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Plant and animal fibres

Fibre is the starting point of the textile chain. First of all, fibre is obtained from the source, which is then spun into
yarn. Yarn is then woven or knitted into fabric. Fibres can be classified into 2 main categories: natural and synthetic.
Natural fibres are obtained from natural sources such as animals and plants, while those which are not obtained from
natural sources are called synthetic fibres. This article mainly aims at studying plant and animal fibres - the
traditional sources as well as the recently developed ones.

The following are some of the popular fibres used in the textile industry:

1) Cotton: Cotton fibre is obtained from the cotton plant. It is one of the traditional fibres used in the textile industry.
It is one of the most preferable fibres because the cloth made from it is durable, at the same time having a good drape.
Moreover, it is moisture-absorbent and smooth to the touch. One of the other qualities of cotton fabric is that it takes
time to dry. It also creases easily, requiring regular ironing.

2) Linen: Linen fabric is obtained from the flax plant. It is a fibre that has been used in the textile industry since
ages. The properties of linen fabric are very much similar to cotton fabric. Like cotton, linen fabric is also highly
moisture-absorbent and durable. It creases easily and requires ironing. However, it is stiffer as compared to cotton.
Linen is usually used in the manufacture of summer clothes and home linen.

3) Jute: Jute is a natural fibre that has been used in the textile industry since centuries. It is obtained from the jute
plant and is popularly known as Golden fibre on account of the golden sheen that it possesses. On account of its high
strength, it is perfect for use in packaging material. Jute is sometimes blended with other fabrics or even used
individually in the production of apparel. However, it does not have as good a drape as cotton and creases easily.
Bangladesh in India is one of the major sources of jute in India.

4) Silk: Silk, again, is a natural fibre used in the textile industry since ages. It is obtained from silk worms. The most
popular kind of silk is obtained from the mulberry silk worm. The silk that is obtained from other varieties of silk
worms is called wild silk. China, India, Nepal and Europe have been traditional producers of good quality silk on a
large scale. Silk fibre has a unique sheen. It is very smooth to the touch, at the same time being strong. These qualities
made it the fabric of choice for sarees and dress materials. Apart from this, silk is also used for nightwear, bed linen,
underwear as well as home furnishings.

5) Wool: Wool is a fibre that has traditionally been used in the textile industry, commonly obtained from sheep.
Wool fabric is soft to the touch and provides warmth to the weather, due to which it is the preferred choice for winter
apparel. Wool has other features such as elasticity and good drape. Moreover, it can be easily dyed in different colors,
thus making it suitable for use in fashionable winter apparel.

The common type of wool used for the production of apparel is Merino wool, obtained from the Merino sheep. Merino
wool is the softest wool in the world.

The wool industry in the world is largely spread out in Australia, China and New Zealand. Australia contributes nearly
25% of the world's wool production.

6) Corn fibre: Corn fibre is a comparatively new innovation in the textile industry. Cargill Inc. and The Dow
Chemicals joined together to form Cargill Dow Polymers LLC, which developed corn fibre.

The fabric made from corn fibre is easy to care for, cheap and very comfortable to wear. Moreover, it is stain-resistant
and UV resistant. This fabric can be used for several applications such as readymade apparel, diapers, bedding,
carpets and upholstery. Moreover, the production of this fabric requires the use of less fuel, and is hence
environment-friendly as well.

7) Spider silk: Silk is commonly obtained from silkworms. However, in recent times, scientists have come up with
an innovation wherein silk is produced from spiders. As opposed to silkworms, spiders produce silk at normal
temperature, due to which the process is environment-friendly as well. Spider silk is useful for the production of light-
weight apparel.

8) Coir fibre: Coir fibre is a natural fibre that is obtained from the coconut tree. Coir fibre is thick and strong and is
hence ideal for use in rugs, sacks and brushes. If the coir is harvested while the coconuts are tender, the fibre is white
in color; however, it is brown-colored if harvested on maturity. The coir industry in India is largely concentrated in
Kerala. Apart from India, Sri Lanka is a major producer of coir fibre.

9) Yak fibre: The yak is an animal that is largely found in the Himalayas in India and Tibet. The hair of the yak is
very useful in the production of warm clothes, mats and sacks. This is because of its qualities such as warmth and
strength. Yak fibre is usually found in black and piebald. In rare cases, white yak hair is also obtained. This fibre has
been used in the textile industry since long.
10) Camel fibre: Camel fibre has been traditionally used in the textile industry in the production of winter apparel.
Usually, camel fibre is found in light brown, dark brown and reddish brown shades. It is soft to the touch and the
apparel made from it is quite durable. Camel fibre from Mongolia is very popular.

