We are passionate about fabrics and finding the right solutions for our customers.  With over 110 years of experience in the textile industry we have compiled some of this knowledge and look forward to sharing it with you over the next year through our blog series – An Educational Yarn.  Our first topic explores the different characteristics of textile fibres.

Textile fibres are natural or synthetic structures that can be spun into yarn. Yarns are then woven, knitted or bonded into fabric. The inherent characteristics of fibre properties directly relate to the performance and required care and maintenance of the finished fabric, therefore understanding fibres and yarns will in turn help you to understand the how to apply specific fabrics within your interior schemes.

Natural Fibres

Occurring in nature; which are of animal, vegetable/plant or mineral origin.

Natural fibres



  • A strong fibre, even stronger when wet, cotton has good natural durability.
  • Can be affected by mildew however a mildew resistant finish can be applied to reduce this issue.
  • Generally has reasonable sunlight resistance but should be protected with a quality lining when used as a drapery and protected from direct sunlight when used as an upholstery.
  • It is an absorbent fibre which means it can move with changing humidity levels.
  • May shrink with laundering but this can be reduced through a finishing process on the fabric known as sanforising.

Sunlight resistance can be greatly reduced in acidic polluted conditions.


Animal origin; an animal fibre that comes from the silkworm. The silkworm creates its cocoon from very long silk fibres which are harvested from mulberry trees.

  • It is naturally fine in texture, and colours beautifully.
  • Its biggest disadvantage in furnishing is its sensitivity to UV light degradation (direct and reflected). Due to its sensitivity, it should not be used in direct sunlight or even bright light.
  • An absorbent fibre, it has the potential to move in humid environments.
  • Silk is a relatively strong fibre and can withstand a certain amount of abrasion, particularly when used in conjunction with
  • a backing fabric.
  • Unrivalled in splendour and smoothness, silk is regarded the most exclusive of all natural fibres.


Plant origin; derived from cellulose fibres that grow inside the stalks of the flax plant.

  • As with cotton it is affected by acidic pollution.
  • Can be affected by mildew which will likely cause the fibre to deteriorate over time.
  • Considered to be the strongest of the natural fibres; if constructed for upholstery it is very durable, particularly when blended with up to 10% nylon.
  • Is regarded as a luxury fibre because of its lustre and texture.
  • It is an absorbent fibre which means it can move with changing humidity levels
  • Linen has moderate sunlight resistance and should be protected by a quality lining when used as a drapery and protected from direct sunlight when used as an upholstery.


viscose and wool


Viscose/rayon is a transparent fibre made of processed cellulose. Cellulose fibres from wood or cotton are dissolved in alkali to make a solution called viscose, which is then extruded through a nozzle, or spinneret, into an acid bath to reconvert the viscose into cellulose. Viscose is generally a term widely used in Europe, whilst rayon is American terminology.

  • Can be adapted to specific use – from fine to heavy fibres depending on required usage.
  • Can be affected by mildew.
  • The fibres soft handle and beautiful lustre provides a luxury finish.
  • A very absorbent fibre, it will move with changing humidity levels. Often movement in the fabric is apparent when viscose is used as the warp yarn however if blended with stable fibres this issue is minimised.
  • Viscose is not regarded as a UV resistant fibre and should always be lined when used as drapery and protected from direct sunlight when used as an upholstery.


Animal origin; a natural animal fibre made from sheep fleece.

  • Has become very popular in interiors with resurgence in the demand for quality natural products.
  • Pure wool compositions are not considered to be suitable for curtains, unless protected from direct sunlight due to its sensitivity to UV light degradation, which can make wool brittle and weak. Blending wool with synthetic fibres can reduce this sensitivity.
  • The crimp and fine molecular structure of this fibre ensures woollen textiles are elastic, allowing the yarn to stretch when pulled and helping it return to its original form.
  • When used in tightly woven constructions wool can be very durable.
  • Wool can be affected by cloth moth larvae as well as bacteria and mildew, which can deteriorate and weaken the fibre over time.
  • Wool enjoys the natural benefits of being inherently flame retardant, dirt repellent, anti-static and temperature regulating.


Synthetic Fibres

Of man-made origin, not occurring naturally. Manufactured from different raw materials.

synthetic fibres


  • Can be manufactured and woven for specific use, from fine sheers to heavy upholsteries, depending on required usage.
  • Drape and handle is very good if manufactured for this purpose. 
  • Durability and abrasion resistance is good if produced for upholstery application however can be susceptible to pilling.
  • Excellent sunlight resistance, most colour change experienced over time can be attributed to varying qualities in the dye
  • stuff used during production rather than to the fibre itself.
  • Generally not affected by mildew.
  • Not affected by acidic pollution.
  • Strong and stable, non-absorbent.


  • Can be manufactured and woven for specific use, from fine sheers to heavy upholsteries, depending on required usage.
  • Fibre is generally not affected by mildew.
  • Long exposure to UV light will affect the fibre over time, weakening the yarn.
  • Very strong and stable fibre that is often blended with other fibres to improve durability for upholstery application.


  • Can be manufactured and woven for specific use − from fine sheers to heavy upholsteries, depending on required usage.
  • Drape and handle is excellent if designed for this use.
  • Durability and abrasion resistance is generally very good.
  • Generally has very good UV light resistance.
  • A non-absorbent fibre, it will move very little in humidconditions.
  • Not affected by acidic pollution or mildew.
  • Strong and stable.
  • Wrinkle resistance and recovery is very good.



A synthetic yarn from the polyolefin family which is a by-product of the petrochemical industry. Olefin, polyolefin and polypropylene share the same performance characteristics and are generally used to manufacture outdoor textiles. They are most suitable for outdoor application when the fabric has been solution dyed, which refers to the fibre being dyed in solution form prior to being extracted and manufactured into a yarn.

 Solution dyed fabrics give the best possible resistance against colour fading from direct UV exposure. The production of these yarns are generally environmentally friendly, being recyclable and resulting in minimal waste.

The benefits of polypropylene/olefin/polyolefin:

  • Excellent colour fastness and resistance to fading.
  • Fast drying.
  • Highly stain and soil resistant.
  • It is a strong fibre and has excellent abrasion resistance.
  • Resistant to fading and mildew.
  • Resistant to mildew and chemicals, making it easy to clean.

Solution dyed polypropylene/olefin/polyolefin generally meet the pilling and abrasion requirements for commercial heavy duty upholstery whereas solution dyed acrylic usually won’t surpass requirements for medium duty residential upholstery. 


An inherently FR polyester yarn created by adding phosphate during the yarn production process. Trevira is a trademarked yarn and is used globally for many contract applications.


Trademarked name for a highly durable acrylic yarn made by Bayer in Germany, which has a popular history in cost effective velvet production.


Microfibre is a term for fibres with strands thinner than one denier (1/60th of a human hair).  Fabrics made with microfibres are exceptionally soft and hold their shape well. Microfibres are so fine it is difficult for moisture/stains to penetrate the yarn giving them an inherently easy care finish. If microfibre is made from a synthetic yarn the fabric will be washable and generally stains will be relatively easy to remove.

In summary, fabrics are only as good as the textile fibres they are constructed from.  If you understand the fibre and its inherent characteristics within a fabric you can better understand the performance and potential application. Not discussed above are the combination and blending of fibres within fabrics, these should always be considered along with the technical specifications of a finished fabric.

Written by James Dunlop