Plants Used for Clothing

By Michelle Nickolaisen

Throughout history, clothing has either been made with plant or animal fibers. Some of the earliest examples of clothing are made of wool or linen. More recently, synthetic fibers (such as polyester) have been added to the mix. However, with increasing awareness about cruelty to animals and the environmental concerns associated creating synthetic fibers, plant fibers are becoming increasingly popular in use for clothing.

Cotton plant
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Cotton fabric is made from harvested cotton fibers.


Rolled-up white towel, close up
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Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics used for clothing. It's known for being durable, light and breathable. Cotton is often blended with polyester to prevent the fabric from wrinkling, but this also causes the fabric to pill after extensive use, so many customers request 100-percent cotton fabric. Cotton fabric is made from the fibers that grow around the seed of the cotton plant. The fibers are harvested mechanically and are then combed before being spun into the threads that make up cotton fabric.


Close-up of textile fibers
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Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant and is much more of a luxury fabric than cotton. Linen is two to three times stronger than cotton and also cooler and lighter. However, the flax plants must be hand harvested, and the procedure to turn the plants into fabric is labor intensive--which makes linen much more expensive than cotton. Linen is also not good at retaining a set shape, as it is prone to wrinkling and lacks elasticity.


Hemp drying
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Hemp fabric is made from the stems of the Cannabis sativa plant. Until recently, hemp fabric was too rough to be wearable, but new processing techniques have allowed for it to be made into a wearable fabric. Hemp fabric is strong, durable and resistant to ultraviolet light and mold.


Souvenir bamboo containers
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Fabric made from bamboo is a recent development, as the technology to process bamboo into viscose yarn did not exist until the last few years. Bamboo fabric is an extremely popular development and has been hailed for its many good qualities. The fabric is extremely soft, hypoallergenic, absorbent (bamboo fabric absorbs up to 60-percent more water than cotton) and is also very breathable. As far as environmental friendliness, bamboo is grown without pesticides or fertilizers and absorbs more carbon dioxide than trees. Bamboo is also a sustainable resource, as it's one of the world's fastest growing plants and regenerates very quickly when cut.