11) Llama fibre: Llamas are animals typically found in South America. Since long, the soft hair of llamas is used for
the production of apparel, while rougher hair is used in rugs and wall hangings. Llama fibre is normally available in
white, black, grey, brown as well as reddish brown colors.

12) Alpaca fibre: Alpacas are small camel-like animals found largely in South America. Llamas and alpacas are very
much similar to each other in appearance. However, the llama is larger in size and has a longer head as compared to
an alpaca. Alpacas usually have the same color of hair throughout their bodies, while it might differ in case of llamas.

Alpaca fibre is used for the preparation of winter apparel. Alpaca wool is very much similar to sheep wool, but lighter
in weight, warmer and softer to the touch. Generally, alpaca wool is available in white color; however, colors such as
blackish blue, brown, silvery gray and blackish brown are also found.

Alpaca fibre has been used in the textile industry since centuries. The popularity of clothing made from alpaca fibre is
rising since the last few years. This is mainly because raising alpaca has a lesser impact on the environment as
compared to other wool-bearing animals.

Apparel producers sometimes make use of a blend of alpaca fibre and Merino wool to get the dual benefit of durability
and warmth.

13) Ramie fibre: Ramie fibre refers to the fibre obtained from the Ramie plant. It has been in use since centuries in
the textile industry. Legend has it that Ramie fibre was used in clothes for mummies in Egypt as long back as 5000-
3300 BC. The fabric produced using Ramie fibre is strong, silky, shiny and does not crease easily. In spite of its
strength, the use of Ramie fibre in the textile industry is not all that extensive, mainly on account of the labor, time
and expenditure involved in the extraction and cleaning of the fibre. It is useful in the production of sewing thread,
filter clothes, fishing nets and packaging material. Sometimes, it is used in the production of household fabrics and in
apparel, usually in combination with some other fabric such as wool. China, Japan, Philippines and Brazil are the
leading producers of Ramie fibre.

14) Sisal fibre: Sisal fibre refers to a natural fibre obtained from the Sisal plant. Usually, the fibre is creamy white in
color and is silky to the touch after processing is done on it.

15) Angora fibre: Angora fibre refers to the fibre obtained from the Angora rabbit, commonly found in USA, Europe
and China. The hair of the Angora rabbit is long and soft and is found in a variety of colors. Angora wool has been
used in the production of sweaters and suits since long back. On account of its low elasticity, it is blended with wool
for producing apparel.

16) Chiengora fibre: The hair of dogs is known as Chiengora fibre, which has been used in the textile industry since
long. Typically, the hair of dogs such as the bearded collies, shepherd dogs, sheepdogs, poodles, terriers, Shih Tzus,
dachshunds and wool hounds is used in the production of apparel. Chiengora hair, being warm and soft to the touch,
is widely used in winter clothing and blankets. Sometimes, some other fibre such as wool is mixed with Chiengora
fibre for the production of apparel or blankets.

17) Cashmere fibre: Cashmere fibre refers to the hair obtained from the Cashmere goat. It is also popularly known
as Pashmina. This animal is largely found in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Iran,
Mongolia and China. China has emerged as the largest producer of Cashmere fibre. Cashmere fibre is extremely soft,
lightweight, fine and warm. Because of these qualities, it is very useful in the production of winter apparel, jackets,
pants, blankets and scarves. Typically, Cashmere fibre is available in different shades of grey, white and black.

18) Mohair: The hair obtained from the Angora goat is called Mohair fibre. It possesses qualities such as warmth,
light weight, crease resistance, durability and softness. It is useful in the production of winter apparel. Apart from
this, it is also useful in the production of blankets, rugs and scarves. It is a traditional fibre used in the textile industry.

19) Soyabean fibre: Recently, experts have developed the concept of obtaining fibre from soyabean. It is lustrous
and strong and dyes easily. Moreover, it is soft to the touch and lightweight. It is ideal for use in summer wear,
underwear, sleepwear, sportswear, children's wear as well as home textiles.

20) Bamboo fibre: Bamboo fibre is a recent innovation in the textile industry. Obtained from the bamboo plant, it
possesses several qualities such as smoothness and durability. It is environment-friendly as well, requiring fewer
pesticides as compared to cotton cultivation. Bamboo fabric is emerging as the fabric of choice in the textile industry.
It is largely used in the production of ready-made apparel and home textiles.

