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  • Writer's pictureLonda

Rayon Fiber Facts – Part II of Rayon: Love It or Hate It

In PART II on Rayon: Love It or Hate It,  learn all about the different types of Rayon.  Finally, understand terms  like Viscose, Modal™, Lyocell and Tencel®.  Learn about the manufacture of these types of Rayon, as it is all really quite interesting.  If you’ve just joined in, you would be well advised to go to Saturday’s Post and read Part I – which gives the basics of Rayon – the ‘Poor Man’s Silk’, or ‘Artificial Silk’ – or ‘Art Silk’ as it was shortened to.

from pulp to fabric

To review, here is a definition of Rayon:  “Rayon is made from cellulose, commonly derived from wood pulp, and more recently from bamboo. They are neither a truly synthetic fiber, in the sense of synthetics coming from petroleum, nor are they natural fibers, in the sense of processing fibers that are produced directly from plants or animals (such as wool). However, their properties and characteristics are more similar to those of natural cellulosic fibers, such as cotton, flax (linen), hemp and jute, than those of thermoplastic, petroleum-based synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester.

All three fibers are referred to generically as “regenerated cellulosic fibers” due to the combination of the natural raw cellulosic material and the chemical manufacturing process that breaks down the cellulose so it can be “regenerated” into a fiber from the original pulp.”

Types of Rayon

Joyce Smith in her paper on rayon for Ohio State University Extension, identifies 4 major types of modifications of Rayon.  These are:

  1. Regular or (Viscose) Rayon

  2. HWM – High Wet Modulus Rayon –  ‘Modal’ rayon

  3. High Tenacity Rayon – mainly industrial uses – like cords and in tires

  4. Cupramonium Rayon

  5. Similar to ‘regular’ rayon or ‘Viscose’.

  6. Manufacturing process is NOT environmentally friendly.  No Cupramonium rayon is produced any longer in the USA.  Most comes from European nations.

Ed Mass  (an environmentalist),  in his article:  Rayon, Modal, and Tencel – Environmental Friends or Foes,  divides Rayons into ‘Three Generations’ of Rayon development:

  1. First Generation – Rayon or Viscose.  Upon this first development of rayon, further enhancements were built.    Developed first in 1855, and patented in 1894,  it took until 1910 for rayon fiber production to begin in the U.S.  Here are some characteristics:often identified on labels by term ‘Viscose’.most of the rayon we see in the marketfound in apparel and home furnishings have the distinguishing characteristic of being weak when wet.  Therefore, it may shrink or stretch when wet.Dry cleaning is usually recommended to preserve the appearance of fabrics made from this fiber. If machine washed, untreated regular rayon can shrink as much as 10%

  2. Second Generation – High Wet Modulus – which was developed to conquer the ‘weak when wet’ problem of Viscose.  One of the two world manufacturers, Lenzing AG,  manufactures Modal from sustainably harvested Beech trees, or Bambo.  This Modal™ Rayon was developed in Japan in 1951.  Modal is extra strong when wet and extremely soft.  Because of its softness, it is often found in underwear and sleepwear. Here are some characteristics:

washing and tumble drying can be the care of HWM rayons

similar to cotton, it can be mercerized for increased strength and lustre.

terms used are ‘Polynosic’ or trade name MODAL™.

  1. Third Generation –  Lyocell.  The generic name, Lyocell, is perhaps better known by its brand name, Tencel®, and uses Eucalyptus as its cellulose source.   The ‘claim to fame’ for Lyocell is its ability to absorb excess liquid (perspiration) and quickly release it into the atmosphere – all while being resistant to developing odors.  Lenzing’s Lyocell plant went into operation in 1997, so, yes, the term ‘Tencel’ or Lyocell is a fairly new textile term.

Patagonia to from tencel

I found some very interesting facts at this link.  Bamboo (bamboo from viscose) and eucalyptus (or TENCEL®) are two similar textile fibers in the way they are grown and processed.  Both are sustainably grown trees without insecticides and pesticides (Unlike non-organic cotton which uses 25% of world’s pesticide) that grow with little water in lands that are not suitable for agriculture. The resulting fabrics have similar properties in terms of softness, durability and quality.

INTERESTING TIDBIT:  “Other types of rayon have been developed for specialized end uses.  These include disposable, non-woven markets, and high-absorption rayon fibers with moisture-holding properties for disposable diapers, hygiene and incontinence pads, as well as medical supplies.”  I thought that was interesting as I just spent my entire Fri. afternoon and all day today at our local Days for Girls team effort to create sustainable, washable solutions for feminine hygiene needs for girls all around the world.  For more, read my blog post, or go to  This effort has pretty much ‘taken over’ my life and my heart these days.

Manufacturing of Rayon

Much of the ‘newer’ Rayons (3rd Generation), are Microfibers.

What is a Microfiber?  

A Microfiber is any type of man-made fiber that is extremely fine in diameter – about 1/2 the thickness of the finest silk fiber.  Microfiber fabrics are very drape-able and silk-like in hand and appearance.  Fabrics and clothing made from HWM rayon will be machine washable, while those made from regular rayon (viscose) will require dry cleaning or very gently hand-washing.  

A Tencel microfiber knit caught my eye several years ago at a sewing expo at the Vogue Fabric Store booth.  I bought it in green and purple.  I just checked, and it isn’t available any longer, but it feels AMAZING and washes and – dries GREAT!  Keep your eye out for a fabric that looks like these and feels WONDERFUL.  Stay tuned for interesting info on the extruding process in the manufacture of Rayon, AND all about realistic  CARE of RAYON, and even my recommendation for top quality rayon fabric sources  coming up tomorrow in PART III:  Rayon – Love It or Hate It.  

If you like all this interesting Textile information, I have a great $12 PDF available HERE called ‘Textiles for the Seamstress.  I cover ALL the basic textile terminology so that you can understand it all and make better choices when shopping for fabric – especially online!

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