15 Interesting Facts About Natural Fibres


Fibres are hair-like threads that form the building blocks of most wools, yarns and fabrics. There are two groups of fibre, natural and synthetic. Natural fibres come from animals and plants, for example alpaca wool from a quirky South Andean mammal; linen, hemp, cotton, jute, coir and sisal from plants, and silk from moth pupae.

Fabrics made from synthetic fibres include Nylon, Acrylic, Viscose, Microfibre, Polyester, Lycra and – the ultimate in 1960s and '70s fashion horror stories – Crimpelene, originally discovered through boiling Astronlon-C polyamide yarn and Astralene-C polyester yarn in a pressure cooker. Nasty!

Just like natural fibres, synthetics can be spun into filaments, threads, wool, yarns or twine that can then be woven, knitted, matted or bound into a remarkable variety of materials. Natural fibres usually have short fibres called staple fibres, but synthetic fibres can be made as long as they need to be.

It's fascinating stuff, don't you think? Here are 15 of our favourite facts facts about natural fibres.

15 fun facts about natural fibres

  1. Silk fibres, unlike other natural fibres, feature incredibly long continuous filaments up to a kilometre long, unravelled carefully from the silkworm's pupa case either by hand or by machine
  2. Silk was first harvested by the Chinese as early as 2700 BC. Like us, have you ever wondered how they discovered that the strange stuff that came from moth pupa cases was weavable?
  3. Fragments of ancient cotton cloth dating back to 5000 BC have been discovered on two different continents, Mexico and Pakistan
  4. True cashmere only comes from the Kashmir goat, which lives in the Himalayas. Their fine undercoat hair is used to make luxurious and desirable cashmere yarn
  5. More than 100 nations produce wool, on an impressive half a million or so sheep farms
  6. The world's oldest ever woollen cloth was found in Denmark and dates back to 1500 BC
  7. The oldest woollen carpet was discovered in chilly Siberia, found to date back to 500 BC
  8. Manila Hemp, AKA Abaca, was long the best fibre for making ship ropes and rigging. It was also the favoured material for making Manila envelopes, hence the name. These days it is about to enjoy a resurgence as a greener, kinder alternative to the glass fibre used in cars
  9. Hemp fibre comes from the Cannabis sativa L. plant, not to be confused with marijuana. Some countries have become confused, however, and have restricted its production. Hemp is one of the earliest plants to be used for it fibres, by ancient peoples as early as 4500 BC
  10. Cotton remains the king of natural fibres, selling more than any other fabric worldwide
  11. Flax is one of the strongest natural fibres ever discovered
  12. The hair of baby camels is incredibly rare and luxurious, harvested from Bactrian camels in remote Mongolia to make stunning camel hair yarns
  13. Also called China Grass, Ramie is a coarse plant fibre used to make nets and rope. But when spun wet the yarn is wonderfully fine, lightweight and silky-feeling, very like quality linen. Korea's traditional costumes are made from Ramie
  14. The angora is an Old World domestic rabbit breed whose fur grows twice as fast as other rabbits. The resulting hollow fibre is classified as a wool, seriously luxurious
  15. Humans first domesticated sheep around ten thousand years ago. The animals are native to Europe and Asia, where they live high up in remote mountain ranges

Talking about beautiful, durable natural fibres... we sell the most gorgeous wools and yarns, perfect for scrumptious knits of every kind. Hop over to our yarns page for inspiration, including wool from our very own herd of alpacas,