Apart from these natural fibres, experts are trying to develop fabrics from plants such as wheat, rice as well as
beetroot among other sources.

I. Fiber definitions
1. Botanical definition: Fiber = long narrow tapering cell, dead and hollow at
maturity, thick cell wall composed mostly of cellulose and lignin, rigid, for
support, found mainly in vascular tissue.
2. Commercial definition: Fiber = long narrow flexible material, may be animal
(hair, wool), mineral (asbestos), synthetic (nylon, dacron), or plant. See this list
of natural fibers
3. Nutritional definition: Fiber = indigestible material in food
II. Types of plant fibers used in commerce; may be single cells or groups of cells.
A. Textile fibers:
1. Surface fibers grow from the surface of seeds (cotton), leaves, or fruits
(coconut coir)
2. Soft or bast fibers are found in the phloem (inner bark) of dicotyledonous stems
(flax for linen; jute; hemp; ramie).
3. Hard or leaf fibers are found in monocot leaf vascular bundles (sisal, Manila
hemp, pineapple).
B. Papermaking fibers are single cells of cotton or delignified wood.
C. Minor types:
1. Brush and broom fibers (broomstraw)
2. Plaiting and weaving fibers, not single cells (palm leaves, grain straw, papyrus,
3. Filling fibers (kapok, milkweed, cattails)
4. Felting fibers (paper mulberry, lace bark)
III. Commercially important plant fibers
A. Cotton (Gossypium spp. )
1. Origin and history of use: Gossypium is a genus of 39
species found worldwide, four species are domesticated:
a. Gossypium herbaceum from S. Africa and G. arboreum from India, both
independently domesticated, especially India, spread to Arabia, Europe.
Both are diploid species, have short staple (fiber).
b. G. hirsutum upland cotton, domesticated in Central America,
predominant cotton grown today, long staple, tetraploid hybrid of wild
South American diploid species and Old World G. herbaceum.
c. G. barbadense, Sea Island, pima, or Egyptian cotton, domesticated in
Andes, spread early to Caribbean, also long staple, tetraploid hybrid of
New World and Old World diploid species.
2. Cultivation and processing
a. Cotton boll = fruit of cotton plant, splits open and dries, cotton lint clings
to seeds, harvested by hand or machine. A common pest is the boll
b. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1792, separated lint from seeds.
This made possible the plantation economy of U.S. South based on
cotton and slave labor, and was a key element in the industrial
Revolution.. Cotton dust can be a hazard.
c. Cotton seed is pressed for cooking oil, and the residue, cottonseed oil
meal, is used for animal feed.
d. Cotton lint from bales is carded (straightened), combed, bleached.
e. Spinning of lint while stretching binds individual fibers into yarn or
thread; depends on the natural twist in cotton fibers. Thread then woven
into cloth.
3. Cotton is a major agricultural commodity in the United States and much of the
world. Widely cultivated in China, Uzbekistan/Turkmenista, India, Pakistan.
French West Africa, Brazil and Australia -- all of whom export cotton to the
United States.
B. Flax (Linum usitatisimum), plant source of linen
1. Origin and history of use
a. Used in prehistoric times in Swiss lake dwellings, many sites in Near
East. Especially cultivated in Egypt, then Greece, Rome. Later centers of
production in Belgium and Ireland. Now mainly grown in China, former
USSR republics, W. Europe.
b. Linen, Linum, lingerie, line all derived from same root word.
a. Culture and processing of flax
b. Flax grows in cool climates, to height of 4 ft; unbranched varieties for
fiber, branched for oilseed.
c. Flax is harvested by combine that separates seed head, then pulls up
stem from ground.
d. Processing: [REQUIRED READING], also here.
i. Retting = rotting for 1-2 weeks on ground, or days in water;
removes soft tissue, leaves vascular bundles.
ii. Breaking = pounding or rolling, frees fibers; scutching = scraping
off particles; hackling = combing; then spinning, bleaching,
3. Used widely for many products, including fine linens and even early condoms
C. Minor textile fibers
1. Ramie [REQUIRED READING] (Boehmeria nivea): native of China, grows 6
ft high, longest fibers, processed like flax. Used mostly with other fibers for
sweaters, knitwear. Relatively inexpensive.
2. Hemp (Cannabis sativa), different varieties than drug plant. Native of
China, processed like flax [see pictures of the production process]; comes in
a variety of forms and textures; used for canvas, rope and paper. Hemp cloth
made in Nimes, France = denim; in Genoa, Italy, for jeans. Original Levi jeans
were hemp, now cotton. However, clothes are still made of hemp.
3. Jute (Corchorus spp.), native of India and
Bangladesh, processed like flax, used to make
burlap, carpet backing, rope. Main export crop of
Bangladesh; India is a major producer as well.
D. Other fibers
1. Sisal [REQUIRED READING] (Agave sisalana) and henequen (A.
fourcroydes) are desert succulents from Mexico and Central America; leaf
fibers used to make rope, mats

