Monday, June 24, 2024

Fibres and Fabrics – All About the Cultivation of Natural Fabrics

Written By Prisha Jain (Grade 7)


Clothing, like food and shelter, is a basic need in our lives. Clothes shield us from the elements such as heat, cold, and rain. We usually dress for the weather, the occasion, and the current fashion trends. All these garments are made of fibres. Fibres are thin, long, flexible structures that resemble hair or threads. Fabrics can be natural or synthetic. Synthetic fibres are man-made fabrics eg Rayon, polyester, etc. Natural fibres are made from plants and animals. Natural fibres include cotton, wool, and silk.

Animal-based fabric

Silk

We all love the rich fabric of silk. It is soft and elastic, but do you know how it originated and how it is made today. It originated in China when a mulberry worm cocoon fell into a cup of hot water. Then it was discovered.

Sericulture is the cultivation of silkworms and the extraction of silk from them. Many countries’ domestic industries rely heavily on sericulture. India and China are the world’s leading silk producers. These two countries’ combined silk output accounts for more than 60% of global production. Silk is a fibre composed of two proteins: sericin and fibrin. Fibrin, which is concentrated at the core of silk fibre, accounts for approximately 80% of its composition. A layer of sericin surrounds this core (which makes up the remaining 20% of silk). Colour is imparted to silk by the presence of pigments (such as xanthophyll) in the sericin layer of the fibre. The sericulture process for producing mulberry silk consists of three primary steps. Silkworm rearing is the process of promoting the growth of silkworms. Silk reeling is the process of extracting silk filaments from silkworm cocoons. The silk filaments are finally woven together to form a thread. These threads are frequently plied together to make yarn.

Moriculture is the cultivation of mulberry plants, the leaves of which are used as silkworm feed. The most commonly used method for mulberry plantation is stem grafting. Cuttings of approximately 22 centimetres in length with at least three buds are extracted from the stem of a mature mulberry plant. These cuttings can be planted directly or kept in nurseries before being transplanted. It’s worth noting that 1 kilogram of mulberry leaves can feed approximately 50 silkworms until they reach the cocoon stage.

The silkworm rearing process in sericulture begins with the female silk moth laying eggs. A female silk moth will typically lay 300-500 eggs. These eggs are then disinfected with a 2% formalin solution. On a rearing tray, a feeding bed is made by sprinkling chopped mulberry leaves on it. Brushing is used to transfer the newly hatched larvae into this tray. Foam strips are soaked in water and placed on the tray to maintain humidity.

The larvae metamorphose and become pupae inside the cocoons. The final stage of sericulture is the harvesting of silk from these cocoons. The pupae inside the cocoon are first killed by boiling it and exposing it to steam and dry heat. This is referred to as suffocation. The silk filaments are now extracted from the dead cocoon using a technique known as reeling. When the cocoons are immersed in boiling water for about 15 minutes, the adhesion of the silk threads weakens, allowing individual filaments to be separated. With the help of a series of guides and pulleys, these filaments are twisted into a thread. This silk is then re-boiled to enhance its luster. A silk thread contains approximately 50 silk filaments. A single cocoon, on the other hand, can yield over 900 meters of filament. The sericulture process is thus completed when raw silk is obtained from the silkworm.

Silk farmers who practice sericulture face many challenges that could jeopardize their harvest. They are also vulnerable to a variety of health risks. Silkworms are susceptible to several diseases, including pebrine and flacherie. Several pests also pose a threat to the healthy growth of silkworm larvae. The following are some of the most significant challenges in sericulture. The pebrine disease can infect eggs, causing them to die before the larvae hatch. This disease causes dark spots on the larvae and causes them to become lethargic. The larvae’s bodies may shrink as a result of viral infections. They may also begin to emit an unpleasant odour.

Wool

Wool is the comfortable and warm fabric we use in the winter. Without it, we can’t survive. The process of getting the wool fibres, and making them into fabric has many steps.

The first step is shearing. Sheep are sheared once a year, in the spring. A skilled shearer can shear up to 200 sheep per day. The fleece recovered from a sheep can weigh between 6 and 18 pounds (2.7 and 8.1 kilograms) the fleece is kept as intact as possible. While most sheep are still sheared by hand, new technologies that use computers and sensitive, robot-controlled arms to do the clipping have been developed.

The second step is grading and sorting. Grading is the process of separating fleece based on overall quality. Sorting divides the wool into sections of varying quality fibres from various parts of the body. The best wool comes from the sheep’s shoulders and sides and is used to make clothing; the lesser quality comes from the lower legs and is used to make rugs. In the world of wool grading, high quality does not always imply long durability.

The third step is cleaning and scouring. Raw or grease wool is wool taken directly from the sheep. It contains sand, dirt, grease, and dried sweat (called suint); the weight of contaminants accounts for 30 to 70% of the total weight of the fleece. The wool is scoured in a series of alkaline baths containing water, soap, and soda ash or a similar alkali to remove these contaminants. This process’ by-products, such as lanolin, are saved and used in a variety of household products. The scouring machines’ rollers squeeze excess water from the fleece, but it is not allowed to dry completely. Following this, the wool is frequently treated with oil to improve its manageability.

