Synthetic fabrics are those materials that are made through chemical synthesis and processes. They are designed to mimic natural fibers and fabrics and are made not from natural processes but from chemicals derived from petroleum products. In other words, they are man-made fibers and fabrics.
The most common synthetic fabrics you will know will be acrylic, polyester, nylon, and spandex. While all are strong and can compete for the title of strongest synthetic fabric, they all have their vulnerabilities which include heat. Some synthetic fabric names are registered brand names and not different fabrics at all.
To learn more about synthetic fabrics, and their names, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about so you can choose the right materials for your sewing projects. Take a few minutes to get caught up on these fabrics and their names.
Before we start making lists of the different fabrics that are made from chemical processes, a few words need to be said so that there is no confusion. As you just read, synthetic fabrics were created to mimic natural ones.
What that means is that there will be names of these fabrics that coincide with the names of fabrics you already know are made from cotton, wool, silk, linen, and so on. In other words, the fabric names are going to be the same, just the fibers making those fabrics will be different.
Also, synthetic fibers were invented to cut the cost of clothing materials. Natural fibers do take up a lot of resources and need special equipment for processing. Those factors can drive up the cost as does the rarity of those natural fibers.
The costs of some natural fabrics place those materials out of reach of some people so different businessmen saw an opportunity to make a living by inventing and developing synthetic fabrics. Their work has brought the look, feel, and texture of natural fibers to a level where everyone can enjoy them even though those fibers are man-made.
Finally, some people would classify rayon, viscose, bamboo, and similar fabrics as synthetic. We do not. We give them the label as in between fabrics or belonging to the in-between category of materials.
Since those materials are made from both chemicals and natural ingredients we do not consider them synthetic. They are neither and belong in the in-between category. While their names may pop up in this article from time to time, they are not fully synthetic and do not belong on this list.
As we have said in similar articles to this one, it depends on who you talk to. Some lists include registered brand names as separate synthetic fabric types, for example, Gore-Tex, Dacron, and so on, and those names swell the number of fabrics up to 30 on some lists.
There may be anywhere from 10 to 25 types of synthetic fabrics in the world today. it is hard to say as manufacturers continue to create synthetic fibers in order to create the best clothing material you can wear.
They also put special characteristics in those fibers including anti-wrinkling, anti shrinking, anti-pilling, anti-stretching, and on it goes. The makers of synthetic fabrics try hard to make your laundry life a little easier. (list of stretch fabric options)
Our list will end up somewhere between 10 and 25 as we will discount all in between fabrics and not count lycra 3 times as it does have three different names, depending on the country you live in.
We will also leave off any registered brand names as those are usually variations of existing synthetic fabric types. We will not include leather or suede-like some lists do. That material could be classified as in between since it works with natural hides using chemicals to create the material.
Examples of synthetic fabrics are not hard to find. If you go to the registered brand names you will find many examples of how synthetic fibers and fabrics are used. Those registered brand names try to improve the quality of the material that we are about to talk about.
Polyester is one example and it has numerous applications. From clothing to car upholstery, to carpets and even curtains and bedding. It is an all-round, very versatile synthetic material that can be both strong and durable. Heat is its number one enemy.
Then there is nylon and this material is often used in clothing items that need some stretch to them. You will find nylon fibers in stockings, socks, some athletic wear, umbrellas, and rainwear.
Next up will be the fabric that doesn’t know which name it should go by. We are talking about lycra, elastane, and spandex and we will use the last name as we do not like the other two.
When you need a lot of stretch, this is the material to go to. Or just have the fibers blended in with natural or other synthetic fibers to get the same amount of stretch. Spandex is good for athletic costumes as it will stretch when the athlete needs it to stretch.
Microfiber is another multi-purpose synthetic fiber that has lots of uses. Plus, it can be made from a variety of synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, and nylon. This fabric is nice and soft and works for a lot of tasks that need soft material for cleaning sensitive objects.
Finally, acrylic, a material that sounds exactly like the paint option you can buy at your local paint store. This is a lightweight material whose fibers can be woven or knitted. It was invented to mimic wool and its main drawback is that it can create static electricity.
As you already know, they are classified as non-natural fibers and fabrics. The best way to clearly describe them so that there is no confusion about their construction is to use that term-- man-made.
That is exactly what they are. Synthetic fibers and fabrics have been the concept of men and women who have analyzed the natural fibers and found ways to use petroleum products to mimic those natural fabrics.
