Whether you're planning an outdoor winter activity or crafting a gift to keep a loved one warm in the chilly months of the year, knowing which fabrics and materials provide the best insulation can mean the difference between cozy and cold. A material that provides insulation will keep the cold out and body heat in, providing protection from harsh temperatures and freezing winds.
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Wool is a traditional winter fabric that is used in sweaters, clothing linings and accessories to provide insulation. It is sheared from sheep, wound into yarn, then woven or knitted into an insulating fabric. The curving fibers of wool catch air, causing the warmth inside a wool garment to stay in while the outside cold air stays out. Boiled, or felted, wool has an especially tight texture that enhances wool fabric's natural insulating qualities.
Down, the soft, fluffy feathers from ducks and geese, is another natural insulating material used in garments and home goods to maintain warmth. Like wool, down traps air coming from either direction, providing insulation from the outside cold. Down's greatest advantage is its light weight and malleability, but it must be paired with a weatherproof outer layer since it is no longer warming when wet. Still, as a filling, down is a useful material that provides an exceptional amount of insulation for its weight.
Though down and wool are naturally warm, there are several synthetic substance that are excellent insulators. Polyester is one such substance and can be woven into a fleece fabric or turned into a fiberfill material to provide warmth. When woven into a fleece fabric, polyester is a more water-resistant alternative to wool that can offer plenty of insulation depending on its thickness. It can be used in the same manner as wool to either form or line a winter garment.
Polyester fiberfill is a warm alternative to down for those who are allergic to goose and duck feathers; its water resistance and light weight make it ideal for camping blankets and sleeping bags. An added advantage to using polyester over down or wool is that it is almost always machine washable, making it easy to clean and wear again quickly. Its fast drying time also means that a sudden rainfall won't ruin its insulating properties for long.