After this, the fibres are then straightened and blended into slivers by passing them through a series of metal teeth. Carding also removes any remaining dirt or other matter in the fibres. Carded wool for worsted yarn is gilled and combed, two processes removing short fibres and aligning the longer fibres parallel to each other. The sleeker slivers are then compacted and thinned through a process known as drawing. Carded wool for woollen yarn is sent directly to the spinning mill.

Then, the fibres are spun together to form one strand of yarn, which is then spun with two, three, or four other strands. Wool is relatively easy to join, extend, and spin into yarn because the fibres cling and stick to one another. Woollen yarns are typically spun on mule spinning machines, whereas worsted yarns can be spun on a variety of spinning machines. After spinning, the yarn is wrapped around bobbins, cones, or commercial drums.

Finally, the wool yarn is woven into fabric. Wool producers use two basic weaves: plain weave and twill weave. Woollen yarns are woven into the fabric using a plain weave, resulting in a fabric with a slightly looser weave and a soft surface with little or no lustre. 

Worsted yarns can be used to create fine fabrics with exquisite patterns when woven in a twill weave. As a result, the fabric is more tightly woven and smooth. Worsteds are more expensive than woollens because they are better constructed. The woven wool or worsteds are dyed into colours, finishing the process.

Plant-Based fabrics

Some fabrics originate from plants for example cotton, flax, and jute.

Cotton

Cotton is the most common of all fabrics. We wear it every day, especially during summers. We all wear it but do you know how it is made.

Mexico was one of the first countries to use cotton cloth, dating back to 5,000 B.C. China and India are two of the world’s largest cotton producers, accounting for approximately 32.6 per cent of the market in 2011. Cotton production begins with the harvesting of the fibre and the spinning of the yarn before the fabric is created.

Cotton is typically planted in the autumn and harvested in the late spring in climates with long, hot, and arid summers. Cotton comes in many varieties, but the most common for manufacturing is Gossypium arboreum L. and Gossypium barbadense L. The white fluffy balls are known as “bolls” form clusters and encase the plant’s seeds. Stripper harvesters and spindle pickers, which are mower-like vehicles that sever and gather the cotton, pick each boll during harvesting.

Cotton fibres are separated from dirt, debris, and seeds after being harvested in a process known as ginning. Cotton gins of two types are commonly used in this process: roller gins and saw gins. The saw gin grabs the cotton fibres and pulls them through a mesh that is too small for debris to pass through. The roller gin pulls cotton through a blade with narrow teeth to capture the seeds and dirt using a leather roller. Cotton fibres are compressed into bales after ginning.

When cotton bales arrive at the spinning mill, they are opened and graded. Cotton wads are passed through a carding machine, which straightens them and allows the fibres to lie parallel to one another. They are then combed and bleached with hypochlorite or peroxide before being spun. Spinning machines work by first condensing fibres together and then rolling them onto a bobbin in a single long strand. The strands are then twisted into yarn.

Cotton yarns can be woven in a variety of ways, the most common of which are the basic and twill weaves. Rows of warp yarns are strung vertically on the loom for basic weaving, while a shuttle weaves the weft yarn through them horizontally. The twill weave is slightly more complicated because the weft yarn floats or passes over two or three warp yarns to create a diagonal pattern. Muslin and organdy are popular basic weave fabrics, while denim and khaki are popular cotton twills.

Jute

Jute is not a clothing material but it is very commonly used to make ropes and bags.

Jute fabric is a textile fibre derived from the jute plant. While there are several botanical varieties of jute, Corchorus olitorius is one of the most common species used to make jute fabric. However, despite being more difficult to cultivate, another species of jute known as Corchorus capsularis is considered superior. Cotton is the most abundant plant-based fibre, but jute is a close second. While jute is not widely used in the Western world, it is an important textile fibre in India and neighbouring countries. Jute plants can grow to be over 10 feet tall, and their fibres are harvested in a single long string. As a result, jute fibres are among the world’s longest natural textile fibres.

Jute fabric production has largely remained unchanged for centuries. The most mature jute stalks are harvested by hand and defoliated. Jute fibres can be extracted from both the stalk’s inner stem and its outer skin. The non-fibrous material from the stem and skin of the jute stalk is removed through a process known as retting. Retting softens the stalks, allowing the fibrous material to be separated from the unusable material by hand. After the jute stalk has been retted, the long, silky fibres can be separated and combed into long strings. After that, the combed fibres can be spun into yarn. While automated machines can produce jute yarn, most jute-producing communities still use analogue spinning wheels for this process. After jute fibre is spun into yarn, it can go through a variety of chemical processes to dye it, make it water-resistant, or make it fire-resistant. The finished jute fibre reels are then shipped to textile manufacturing facilities to be woven into apparel or industrial textiles.

Beautiful curtains are now used to decorate doors and windows. Bedsheets, tablecloths, and other fabrics are used to decorate homes. Clothes of various designs and colours are made to beautify our appearance. Today, the production of fibres, fabrics, and clothing is one of the most important industries. But there is a very intricate process behind all these items. It takes a lot of time and hard work to create these items even if it is the simplest and plainest piece of cloth.


Featured Image Courtesy – LoveToKnow



Prisha Jain
Prisha Jain
Hi, I am Prisha. I am 10 years old. I live in Mumbai. I am avid reader and I love to write. I started writing last year. I study in the school V.C.W Arya Vidya Mandir Bandra (E). I study in grade 5. Besides reading and writing, I like painting and drawing.

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