The Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Fabric

There are many different types of fabric on the market today, but each can be separated into one of three categories — natural, synthetic, and blends. Each of these categories has advantages and disadvantages. Learn about the different properties of natural and synthetic (man-made) fibers and how they are created and made into fabric.

Natural Fiber Properties

Natural fibers are created from plants or animals. It is an environmentally friendly choice for sewing projects because the fabric is created from renewable resources. Cotton, linen, wool, and silk are fabrics made with natural fibers

The most common types of animals used in created natural fiber fabrics are sheep, alpacas, and silkworm, but other animals like goats and rabbits are also used. There is a variety of different plants used in creating natural fabrics. Cotton is, by far, the most commonly used plant used in making natural fabrics. Bamboo is becoming increasingly popular because of its fast rate of renewal and versatility. Other plants used in creating natural fabrics are flax, hemp, and pineapple leaves.

Synthetic Fiber Properties

Synthetic fibers are a man-made product created through a chemical process. Chemicals are forced into spinnerets, which have tiny holes where the synthetic fibers are created. Polyester is the most common synthetic fabric created, but there is a huge list of other man-made fabrics. Acetate, nylon, and spandex are also synthetic fabrics.

Synthetic fabrics have a huge advantage over natural fabrics because they are more durable. Natural fabrics, however, are better for beginners because they are easier to sew on. In general, the type of project should be taken into consideration before deciding whether a natural or synthetic fabric should be used.

Natural and Synthetic Fabric Blends

As its name would suggest, fabric blends are created by combining a natural fiber with a synthetic fiber. Using fabric that is created by combining two types of fibers is a great way to get the exact look or feel desired in a fabric. Natural fibers can feel scratchy to the skin but provide a lot of warmth. Combining a natural fiber with a synthetic fiber can give the fabric durability, warmth, comfort, aesthetic appeal, sheen, or any other number of combined qualities.

Many different types of fabric blends are easily found in fabric stores. Cotton-poly blends are the most common and are a great choice for most sewing projects. Fabric blends, in general, are easier to take care of than natural or synthetic fibers on their own.

A Closer Look at How Fabric is Made

Natural fibers, synthetic fibers, and blends are made into fabric in a similar way. Fabric is either woven, nonwoven or knit. Woven fabrics are the most durable, nonwoven fabrics are usually the least expensive, and knit fabrics are the most comfortable to wear.

  • Woven: Woven fabrics are made by crossing fibers over each other in a pattern (weave). There are three different types of weaves used in woven fabrics — plain, twill, and satin. There are variations to each that create a different appearance. Muslin, poplin, and taffeta are examples of common woven fabrics.
  • Nonwoven: Nonwoven fabrics are created by binding fibers together in a synthetic process or with glue. This type of fabric is not very strong and is used in crafts more than clothing. Felt is an example of a nonwoven fabric.
  • Knit: Knit fabrics are made by looping fibers around each other in a chain. This gives knit fabrics the ability to stretch, which makes a more comfortable fabric to wear. There are lots of different knit styles, including jersey, interlock, stretch, and double knit. Both natural and synthetic fabrics can be found in knit variations.

Learn the Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Fabric

Choosing a Fabric Type for a Sewing Project

Since there are so many different types of fabrics, it’s hard to choose the right fabric for a sewing project. There are suggested fabrics listed on the back of patterns to help aid in the decision making process. There is no one best fabric choice, because each has its advantages and disadvantages, so consider the sewing project before making a choice. Keep in mind that fabric blends typically give you the best of both worlds because you get the durability of synthetic fibers with the comfort of natural fibers.