What’s this talk about natural fibers?

What’s this talk about natural fibers?

I love it when a short conversation inspires a blog post! I want to give a few thoughts to the ideas that my good friend Marie Bowers inspired recently with this tweet:

My first reaction probably wasn’t what she was looking for, but it made me laugh.


Once the laughter subsided though, I wanted to figure out where she was coming from & what she was really asking about so I asked….

·         Maybe you meant something else? Like growing middle class in much of the world, growing population too?

It wasn’t long until I realized, she was asking about cotton because a lot of people in her part of the country have been talking about another fiber crop – flax. But Marie had only heard pieces and was willing to trust me to try and fill her in. When I mentioned linen clothing, it seemed she didn’t realize that linen came from flax. My guess is she is not the only one!

So what are the natural fiber crops and what makes them similar or different?

These are the points I have learned to date and I have to remind you, that i have only a tiny bit more experience than Marie and am in no way an expert.

What helps define the group of natural fibers? My layperson’s explanation is pretty easy. Natural fibers are harvested from plants or animals to be used in various products we use. You are probably like the vast majority of the world in not thinking much about where fibers come from, natural or man-made but natural fibers are usually from a farm.

The most common natural fibers in my part of the world are cotton, linen, wool, cashmere and silk. And I think we’d consider wood a fiber as we harvest trees, but I am not too sure there.

The first two are from plants (cotton and flax) and the others are from the animal kingdom (assuming silkworms can be classified animals). Some of the fiber crops that you may not hear as much about are mohair, hemp, kenaf, jute, bamboo and I’m sure I’m missing some!

Most of us know natural fibers is through clothing and household linens, and paper. But they are also used for things like rope, in medical supplies, and lots of other uses too. I’m going to stick to natural fibers used in clothing.

So a few bullet points from my background with cotton & textiles?

Its clear, I have a favorite fiber. But there are some points that I’ll mention:

  • Each fiber has strengths and weaknesses (well other than cotton that totally rocks 😉 )
  • It seems that as more parts of the world begin to build a larger middle class, people tend to buy another outfit or two. Think about how our grandparents may not have even had closets and now we have homes with closets that are enormous. Or think of how many hoodies/jackets/sweaters you have versus how many sweaters/jackets were in your parents home, or compare jeans, etc.
  • Demand for cotton has been fairly consistent and global supply tends to keep up with demand. This is fairly easy as there are so many world areas involved in cotton production and consumption. There is more flexibility to plant more cotton in a given year than there is to harvest wool…. you just need to have seed & available land vs the livestock to do that production.
  • Farmers will plant cotton in warmer geographies but they may change the number of acres in cotton vs other crops.
  • Fiber consumption involves on-farm production as well as textile mill use.
  • Textile mills tend to gain experience working with certain fibers and the equipment they use may be better for one group of fibers or another.

My selections for natural fibers?

  • Cotton is a fiber that has great flexibility. I have a great love for wearing a pair of jeans and a hoodie (picking from a bunch) on a day when I’m goofing off, but have several tailored blazers and slacks made of majority cotton that make it a frequent fiber for the office too. In winter, I have thick cotton flannel sheets that are awesome! Its not just the crop I love but I do love cotton products!
  • I like wool but it wasn’t until I found SmartWool that I realized what an incredible fiber it was! I can’t imagine a winter without my comfy wool socks! I’ve become a great proponent for wool too, buying my mom & nieces SmartWool that seems to have changed their lives! And boiled wool cardigans totally rock this time of year! My brother has been shearing his sheep for a few years and my sister had some of it spun for a blanket for his first grandbaby. And the trip to England resulted in some hand-dyed wool yarn & a wool scarf!
  • Linen has varied a lot in my life… at one time all linen clothes would be wrinkled for me by the time I got the clothes on. But there are softer linens now and in the summer months, I wear some linen slacks and jackets. I’ve never been to a farm where they were growing flax that I know of. Since its a bit more to the north, I’ll have to put that on my to do list!
  • Silk is a great summer fiber too but I’ll admit to wearing it a good bit of the year. I’ve got several nice blouses made of silk that make it easy to run around while wearing a suit but I also have some casual silk shirts. In early winter, or in this mild one, I sometimes wear silks (as in long underwear)!

Which natural fibers do you prefer and why?

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