With an increasing focus on slow fashion and living more sustainably, it's important to understand about the different fabrics we buy so we can make informed choices. Many of us are trying to use more natural fabrics in our homes as part of reducing our carbon footprint. Cotton, linen, silk and wool are all natural fabrics. They are grown naturally (although cotton is frequently sprayed with pesticides), are often more comfortable than manmade synthetics and don't pose a threat to your health. Each natural fibre also has its own characteristics, giving a unique finish and feel to the products they create. If you love using natural fabrics in your home and wardrobe, we've got the lowdown on the main characteristics of the most popular fabrics.
What are the main features of cotton?
- Cotton is a soft fabric that feels comfortable against the skin and is flexible and easy to sew
- As a natural fabric, cotton allows air to circulate and helps stop you overheating
- It's a strong material, which makes it useful for creating household textiles and clothes
- Thanks to its strength, cotton is durable, giving plenty of wear and use per garment
- It's also highly absorbent, making it a popular choice for bath towels and tea towels, napkins and face cloths
What's special about linen?
- Linen is highly absorbent – it can absorb up to 20% of its weight – and also quick to dry, making it an excellent option for towels and napkins
- It's is known for its durability and strength, and many families have linen tablecloths or bedlinens that have been passed down through generations
- Stronger when wet than dry, linen is not easily damaged
- It also doesn't stretch and has low elasticity, so you can be sure that your garments and textiles will be the same shape after washing
- Linen has a high abrasion resistance, making it valuable for textiles that get a lot of use or are frequently in contact with other surfaces, like tea towels and bedlinen
- One negative aspect of linen is that is breaks relatively easily when flexed
- Thanks to natural insect repellant qualities, linen is resistant to moths and other fabric-munching creatures
- It resists dirt and stains, making it a perfect choice for tablecloths and napkins, as well as beach towels and clothing
- Linen fabric doesn't pill or create lint, so when you dry your wine glasses they will remain spotless
- It withstands high temperatures in washing machines and can be tumble dried, and will yield moderate shrinkage
- Part of linen's inherent charm is its wrinkles – some people find this a problem but many of us love this easy, natural look
What is different about silk?
- Silk has an elegant, soft lustre that gives it a luxe feel
- It's smooth to the touch, but not slippery like some synthetic alternatives
- Whilst silk is strong, it also has poor elasticity
- Silk is known for its heat retention and cold insulating properties, making it useful in undergarments and thermal layering as well as nightwear
- It's highly moisture-retentive, which can be problematic with perspiration
- Due to its poor electric conductivity, silk can create static, which can make clothing and bedlinen cling to the body
- As a high shrinkage fabric, silk needs a pre-wash which cuts shrinkage from 8% to 4%
- Wool has excellent warming capacity, making it a beloved home and clothing textile for thousands of years
- It is highly absorbent
- Thanks to its inherent moisture wicking properties, wool makes great clothing and bedding
- Wool is relatively tough and wear resistant, so your wool products will have a long life
- It has an excellent natural elasticity, which means it rarely breaks
- Wool’s natural scaling and crimp make it easier to spin and felt
- Because wool absorbs odours and noise it is useful around the home, especially with pets and high traffic areas
All these natural fabrics have great qualities and have been used and loved for generations. The thing to remember is to work out what your individual needs are, and find a fabric that can meet them. For example, if you suffer from overheating at nighttime or in summer, opt for linen bedlinen and clothing. If you love cosy evenings snuggled on the sofa, a wool throw is your perfect companion. And if you're after some luxury-feeling underwear, there's nothing lovelier than pure silk.