top of page
  • Writer's pictureHazel Verbo

A Guide To Sustainable Fashion Materials And Fabrics

Deciding which type of #fabric to make an item with is an important decision, as fabrics can have countless different qualities. From #natural to #synthetic #fibers or #knitted to woven, here’s a look at different fabric types and how to identify them.


It's a fabric material that after washing, dries very quickly and comes out without any creases. Also, you can recognise it's #polyester when you put on a freshly washed garment and it smells, even when you are clean, - this is because polyester at the end of the day is plastic. Resulting in it holding bacteria and being bad for your skin.

When polyester first came out, no one had to be an expert at identifying different fabrics. Polyester had a very artificial feel and look which could be spotted from a mile away. But things change and the manufacturing process for polyester has also changed, making it a little more difficult to identify.


Silk does not wrinkle as easily as other materials. However, when silk is exposed to the rays of the sun, it causes the fibres to wear down. This will result in the material ripping easier, and it will appear to fade quicker than any other material on the market. To wash #silk, make sure to have the water temperature below 20 degrees Celsius to avoid #damaging the fabric. As silk is a natural fabric, it smells nice after washing. You do not have to do a burn test to see if the silk is real or not. Most fabric stores frown on such tests and may ban you from coming back if they see a lighter in your hand. All you have to do is rub it. If the material is real silk, you should get a warm feeling from it. Next, pull your wedding ring off and try to pull the lightweight silk material through it. Artificial silk can’t pass this test. It will bunch up, while real silk will be flexible and be pulled through easily. Third, you can always look at the price tag. Real silk is not cheap and is about 10 times more #expensive than synthetic silk.


Satin is a gentle fabric. Some dermatologists would recommend that we sleep on satin pillows and there’s a pretty good reason behind that. They’re great for #sensitive #skin. However, they can also be quite difficult to #clean. Because it’s so gentle and soft to the touch, regular machine washing might not suffice and might actually end up damaging the fabric. #Satin requires handwashing in a cold setting and some special detergents. In general, satin smells nice if dried properly. With satin trying to look and feel like silk, there are ways to tell them apart. First, satin has a glossy look to its material while silk has a shimmering look, making it stand out. Second, satin will have a glossy and dull side to it while silk will look the same on both sides.

Third, pull on the two fabrics. Satin will have a little flexibility to it while silk remains firm and hardly moves at all. Silk is not a stretchable material. Finally, run your hand gently across the fabric like you are caressing a loved one’s face. Satin is a little rougher than silk is.


Linen is more durable than cotton and can last several decades if you take good care of it. However, #linen is more expensive than cotton because of how it’s produced. Use the gentlest setting on your machines cycle and wash in lukewarm water to ensure your linen smells great. If you do the burn test, then the material you burnt will burn slowly and give off a rope-like odor. But if you are in a location that does not like its fabrics burnt, then wet your finger with some water and place a drop or two on the material. If the water goes right through the material immediately, then it is linen.

If you do not have any water handy, then use your thumb and finger and pinch a little piece of the material. You should see a few wrinkles and the material should bounce right back if it is 100% linen. Moreover, a drop of oil will make linen transparent while a drop of ink will spread evenly if the material is 100% linen.


Wool is a natural, renewable resource wth the manufacturing process causing little to no harm to the environment. The cons of wool focus on #animal #rights. The problem with buying wool is that it’s extremely unlikely you’ll find out which farm the material has come from, so it’s nigh-on impossible to look into the animal welfare standards. Wool garments should be washed on the #wool setting (usually gentle action at 40°C) as wool can be ruined if you used a normal setting. For wool, there are people allergic to this material or some of the different versions, so telling them apart is vital for them. There is the burn test which you know about already. However, there is also a bleach test. Only use a small amount of wool and soak it in bleach for about 8 hours. If the material is almost or completely gone, then it is real wool. There is the felt test as well- if the fabrics pull apart after being made wet and shoved together then it is not wool.


The #velvet texture is soft and has a luxurious look. The cons of velvet are that it can wear out quickly with use and is generally more difficult to clean than other fabrics. Use cool or cold water settings to wash your velvet. Velvet is mostly used for #dresses and #tops due to its luxurious feel. The silk version of this fabric is a lot softer than the other materials used to create velvet. It will be that #softness that stands out the most. Velvet is usually made with two warp threads and one weft thread. #Viscose velvet has a very lustrous look to it that has the material shimmering almost as good as silk does.


