs

Single jersey, jersey, striped jersey - the two sides of the fabric look different. On the right side of the fabric you can see the V-shaped feet of the slings, on the left side of the fabric the transverse sling heads. This fabric tends to curl around the edges. By a change of stitch (right / left) you can also create jersey fabrics that have two right sides.

Interlockjersey - is knitted in two rows of needles (front and back), which are crossed with each other. Both sides of the fabric look the same and the edges do not curl up. Through the two rows, he also feels thicker and softer than Singeljersey.
Cuffed fabric - created by a pattern change in the stitches (left / right) and is usually sold as round-knit tubular fabric.

All these types of fabrics can - but do not have to (except cuff fabric) - be provided with elastane.

Sweat, Niky, Fleece

Summer and winter sweats - are much thicker than jersey fabrics. Sommersweat has knitting ribs on the left side, Wintersweat is roughened on the left side. Nikystoff - here vertical fibers are knitted in, giving the velvety surface. Fleece - the plush fibers are roughened to form a soft surface. Fleece is very light and comparatively thin, but still keeps you warm.

The composition of these types of substances can vary widely. The cotton can be 50 to 100 percent.

Knitted fabrics (coarse)

Coarser knits, often with knitted patterns, have such large loops that you can clearly see them as such. They are especially popular for vests, skirts and winter clothing.



Softshell is made from two to three laminated membrane layers. The outer layer is usually made of synthetic fibers. The inner layer (for high-quality softshell fabrics) made of fleece. Thus, it can be processed quickly and easily without food. Softshell is soft, durable and can transport moisture from the inside out. With a slight influence of moisture, it keeps dry, but it can not withstand rain. It is warming, robust and windproof.

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