Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Acrylic - fiber of the future or sent from Hades?

Way back in the 1940's, DuPont created the first acrylic fibers for use in fabrics.  They marketed it under the name Orlon.  It was considered a great step forward in fabric technology being practically indestructible. Once you dyed it, it remained colorfast. It was crease resistant and lightweight.  It was intended to mimic wool and early on was used in a variety of household applications like upholstery and carpeting.

It was inexpensive to manufacture and became a common part of the blend of textiles that went into making clothing.  It can be used to make tweed skirts, it gives them the nubby look.  Likewise it is often used in sweaters to get that lofty wool feel.  When spun and woven differently, it can be thinner and finer, seeming more like cotton or silk.  It's no longer manufactured in the US, though still widely available from suppliers in Mexico, India, and other countries. 

Sample of acrylic fabric

A Nina Ricci skirt, list price $1,200 - 20% acrylic

Tibi Anson skirt, $295 - 50% acrylic


Traditionally known as a cheap alternative to various natural fibers, it's been around in lower end garments for decades. I had plenty of garments made from acrylic as a kid, from sweaters to mittens to boot liners and socks.  Now even high end designers have been sneaking it in as part of a fabric blend. What's not to love, you ask?  Why am I even writing about it? 

As fake fibers go, it is among the worst, in my opinion.  It is prone to pilling, it has very little to no give, it has a rough texture that gets worse with laundering or dry cleaning, and it tends to lose its shape over time. The latter problem being rather odd given that acrylic is often used to help a garment achieve a certain shape. 

Acrylic yarn is cheap, as in inexpensive, yet many knitters and crocheters prefer not to work with it because it lacks softness and can be painful to work with given the lack of stretch.  It can irritate the skin of people with sensitivity or conditions such as excema.

It's awful. Period. Even if initially pleasing in a garment, after washing and wear it becomes very much like wearing a Brillo pad. 

In general I prefer clothing made from natural fibers - cotton, wool, silk, linen.  Some viscose, which is made from wood cellulose can be comfortable, such as modal.  I stay away from polyester, though it can be acceptable as part of a blend.  The relatively recent resurgence of acrylic in clothing seems to be a cost cutting measure that allows for greater profit. I steadfastly refuse to buy anything with acrylic in it. 

Off my soapbox.  Are there any no-buys in the world of fabrics for you? 

3 comments:

DaniBP said...

I would also never buy acrylic, I hate it! Real wools and tweeds get better with age, acrylic is the fabric of fast fashion! I won't buy poly, I can't tolerate it. Yup you know me I'm fussy!

Desert Flower said...

I've got a few things with a poly blend, I'm okay with them. In my hot climate, wearing 100% poly would be like wrapping myself in Saran Wrap!

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