Cellulose fibers start as raw natural materials, like cotton or wood pulp, and are regenerated to form a filament that can be made into yarn for weaving into fabric. These fibers originate from natural plants but are chemically altered in a 13-step process to make fabrics such as rayon. Fabrics made from cellulose fibers are very versatile.
Before 1891, fabric options were mostly limited to cotton, linen, silk, wool and leather. The process of regenerating cellulose was discovered by C.F. Cross and E.J. Bevans, two chemists from England, who swiftly patented their discovery and named it viscose. Originally only single filament was used but by 1930 they had discovered that the waste from cellulose threads could be matted together as a staple fiber, much like wool. As time went on, viscose, now commonly called rayon, only improved its durability, function and feel.
Beginning the Process
The process by which cellulose fibers become fabric is a complicated one.
First, the cellulose fibers, either cotton particles or wood pulp, are steeped in a mixture of aqueous sodium hydroxide, rendering them alkali cellulose. Then it is pressed thin, ensuring that it maintains the correct balance between the alkali and cellulose. This is shredded into "crumbs", or fluffy particles, to give it greater surface area to be chemically treated. From there the cellulose is aged in a controlled environment until the molecules have combined to the desired degree.
Finishing the process
At this point the pulp is put in vats of carbon disulphide making an orange material called "viscose" which is then dissolved in an acidic solution and filtered to reduce defects. Sometimes air bubbles will occur that can cause the filament to be weak or break, so the solution must be degassed. The liquid is then spun through a spinneret, that resembles a shower head, and drawn, or stretched, to align the fiber filaments. Finally it is washed and cut for use.
Characteristics of Cellulose Fibers in Fabric
Cellulose fibers give fabric some very desirable qualities, which is why these fabrics are so popular. Rayon fabric effectively absorbs liquids. It also drapes well, making it ideal for use in clothing. It is effortlessly dyed, giving it great variety. This fabric is smooth in texture and makes comfortable clothing. It is not easily torn or frayed and it resists pills and creasing. Depending on how it is processed, cellulose fabric can mimic wool, linen, cotton or silk.
It may be hard to believe that what started as wood pulp could end up as a beautiful blouse or a bedspread, but cellulose fibers in fabric should not be taken for granted. There are a myriad of uses for this fabric in everything from bedspreads to baby wipes. This fiber is also used in industrial settings and can be found in hospitals or even in tires. Cellulose fibers are everywhere and it would be difficult to imagine life without them.
- Photo Credit Fabric image by cacheman from Fotolia.com scientist image by Keith Frith from Fotolia.com Beautiful blouse and trousers on a white background image by terex from Fotolia.com bed with desk in the corner of the room image by David Smith from Fotolia.com
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