Nylon can be crushed for long periods and still regain their original shape. However, #nylon is almost always acid-dyed. It is rarely solution-dyed, so it can have problems with bleaching, fading, urine reactions, etc. #Handwashing is always the best and safest method for washing delicate nylon items. As nylon is synthetic, it can still smell after washing. If you are having a hard time telling which fabric is polyester and which is nylon, do a water test. The nylon fabric will absorb more water than the polyester material. If you are still not sure if you are holding nylon try the dye test. Nylon is not good at holding onto its color.

Also, nylon is a lot more flexible than most fabrics, outside of #Lycra, so give it a gentle tug and see how far it stretches out. It should stretch further than most natural fibers and a majority of synthetic ones. The feel of nylon will not be natural so it is easy to tell that fabric from wool, cotton, hemp, and so on. Nylon should feel more #plastic-like or artificial.

How to recognise different fabric materials

There are several ways you can go about doing this. Once you have learned the ways, a touch or a look will help you see the difference between the materials. The go-to test is as mentioned earlier, the burn test.

Since fabrics burn differently (for the most part) you can tell which is which by: the odour they give off, the look of the flame, or the ash residue they leave behind. Or you can tell some fabrics apart just by their feel or their look. While there are #synthetic fibres created to mimic natural ones, there will still be a difference in their feel and look. If not, then you do the burn test as natural fibres and synthetic ones burn differently. Silk does not feel like wool and polyester certainly does not feel like cotton, silk, hemp, or any other natural fibre.

Through Visual Inspection

The good thing about the majority of fabrics is that they all don't look the same. Mesh and netting may be close but you should be able to tell them apart by the size and shape of the holes in the fabric. Then it is not that hard to see a sheer fabric and tell it apart from a heavyweight or medium-weight material.

Silk, chiffon, rayon, and other lightweight fabrics usually are not heavyweights like canvas, denim, and duck cloth. Also you can tell some fabrics apart just by seeing their colour. Denim, for the most part, is dyed with an indigo blue colour or it can be black.

But, this option relies on the assumption you already know enough about the different fabrics to tell them apart just by looking at them. This is an earned skill as it may be hard to tell sheen, from matte and so on by beginners.

By Hand

#Touch is always a good way to know a fabric. Most synthetic products tend to have an artificial feel. Try as they might, the different manufacturers have not completely eliminated that texture from synthetic materials.

Then generally, wool can feel soft and rough or it can feel soft and smooth depending on the type of wool and how it was woven. If you are not sure whether something is cotton or not, you can always tell by feeling the fabric’s weight. Cotton comes in a variety of weights while other natural fabrics do not.

Then certain fabrics are ribbed, coarse, and bulky. Those are the key aspects to help you identify the material it is made from.

How do we approach recycling garments made of mixed materials?

It's hard to recycle garments if there are #mixed materials involved. The garment needs to have at least 90-100% purity of a specific fabric to be recycled.

The Garment to #Garment #Recycling #System is a mini-production line used to process post-consumer garments into sanitized #recycled garments. The system uses no water, and no dyeing is needed. It involves eight steps that are carried out in a 40-foot container.

#HKRITA is a clothing brand that has a recycling machine in their store and below is the full application process of the system:

  • First, used garments are sanitized in an ozone chamber to remove microorganisms on the clothes. The used garments are then shredded into their constituent yarns and fibre particles in a fibre opening machine.

  • Next, the shredded material is divided into clumps of fibre and impurities attached to the clumps are removed in a cleaning machine. The clumps are then carded and aligned in the same orientation, becoming fibre web.

  • The next step involves the fibre web being formed into slivers and a number of slivers being drawn together to form straightened units with improved evenness. A number of these drawn slivers are fed into a high-speed rotor and spun into a single yarn. Two single yarns are then combined and this double yarn is fed into a twister machine, which converts it into ply yarn to enhance strength and balanced torque.

  • Finally, either new garments are made using a whole garment knitting machine, or knitted fabrics are produced by a flatbed knitting machine.

The system design is compact and easily installed. The entire process takes place in a standard 40-foot container. With its anti-vibration, noise- and dust- controlled design, the production line minimises noise and disruption to nearby businesses, and so is configured for operational compatibility within community spaces such as shopping malls. The process is waterless, which adds significantly to the system’s environmentally friendly properties.

These features mean that the system blueprint can be readily adopted by interested parties globally, such as fashion brands or retailers.

Some Final Words

Identifying the different fabrics is important. As we just said, you need to protect yourself from any allergic reaction or from spending too much money. With another important reason being that you do not want to use the wrong fabric in your sewing project.

The look and feel will be different from what you expected.

bottom of page