2. Kapok (Ceiba pentandra), seed fiber of
South American tree; fibers are hollow and
waterproof, used for life preservers, parkas. Oil is
also produced from the seeds.
3. Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus), a common
cultivated garden plant in our area, is an excellent
source of fiber that holds promise for paper making. It is now being exploited
for several products. [REQUIRED READING]
4. Rayon, a synthetic fiber from viscose, a chemical derivative of cellulose from
wood pulp. Cellophane is chemically identical but made into sheets instead of
IV. Paper
1. Definitions
a. Wood pulp = slurry of water and separated wood fibers.
b. Paper = thin sheet made by spreading pulp on a screen, draining and
drying it.
2. Pulp processing [REQUIRED READING] (see a graphic depiction) and
the manufacturing of paper
a. Mechanical grinding, makes cheapest pulp and paper, brown color if not
bleached, yellows readily. Used for newsprint, catalogs, paper towels.
b. Sulfite or sulfate processes use strong chemicals to dissolve lignin, leave
cellulose for white paper. Spent chemicals and lignin create major
pollution problems. The use of enzymes in the paper industry may solve
some of the problems
3. Papermaking consists of allowing pulp to flow onto a moving screen, where the
forming paper is quickly drained, then pressed and dried. Dry paper can then be
sized = treated with starch or clay to fill holes, make smooth surface.
a. Types of paper:
i. Printing and writing papers,
ii. newsprint,
iii. tissue, and
iv. packing and industrial paper.
b. Types of paperboard and packaging papers
i. Kraft paper and paper bags,
ii. bleached and unbleached paperboard,
iii. recycled paperboard, and
iv. container or corrugated containers.
4. History of Paper
a. A bit of history
b. First paper made of the sedge papyrus from which the word paper is
c. The evolution of writing was closely tied with the ability to make paper
Other sites of interest for fibers:
King Cotton
Cotton Online Resource
U.S.D.A. Cotton Division
Cotton by students at Highland Park Elementary School
Shroud of Turin is made of linen
Hemp Textiles International: Hemp fibers and textiles
"Fiber Wars: The Extinction of Kentucky Hemp" by David P. West, a major
review and well worth reading!!
Cannabis-marijuana: a detailed site.
Pulp and Paper Net
Museum of Papermaking- virtual tour
Paper encyclopedia
Papyrus collection at Duke University
Enzyme technology for pulp bleaching: a technical report
Environmental performance in the pulp and paper industry: a report for the
American Forest and Paper Association
Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) by James A. Duke
A. Loose definitions: Herbs are aromatic leaves, spices are other aromatic plant
organs (stems, fruits, seeds, roots, bark). Essential oils are flavor and aroma
components, often used instead of whole plant parts. Herbs and spices are used
in cooking; spices also for perfumery, dyeing, medicine, preserving food
(originally embalming, in ancient Egypt).
B. Brief history of spice trade:
1. Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), cinnamon, ginger (Zingiber officinale)
imported by Greeks from India, through Arab traders. Romans sent ships
direct from Red Sea ports. Greeks had many local herbs.
2. Trade monopoly by Arabs and Venetians, 1200s.
3. Age of Exploration: Monopolies established sequentially by Portuguese,
Dutch, British and French, importing spices from the East. Monopolies
gradually broken by war, smuggling of plants to new plantations.
4. New World spices imported to Europe by Spanish; never had the
importance of Old World spices.
C. Briefer description of spices and herbs:
1. Old world spices
a. Cinnamon (Cinnamonium zeylanicum), inner bark of cinnamon
tree, India; closely related cassia, traded as cinnamon in U.S.
b. Black pepper, fermented and dried berries of pepper vine, India
and East Indies. White pepper = same fruit with black outer
portion removed.
c. Ginger, fresh or dried rhizome of monocot herb.
d. Turmeric (Curcuma longa), dried rhizome, related to ginger, used
in curry powder, prepared mustard, for yellow dye.
e. Cloves (Eugenia caryophyllus), dried flower buds of small
evergreen tree from Spice Islands, East Indies.
f. Nutmeg and mace, from nutmeg tree, from Spice Islands, East
Indies. Mace (Myristica fragrans) is dried aril, a red netlike tissue
covering the pit of the fruit. Nutmeg is the dried seed in the pit.
2. New World spices
a. Chili peppers (Capsicum spp.): fruits of herbaceous plants from
Mexico, C. and S. America discovered by
Columbus [REQUIRED READING - introduction, origin and
exploitation only]. Hot compound is capsaicin, also used as
painkiller, as for example the drug Zostrix used for arthritis. Many
varieties, shapes, sizes, pungency. Commonly made into chili
powder. Modern bell pepper is a chili that lost its hot.