Rayon and viscose are in between fabrics but they were invented to copy silk and cotton. The same goes for synthetic fibers. They are given as much processing as needed to create the same texture, feel, comfort, and softness of natural fabrics.
Fake fur is a synthetic material and it was invented to replace real fur. Originally the cost of real was the motivation for inventing this material but over the years animal rights advocates and some animal lovers have added more reasons to create this material.
All synthetic materials have two things in common. They come from petroleum products and are manipulated by humans. This puts those fabrics in the suspicious category because those products and the chemicals used to make them can be toxic or dangerous to the health of the person wearing them or using them in their bedding.
This is a fact of life that is part of the reality when you have to talk about synthetic fabrics. They are non-biodegradable for the most part taking over 200 years to finally disappear from the landfills.
So non- eco-friendly is another category they can be listed under.
Keep in mind that all the types listed here can be processed in different ways giving them different feels, softness, and texture. Here are a few of the types of synthetic fibers or fabrics you can find in your favorite fabric store:
1. Polyester- this is a material that comes from polyethylene terephthalate. This material is supposed to be strong, soft, and does not wrinkle.
2. Spandex- made from polyester-polyurethane co-polymer and its ability to stretch indicates why it was invented. It mimics rubber
3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)- made with polyester fibers and plastic although the plastic is made from PVC and polyurethane (PU). It is lightweight and rubbery but has no breathing ability.
4. Polypropylene- it is a very strong material that resists abrasions. It is perfect for outdoor use as it resists fading from the sun, odors, stains, and static. This material is also good for activewear, backpacks, and similar products.
5. Nylon- Made of polyamide while it drapes well it is still strong, resists abrasions, and can be quite stretchy but probably not as stretchy as spandex. It dries fast and blends well with natural fibers.
6. Microfiber- made from other synthetic fibers, this material can be quite soft and durable. It's very tight weave often stops wind, rain, and the cold from getting through to your body.
7. Acrylic- Made from a petrochemical called acrylonitrile and aside from that weakness it also can pill quite easily. This material has the warmth and softness of wool without the absorption of water.
These are just some of the types of synthetic fibers or fabrics you will come across. The chemicals used in their construction may be different but they all have the same source-- oil.
Also, synthetic fabrics are basically made from plastic and plastic does not like heat. Drying these clothing materials at high temperatures will cause them to melt.
1. Acrylic- a fabric you already know
2. Boucle- a loose weave material that can also be knitted. It is a bulky material and used for suits. Made from polyester and other fibers and used for making different suits.
3. Crepon- a soft material that can drape really well. It is made from chemically crimped yarns and is often used to make blouses and evening wear.
4. Crinkle Fabric- the pleated look is what contributes to its name but the crinkle does nothing to stop the stiff texture. it is a semi-transparent fabric and used for evening wear.
5. Flock- a medium-weight material that uses short fiber tufts and a=glues to create its patterned look. It needs hand washing or dry cleaning to get clean and it is found in dresses, jackets, and evening wear.
6. Faux fur- modacrylic is generally the source for this material and mimics real fur. It can be very bulky which is good for its main purposes of making jackets, coats, hats, and fancy costumes. The material is thick and hard to sew.
7. Grosgrain- its claim to fame is its stiff texture and a crossway rib design. Its main use is for making ribbons, hats, formal wear. Faille fabric is similar to this material and is reserved for dresses.
8. Jacquard materials- this is a medium to heavyweight material which comes with complicated woven-in designs. The designs are exquisite and the material can be found in jackets, suits, dresses, skirts, and more.
9. Lace- lace is lace and it is a very decorative fabric no matter which fiber is used to create it. It is a sheer material that can be crocheted, embroidered, and sewn and used to create some stunning looks in formal gowns or special event dresses.
10 Lame- another lightweight material that can be woven or knitted. The smooth and shiny texture makes it a nice complementary material used in evening gowns. It can be quite delicate
11 Liquid gold- lightweight, shiny, and made from a satin weave from synthetic fibers. The material is soft and drapes well while its uses are restricted usually to formal wear. Dry clean only
12 Microfiber- is a fabric you already know
13 Nylon- is a fabric you already know
14 Polar fleece (and all fleece variations)- this is a bulky fabric that is lightweight. It comes with a brushed surface to keep it nice and soft. Usually, used in outdoor wear and can be machine washed.
