Glossary of general terms

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Manufactured fibres made from any regenerated naturally occurring protein.

Bio-based fibres

Fibres based on naturally occurring polymers produced by living organisms such as cellulose, starch and sugar.


Biodegradable materials are materials that can be broken down naturally in the right conditions by enzymes produced by living organisms.


The process of combining two or more different fibres to form a composite yarn, and of combining different yarns within the structure of a woven fabric, in both cases to take advantage of their differing qualities.

Bonded fabrics

A nonwoven fabric in which the fibres are held together by a bonding material. This may be an adhesive or a bonding fibre with a low melting point.

Carded fibres

Raw or washed fibres that have undergone a process of brushing to thin them out and evenly distribute them to facilitate spinning.


Carbohydrate substance derived from plants, contained in all vegetable fibres and semi-synthetic fibres, such as acetate, cuprammonium, viscose rayons and Tencel.

Chemical Recycling

Chemical recycling uses chemical processes to convert waste semi- and fully synthetic fabrics, and blends of the same, such as cotton and polyester, into new fibres. These fibres are in turn often blended with virgin fibres to improve their performance. Although limited commercial production of some types of recycled fibres is possible, chemical recycling on a large scale is not. It is however the subject of global research and development. (See: Recycling.)

Closed loop processing

Methods of capturing and reprocessing solvents used in the manufacture of semi- and fully synthetic fibres.


A textile coating impregnates the base cloth with a resin or other substance, to create a new textile structure the properties of which depend on the qualities of both its components.

Composting (domestic and industrial)

Composting depends on managed processes of decomposition, whether these are carried out in a domestic or industrial context. Industrial composting systems are designed to process large volumes of municipal and commercial waste, and other waste which requires the systematic control of temperature, moisture and air flow to successfully biodegrade. Home composting takes place at a lower temperature and over a longer time.


Drawing synthetic filament fibres: the process of stretching and strengthening manufactured filaments, usually carried out shortly after the extrusion process.

Drawing staple fibres: the process of running multiple slivers through a series of rollers to combine and straighten the fibres, achieving greater yarn uniformity, strength, and lustre.


Proteins with specific structures that act as catalysts (accelerate chemical reactions) for a wide range of natural processes, one being polymerisation.


The process of forcing viscous liquid (i.e., molten or dissolved polymer) through holes in a spinneret to create a continuous filament.


A long thin, flexible structure, that may either be extruded in a continuous length or spun to create such a continuous flexible structure.

Filament fibre

A fibre of extreme, continuous length. Filament yarn is made from one or more filament fibres combined and is usually of a fine, smooth texture that creates a high lustre.


Chemical treatments applied to fabric to give a specialist finish, such as anti-wrinkle and fire- retardant finishes.

Fossil fuels

Materials, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, containing carbon, formed by geological processes acting on the remains of organic matter produced by photosynthesis, a process that began over 2.5 billion years ago.

FTIR spectroscopy

A means of identifying from what fibres are made. The fibres are subjected to infrared radiation. Some of the radiation is absorbed and some of it is passed through (transmitted). The resulting spectrum (graph) represents the molecular absorption and transmission, creating a molecular fingerprint of the sample fibre.


Gore-Tex is a thin, flexible, waterproof, breathable membrane of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) containing minute holes. The Gore-Tex website claims each square inch has nine billion pores. Each of these tiny holes is 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet. This is what makes the membrane waterproof. A related well-known brand name of a PTFE-based composition is Teflon.


Of a material that tends to absorb water from the air.


Of a fabric that tends to repel water.


Very short fibres of cotton remaining on the cotton seed after the seeds have been separated from the cotton fibre in the gin. The fibres are too short for spinning but removed from the seeds, they can be used as a source of cellulose.


Lurex is a yarn made from a thin strip of aluminium sandwiched between two plastic films invented in 1946. The most often used plastics for the films are polyester and nylon. It is lighter weight than lamé, does not tarnish, and is strong enough to be used in power looms to make complex woven fabrics, making new metallic fabrics possible.

Mechanical recycling

Mechanical recycling has been used to recycle textile waste since the early nineteenth century. It uses mechanical processes to break down textiles into a form in which they can be reutilised. (See: Recycling.)

Microfibres (plastic)

Plastic microfibres are tiny pieces of microplastics released when we wear and wash synthetic clothing. They are so small that many pass through filtration processes and make their way into rivers and seas damaging the eco system.

Pill or Pilling 

Small balls of fluffy or felted matter on the outer surfaces of woollen and wool-like knitted and woven garments, caused by repeated rubbing together of fabric surfaces during wear.


Repeated groups of atoms held together by strong chemical bonds. All plastics / synthetic fibres are polymers, but not all polymers are plastics.


Any chemical process (natural or caused by man) in which monomers are joined to create longer polymer chains.

Protein fibres

Animal hair, wool, or silk.


Recycling converts discarded materials or products into new items by re-purposing them. Down cycling is a branch of recycling that converts textiles, such as blended fabrics which are currently difficult to recycle at scale, into items of lower value than the source material, for instance insulation. Upcycling is a form of recycling that converts the source material into an item of higher value, such as repurposing scraps from the factory floor into small accessories. (See: Chemical recycling and Mechanical recycling.)

Regenerated fibres

Fibres made from cellulose-based fibres that originate from plants such as wood pulp. They are described as regenerated because of the chemical process used to create the fibre, making them part natural and part artificial. Viscose, cuprammonium and acetate rayons are examples of regenerated fibres.

Regenerated protein fibres

Man-made fibres produced from either animal or vegetable non-fibrous proteins which have been reconfigured to take up a fibrous form to emulate the natural protein fibres wool and silk. They are sometimes called Azlons.

Semi-synthetic fibres

Part natural and part synthetic fibres made from chemically treated cellulose and protein derivatives.


A long, thick strand of multiple untwisted, but usually carded, fibres.


A nozzle or plate, usually metal, with tiny holes, through which a viscous liquid such as one containing viscose is forced to produce continuous filaments.


The act or process of converting staple or short lengths of fibre into continuous yarn. Also the extrusion of a solution of fibre forming substances through holes in a spinneret to form filaments.

Staple fibre

A fibre of shorter, or non-continuous length (as opposed to filament fibres) that requires spinning and twisting together to create yarn lengths.


Sustainability refers to a state in which the economic, social and environmental spheres are aligned and maintained in an equitable and harmonious balance which can endure over the long term, enabling current and future generations to meet their needs. More precise meanings of sustainability depend on the context and field. In the case of the textile and fashion industry assessing whether a process or product is sustainable is problematic and difficult to measure because of the opacity and complexity of the global fashion system.

Synthetic fibres

Man-made fibres derived from fossil fuels and produced by chemical polymerisation, which may be manufactured in filament or staple yarns.


Tyvek® is a nonwoven material manufactured by Dupont. Polyethylene fibres are spun, entangled, and then heat and pressure bonded. It is lightweight and durable; breathable, yet resistant to water, abrasion, bacterial penetration and aging. It is widely used for protective garments.

Vegetable fibres

Fibres made from plants, for example cotton, linen, jute and hemp.


The collection of continuous threads that make up the length of the cloth, through which the weft thread is passed to make the fabric.


The crosswise thread that is passed over and under the warp threads from selvedge to selvedge to make cloth.


The process of evaporating away moisture and perspiration.


The continuous thread or strand of textile fibre, either endless filaments or shorter fibres spun together, or a combination of the two, that are woven, knitted, crocheted, braided or otherwise utilised to create a textile.


Regenerated fibres made from corn.


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