What are natural Fibres in textiles?
First, we need to understand that natural fibers are derived from animal, vegetable, or mineral sources and are not artificially made. There may be further processing that needs to be done to make these fibers useable as paper, yarn, felt, baskets, etc.
Natural fibers in textiles have been used by human civilization since ancient history. Early archeological findings show flax, wool, and hemp as the first natural fibers used by civilizations. Soon cotton, palm, and silk used in textile fabric started spreading globally.
Other natural fibers like coir, jute, raw animal hair were too coarse to be used for textile apparel and hence were incorporated in carpets, rugs, or other home furnishings.
Today, we can see fibers from banana, ramie, bamboo, pineapple, and nettle being developed and used.
What are the 4 main natural Fibres?
The main natural fibers largely used today are cotton, wool, silk, and linen. Cotton is derived from the fruit of the cotton plant and is a cellulose-based fiber. Wool is most commonly derived from sheep. Other animals include goats, muskoxen, rabbits, or yak. Wool is a protein fiber which is the fur or hair that acts as a protective covering of animals’ epidermal layer or skin.
Silk is another animal or protein fiber that is produced by larvae of certain moths that is not a part of the animal. The caterpillars excrete fibroin to spin the fine fibers that make the cocoon, a prospective enclosure for its metamorphosis to adulthood. Linen is derived from the flax plant and is known as blast fibers. It is the inner part of the stem know as ‘phloem’, that provides strength to the plant.
How many types of Fibres are there in India?
The diversity of the Indian sub-continent provides rich plant resources which ensures a wide variety of plant fibers to thrive. Although cotton dominates the countries total natural fiber production there are other natural fibers that are still produced in large quantities.
Some regions of India with large natural fiber production are:
- Pineapple leaf fiber – Meghalaya
- Shitalpati – Assam, Meghalaya
- Eri Silk – Meghalaya
- Mulberry Silk – Karnataka, West Bengal, Jammu & Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh
- Muga Silk – Assam
- Tussar Silk – Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh
- Bamboo – North-Eastern India
- Sisal – Maharashtra
- Screw pine – Kerala
- Palm leaf – Tamil Nadu and Kerala
- Banana – Southern Indian states
- Korai grass – Tamil Nadu and Kerala
- Sikki and Munj grass – Bihar
Natural Vs Synthetic fibers
Like the names suggest Natural fibres are derived from nature or are organic and synthetic fibres are man-made in factories. Natural fibres make up are cellulose or protein, meaning plant or animal matter. Synthetic fibres are made from oil or petrochemicals by a process called chemical synthesis.
All-natural fibres are less reactive to extreme temperatures, unlike synthetic fibres that soften when heat is applied which causes them to shrink or extend. Natural fibres are however susceptible upon prolonged exposure to sunlight where it tends to become yellow and extended exposure affects the strength.
Any natural fibre decomposes, and if not taken proper care of will show signs of mildew and decay. Natural fibres are also prone to damage by insects like moths, carpet beetles, termites, and silverfish. Synthetic fibres on the other hand are more durable and have better stretch, waterproof, and stain-resistant properties. They also do not have any issues like damage by insect infestation.
Although synthetic fibres show it’s strong and durable and can withstand damage from the environmental elements, it is a poor insulator since it cannot trap air pockets like natural fibres. It is highly flammable and burns very quickly, which is not the case in natural fibers.
Synthetic fibres are also non-biodegradable and less pleasant on the skin which is not eco-friendly or safe over a long time.