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The TexT ile ArT isT 's sTudio hAndbook
F iber bA siC s
Man-Made Fibers
As you start stocking your yarn trees or studio shelves
(slowly and as needed!), be sure to check out man-
made and synthetic fibersyou don’t need to stick
to only natural fibers. They have many valuable and
exceptional qualities because of their durability. Syn-
thetic fibers are essentially plastic and so will last a
long time and can be recycled. Because synthetic
fibers and fabrics were originally made to mimic the
feel of natural fibers, they often have beautiful drape
and feel and can be a better option for outdoor or
heavy-use projects.
For the past few decades, we have been condi-
tioned to think that synthetic fibers are not as good as
natural fibers, but as you purchase fabrics and fibers
for your projects, don’t discount man-made bers;
they add variety and value to textile design. After all,
man-made fibers are continuously being developed
and improved. Because of the production process
(hot liquid polymers are extruded through tiny holes
and then cool into solid fibers), man-made fibers have
the added advantage of being as thick or as thin as de-
sired. The first articial fiber, Viscose was invented in
1894 as a substitute for natural silk. You probably re-
member those first fibers that didn’t breath and pilled
terribly; well, man-made bers have come a long way
since then.
Synthetic bers account for about half of all ber
usage and have applications in every field of textile
technology. From Saran used for shrink-wrapping, to
spandex in spor ting equipment, to Kevlar used in body
armor, and carbon fiber used in the aerospace indus-
try, synthetic fibers are indisputably vital. You prob-
ably won’t need body armor in your studio, but you
may be working on a project that does requires spe-
cial yarn qualities. For example, if you are weaving an
outdoor mat or hammock, you’ll need materials that
are resistant to damp and moisture and can withstand
changing temperatures, bright sunlight, and other en-
vironmental stressors. Knowing the characteristics of
synthetic fibers (see Choose Your Fibers, page 32) will
add breadth and practicality to your projects.
Natural versus Organic
When you hear the term “natural fiber,” you
tend to think that it must be good for the
environment. However, cotton production has
some negative environmental effectsit re-
quires massive amounts of water for irrigation
and up until recently, used harmful fertilizers
and pesticides. More and more, we hear the
term “organic” used to describe natural plant
fibers, which means they are grown without
fertilizers and pesticides, but we need to keep
in mind how difcult it is for farmers to produce
certified organic vegetation. While this does
not mean you should not work with cotton, it
does mean you should be open to exploring
and researching exactly how natural fibers and
synthetic fibers are created and the environ-
mental ramifications.
ABOVE Shown here are examples
of both natural and synthetic yarns
on cones—can you tell the difference?
Often, you can’t!
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The TexT ile ArT isT 's sTudio hAndbook F iber bA siC s
While synthetic fiber production has changed
greatly in the past decades to produce fibers
that more closely mimic natural fibers, there
is still a huge demand and desire for the “real
thing.” Natural fibers have a certain look and feel
to them and are ideal for most textile media,
including dyeing, felting, quilting, and almost
every form of textile art described in this book.
To avoid over-shopping and filling your studio
with too many things, we recommend shopping
for each project as you start it. Your needs and
desires for supplies and materials will change
depending on your mood and the type of project
you are creating.
However, it is helpful to have some of the very
basic supplies on hand. Purchase the following
items in neutral colors and use them for samples
and experimenting.
Unbleached muslin
Cotton yarn in white and natural
Wool yarn in white and natural
Precarded roving in white and natural
You will use these items continuously, so it is
worth it to have them on hand so that you can
test dye colors, make sample garments and
prototypes, and use them as “scrap” printing
We suggest spending some time at your local
garment district or fabric store. Observe the
drape, hand, thickness, and overall feel of dif-
ferent natural fibers from silks and fine woven
cottons and linens, to jerseys and other knits.
While we don’t feel you need to stock your
whole studio to start, when you see fabrics you
love, whether very plain or highly textured or
printed, buy a yard or take a sample. You can use
them as inspiration for future projects. The same
goes for yarns and fibers for felting and spin-
ning; when something calls to you, it is wise to
get a small amount. If you are starting a specic
project, buy the amount needed.
Stocking Your Home Studio with Natural Materials
These standard, natural fibers that
are great to have around for experi-
mentation and sampling.
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