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  • Writer's pictureLonda

Rayon: Love it or Hate it

Rayon.  What IS IT?  Man-made or Natural fiber?  Well – the answer is “Both”

Rayon introduction image

That’s the reason that the popular ‘Rayon’ or ‘Viscose’ as the fiber in clothing is so confusing.  I had so much fun learning (again)  about Rayon as I prepared my class and developed my PDF  Textiles for the Seamstress and PDF Product,.  AND, have some recent additional learning and sewing experience, so I’ve decided to split up this huge amount of information into (at least) my next 3 (Daily) Blog Posts, you will learn:

Part I.  Rayon defined.  What is it? What are the challenges associated with this fabric in your wardrobe or on your sewing table?

Part II: Take the mystery out of all the different ‘Rayon’ terminology that has confused the issue SO much – as I’ve been reading on different sewing ‘Boards’.

Part III:  Caring for Rayon garments.  How to select according to your project, and your lifestyle and laundering preferences.  

Rayon was developed first in England in 1892 and was known as the ‘Poor Man’s Silk” or ‘Artificial Silk’.

“Because Rayon could be produced at a low cost, people in every economic level could buy fabrics that had the beauty hand and color of wool, silk and linen.  Rayon’s first uses were in the clothing field, and its first success was in crepe and linen-like fabrics. “ Textiles – 3rd Edition – Londa’s college textbook.  page 45.  

In 1924 the term ‘Rayon’ was adopted  by the textile industry.  Unlike most man-made fibers, rayon is not synthetic, but of naturally occurring material.  It’s just that ‘smart’ man drastically alters this ‘stuff’ to become a very unique fiber.  Rayon is the oldest and most widely-used man-made fiber.  “It is the most versatile of ALL fibers, and only cotton is used in larger quantities.”  (I suspicion that polyester is now the most used man-made fiber.  That statement comes from my college Textile textbook of 1968. ) Read on for some very interesting and basic understanding of how fibers are classified and created.                     Rayon is a cellulosic material – think of wood or some form.  Basically, it is a fast-growing wood like pine, spruce, hemlock, bamboo, even cotton.  But then, it is made into a ‘GOO’.  The GOO (my term) is then extruded through spinnerets (think a shower head) to create the yarns of which Rayon Fabric is then created, either by WEAVING or KNITTING.

What is cellulose? A quick ‘Google’ Search tells us that Cellulose is:

“A carbohydrate that is a polymer composed of glucose units and that is the main component of the cell walls of most plants. It is insoluble in water and is used to make paper, cellophane, textiles, explosives, and other products.”

bamboo trunk picture

The ‘plants’ used to create Rayon are:   pine, spruce, hemlock, cotton, and even bamboo. All of these are fast-growing plants, which reduce the cost.  Compare that to silk – where the mulberry trees must be grown for the silk worms to eat the leaves, then weave their cocoons…..quite a long process, making Silk expensive.

All fibers are either Staple or Filament 

Staple Fibers are short and must be mechanically spun into yarns of which fabric is made.  Think:  short, furry, hairy – or a crushed up ice cube, or the ‘fluff’ in your serger.  Rayon is NOT a staple form as I understand it, as it (the Goo) must be extruded through a spinneret – more on that in Part II.

Filament Fibers are long.  Silk is the only natural filament fiber.  Inside the cocoon is a LONG, continuous strand.   Think:  long, smooth, lustrous, or the smoothness of an ice cube.

Filament yarns are more expensive than staple yarns.

FTC Definition of Rayon (put on your science class student hat for a minute)…

“Rayon is a manufactured fiber composed of regenerated cellulose, as well as a manufactured fiber composed of regenerated cellulose in which substituents have replaced not more than 15% of the hydrogens of the hydroxyl groups.”

My translation:  Rayon is cellulose fibers plus some other ‘stuff’.  The production processes differ in the chemicals that are used to put the cellulose into solution, in the kind of ingredients added to the solution, and the length of time it is aged, in the concentration, temperature and ingredients in the ‘Goo’, and in the mechanical treatments during and after spinning.

Joyce Smith states the challenge of Rayon very well in her Ohio State University paper by Joyce A. Smith – at this link:

“Rayon is probably the most misunderstood of all fibers.  It is not a natural fiber, yet it is not synthetic….An inexpensive fiber, rayon has often been used in low-end, poorly constructed garments that have tarnished its reputation.  The 2 major types of rayon (regular Viscose and High Wet Modulus or polynosic (more on that in the next Blog Post), have created further confusion and contributed to improper care practices by consumers not aware that two fabrics with the same fiber content might require totally different methods of care. ”

THAT puts it mildly, in my opinion.  Here is a close-up of what used to be a beautiful, luxurious-feeling knit top that I purchased at Chico’s.  See the pilling?  More on WHY and HOW to avoid in the next Blog Posts…..

faded and pilled Chico's T-Shirt


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