See The Chili-
Heads summary of the
chemical structure of
the capsainoids
b. Vanilla (Vanilla
planifolia), fermented
and dried fruit of an orchid from Mexico, called vanilla bean.
c. Allspice (Pimenta dioica), dried fruits of Caribbean tree; so
named because it tastes like combination of cinamon, cloves,
3. Herbs
a. Mint family, most from Mediterranean: peppermint, spearmint
(Mentha spp.), basil (Ocimum
basilicum), thyme, oregano, marjoram (Origanum
majorana), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), sage (Salvia
officinalis). Leaves are used.
b. Parsley family, mostly Mediterranean, leaves and dried
fruits: parsley (Petroselinum crispum), dill (Anethum
graveolens), caraway (Carum carvi), cilantro, chervil (Anthriscus
cerefolium), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), anise (Pimpinella
anisum), cumin (Cuminum cyminum), celery (Apium
graveolens), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).
c. Mustard family, Old World: white, brown, and black mustard
seeds (Brassica juncea) (yellow is from turmeric), horseradish
root (Armoracia lapathifolia), Japanese wasabi.
d. Lily family: onion (Allium cepa), shallots (Allium cepa), leeks
(Allium tricoccum), garlic (Allium stativum) (all
bulbs), chives (leaves).

Animal Fibre - Wool

Wool comes mostly from sheep. It was the first fibre to be spun into yarn, and itprovides more warmth than other animal fibres.
Apart from sheep, wool also comes from the angora goat, yak, llama, alpaca, and even camels. All these animals have a thick
coat of hair or fleece, which keeps them warm. Wool is obtained from this fleece.
Sheep wool is more commonly available in India. In Tibet and Ladakh, yak wool is more common, whereas in Jammu and
Kashmir, it is the angora wool. The famous Pashmina shawls come from the soft under-fur of the Kashmiri goat. In South
America, the llama and the alpaca are two animals that yield wool.
Actually, there are many different breeds of sheep that are reared in different parts of our country to obtain wool. Some breeds of
sheep are selectively reared. This means that their parents are chosen for their special characteristics to give birth to them. For
example, some sheep are selected because they have soft under-hair. This process is called 'selective breeding'.
The Nali and Lohi breeds are found in Rajasthan and Punjab, the Rampur bushair in Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, and
the Bakharwal in Jammu and Kashmir. Gujarat breeds the Marwari and Patanwadi sheep.
Each breed yields wool used for different purposes.
Nali breed wool is used to make carpet wool.
Patanwadi wool is used for hosiery.
Lohi wool is of very good quality, and is used for making clothes.
Bakharwal wool is used for shawls.
Sheep are herbivores, and prefer grass and leaves. However, shepherds also feed them mixtures of pulses, corn, jowar, oil cakes
and minerals. In winter, they are fed leaves, grain and dry fodder.
Shearing is the first step in processing fibre into wool. It is the removal of the fleece of the sheep along with a thin layer of the skin.
The next step is to clean the sheared skin and hair. This is done in big tanks to remove the grease, dust and dirt. This is called scouring.
The fleece is sorted according to its texture and type
Since the fibres are mostly black, brown or white in colour, they can now be dyed in various colours.
Once the dyeing process is complete, the fibres are straightened, combed and rolled into yarn.
The longer fibres are made into wool for sweaters, while the shorter fibres are spun and woven into woollen cloth.

In our country, many people earn their livelihood from the wool industry. However, the sorters job can be dangerous. They can
get infected by a bacterium called anthrax, which causes a fatal blood disease called sorters disease. When workers face such
risk due to their occupation, it is called an occupational hazard. Sheep rearing is a lot of hard work.