Working in the textile industry for as many years as I have, opens your eyes to a lot of the realities about the manufacture of fabric. By the time a fabric reaches the designer, its production has already made a huge environmental impact. This is why many of our customers at Offset Warehouse are looking for more sustainable materials, like Tencel fabric, also known as lyocell fabric.
What Is Tencel Fabric, and What Is Lyocell?
Tencel is the name brand for lyocell. Lyocell is the product of wood cellulose, or pulp harvested from trees, often eucalyptus. This versatile fabric is a great choice for designers. You can expect a soft finished product, and an added bonus of wrinkle resistance that customers absolutely love. While there are different manufacturers of lyocell, the main brand name is held by the Lenzing AG Company, who own the name “Tencel”. For a product to use the Tencel name, at least 30% of the Lenzing fibres must be used.
From Trees to Fabric
Often fabrics are described as natural (such as cotton, silk and wool) or man-made (like polyester and nylon). Lyocell is a bit of both. It is sometimes called a regenerated fibre. As I mentioned earlier, the thread is made from trees. Once the pulp is harvested, it is doused amine oxide which is a non-toxic solution. After a bath in this solution, the raw cellulose is able to be separated. It is broken down chemically to a sludgy liquid then passed through a spinneret, a bit like a shower head, to create long strands.
The cellulose molecules in the fibres are aligned using a unique air blasting technique. This gives the lyocell fibre its characteristic high strength. The fibres are then immersed in a more diluted amine oxide, which sets the fibre strands. They are washed with de-mineralised water, then dried by evaporation. The dry fibres then go to a finishing area where soap or silicone are used as a lubricant. This untangles the fibres, so that they can then be carded and spun into yarn. It is then woven or knitted into fabric. The end result is a highly sustainable fibre that is not only comfortable, but environmentally friendly. Find out more on MadeHow.com where I found the handy image above.
Beneficial Qualities and Attributes
So far, you are probably loving what you’re hearing, but what about the properties of such a material? What many love about this eco-friendly fibre is its likeness to commonly used fibres such as cotton, linen and rayon – without the negatives of cotton in particular. It is also an amazingly versatile fabric, able to be machine washed or dry cleaned, and is known to be very soft, absorbent and strong.
It is great for sensitive skin, as it keeps skin dry with its wicking abilities and is soft and supple to the touch.
Perhaps you need a variety of textures? This is easy to achieve as lyocell can be produced to mimic several other fibres, including suede leather and silk! This is due to its controllable fibrillation (the fine hairs on the outer fibres)… but we’re getting a bit technical here!
Almost all who come into contact with it, love the beautiful draping quality as well as its resistance to wrinkling. It is because of these attributes and properties that manufacturers and designers use this fabric for everything from shirts to dresses and even bed sheets.
An Environmentally Responsible Purchase
There are so many things to love about this product, but let’s discuss one more. Not only is fabric made from Tencel incredibly useful and beautiful, but it is arguably one of the most eco-friendly fibres on the market.
Let’s look at the facts:
- The solvents used in the production process are non-toxic, and are able to be re-used again and again due to a technique called ‘closed loop’ spinning. This eliminates dumping of waste by 98%.
- The eucalyptus trees that are harvested for the fibre are grown on sustainable farms. In addition, eucalyptus trees are fast growing, and require no toxic pesticides and little water to thrive.
- The fibre itself is completely biodegradable, making it far safer to dispose of than most other common fabrics.
- While the textile does use traditional dyes, its impressive absorbency allows companies to use less dye to achieve the desired effect. Meaning less waste and more cost efficient.
- Last, but not least, there is no need to bleach this fibre before dying due to its pure white colour at production.
With more and more studies showing the impact that manufacturing is having on our world, it is great to see an exciting option become available. Designers choose their fabrics for a multitude of reasons, but one we should start considering is the sustainability of that fabric. Products such as Tencel, are an inspiring step into the future of a more environmentally conscious industry. This is why I am so thrilled to offer Tencel products to my customers in my own fabric shop.