15 Crepe- or otherwise known as polyester crepe is a lightweight material that has a good drape to it. The fabric can be machine or hand washed and is used for lingerie blouses, dresses, and evening wear.
16 Poly linen- made to mimic linen and made from polyester. The medium weight fabric does resist creasing and is used in both dresses and suits
17 Sequin fabric- as the name says it is a lightweight fabric that has sequins attached to it. Best uses include party dresses and other outfits for similar events. Do not iron this material but dry clean only.
18 Tricot- made with a warp knit method it is a delicate and lightweight material using nylon fibers. It has a cross-way stretch but not a lengthwise one. The fabric is soft, smooth making it perfect for lingerie
19 Tulle- or petticoat net is a lightweight fabric that has a netting or mesh design. The material can be scratchy and not nice to have next to your skin. Usually used for tuts, costumes, veils, and actual petticoats.
20 Vinyl- this is a heavy-weight fabric that is not woven. Its shiny surface appeals to many and has a leather-like look. The material cannot breathe and is used for outerwear. All the cleaning that is required is a gentle but firm wipe with a damp cloth
We apologize if we left any of your favorite synthetics off this list but some were already mentioned in previous sections and others were not truly synthetic in nature. As we said earlier, these fabrics can be made from any fiber, natural, semi-natural, or synthetic which gives you a nice set of options to choose from.
This is a question that does not have to be asked as by now, everyone should know that it is a synthetic material. Since its inception into the fabric world back in the late 60s and early 70s, polyester has overcome a lot to become the fabric that it is today.
Those early years almost doomed this material as the clothing looked and felt fake or artificial. Unfortunately, as technology provided upgrades to the processing of petroleum products to make polyester a very nice fabric, it has never gotten rid of that artificial feel.
While this material can mimic many different natural fibers and fabrics, it is that feel that sets it apart. Artificial fibers just can’t compare to real ones and the makers of this fabric cannot equal the softness of natural fabrics.
Polyester is inexpensive which makes up for its lack in matching the characteristics of natural fabrics. The lack of cost makes it a nice material for anyone to buy especially if they are starting out in sewing.
Polyester is probably the one fabric everyone in the world knows about. It has had its share of ups and downs making it well known throughout the world. next, would be nylon as it is used in so many different applications.
It has replaced natural fibers in ropes due to its overall strength. Plus, it has good stretch making it great for clothing, tents, backpacks, and other items. Spandex is well known as well.
That is because its stretch is used in so many different sportswear and athletic outfits. When you need to stretch, and we mean really stretch, then you want to be wearing spandex.
Neoprene is also well known and quite common. Its uses fill the void in different areas. It can be soft and comfortable. Then there are fleece and microfiber materials. These two fabrics have made great gains over the years especially because they are soft, durable, and help keep the cold away.
Of all the synthetic materials that we have mentioned so far, none of them are as strong as the 2 we have not mentioned up until now. Dyneema fabric or cuben fiber is said to be stronger than steel.
It is made from space-age fibers and it is not woven material but its best uses are for camping and hiking purposes. Then there is Zylon or thermoset liquid-crystalline polyoxazole fabric which is supposed to rival Dyneema in strength.
It is supposed to have been around since the 1980s and has been used to replace Kevlar in bulletproof vests. However, despite its strength, it may deteriorate quite rapidly when applied in this manner.
Both materials are not generally used for clothing items but you can find them in camping applications, parachute materials, motorsports, yacht riggings, and more.
The two most important disadvantages that come to mind are one, they are not good at breathing. These materials are best for winter clothing as they can be tightly woven for the most part, and they stick close to the body. The closer to the body they come the less they can breathe.
Two, the materials can melt or catch fire fairly easily and not only damage your skin but release harmful chemicals into the air that are toxic to breathe. Then, the clothing itself can be hazardous to your health as some of the chemicals used in their production are toxic.
When it comes to cleaning, you need to avoid high temperatures as these materials are basically plastic in nature and when extreme heat is applied, they can melt or deform on you. Once they do that, the fabrics are ruined and need to be replaced.
Synthetic fabrics come in a variety of colors and patterns so that their purpose to replace natural fabrics is easier to apply. Plus, their lower cost is very attractive, helping people wear beautiful clothing at a fraction of their natural costs.
Whether you buy these materials or not is up to you, just weigh the risks as well as the advantages then make your own decision. Synthetic fabrics do have their place in the world and can help you save money when you need to do so.