Piqued by piqué? Flummoxed by fleece? Here’s a quick (and not even slightly exhaustive) guide to the reality of fabric*…
Most garment fabrics are made of cotton, polyester, or some blend of the two.
Cotton: a soft, strong natural fibre. Naturally breathable, it wicks sweat away from the skin, is very durable, holds dye well, and – over the very long term – is biodegradable.
Polyester: a man-made fibre (effectively, it’s plastic.) Non-breathable (but can be used in skin-tight wicking weaves), holds dye extremely well, holds its shape rather better than cotton, very long-lasting.
Poly/cotton blends offer the best of both worlds, but with some drawbacks; they’re ideal for more heavily structured garments (such as hoodies), but the fabric is less soft than 100% cotton.
Rayon: some garments contain a small (or in the case of tri-blend fabric a not-so-small) amount of rayon. Although manufactured from cellulose (from trees), it’s not really a natural fibre, as its production involves a lengthy process which regenerates the cellulose into what is aeffectively a man-made fibre. Garments with any rayon content tend to be a rather unstable print substrate, and are not reliable in terms of holding dye; we therefore avoid them wherever possible.
Elastane: AKA Spandex, Lycra. etc. It’s a polyester-polyurethane copolymer, and is used to add “stretchiness” to blended fabric. This makes it instrinsically unsuitable for embroidery, and not at all ideal for screenprint (we can use additives to make prints more flexible, but elastane will always be stretchier, potentially resulting in cracked print.)
Organic and recycled materials
Organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers or pesticides. Recycled garment options include garments made from plastic waste (recycled bottles), fabric offcuts / rags, and even repurposed pre-printed shirts. We are keen to promote the use of recycled materials; please let us know if you’d like guidance in this area, as there may be recycled t-shirts / hoodies to fit your budget.
Structure of cotton yarn
Cotton is the raw material; the way it’s turned into the yarn from which fabric is woven affects the characteristics of that fabric.
Open-end: the cotton fibres are twisted and wrapped around the yarn; this has until recently been the most commonly-used cotton for t-shirts.
Ringspun: the cotton is continuously twisted together to create a fine yarn; the result is softer and stronger, and is becoming a very popular option for t-shirts as it tends to be more comfortable to wear, as well as presenting a smooth print surface.
The way a fabric is woven affects how it feels to wear, and also determines how best it can be decorated.
Jersey: “normal” single-layer knitted fabric; a square lattice, normally with one side flat and one side piled.
Pique: a weave which incorporates raised parallel cords and fine ribbing, often used for polo shirts; stiffer than jersey.
Fleece: a deep-pile, brushed fabric, commonly (but not always) 100% polyester
Canvas: a simple, plain-weave (criss-cross) construction giving a thin, stiff fabric, commonly used for bags.
*For a non-quick (and somewhat exhausting) guide to the fabric of reality, I recommend ‘The Road to Reality’ by Roger Penrose (2004)