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Man-made Knit Fabrics: Everything you need to know

Mar 07, 2024
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Knit fabrics have a long history, starting with the handiwork of ancient peoples and evolving over time. We will explore how man-made fabrics have become key elements in fashion today and how new inventions have integrated these fabrics significantly into our lives.

The Story of Man-Made Knit Fabrics

The story of knit fabrics started long ago in the Middle East. People of old civilizations did hard work of making their clothes by hand. Throughout the 14th century, knitting became more prominent in Europe. During the Renaissance period, knitting techniques became more advanced.

Richard Arkwright, a British inventor, made a big leap in 18th century. He released the water frame, which revolutionized spinning. This greatly improved the quality of yarn and highlighted the effect the Industrial Revolution had on knitting textiles.

By the 19th century, knitting began to get easier. Marc Brunel came up with the first circular knitting machine (1816).

The "Warp Knitting Machine" was introduced in 1856 by Matthew Townsend, which greatly increased fabric production.

In the 20th century, knitting took another big step : synthetic fibers were created. This period, especially after the 1950s, marked a shift from natural to man-made fibers. In the 1980s, Jacquard technology was introduced, which allowed for multi-colored designs to be made through computer systems.

Now in the 21st century, we see many changes with digital and 3D knitting technologies. These innovations help to be more efficient but also help to reduce waste in production.

Rayon, the first man-made fiber, was produced and marked a new era in textile manufacturing. Nylon was created in 1935 and polyester in 1941, completely changing the industry. These synthetic materials have greatly expanded the textile industry.

Fiber TypeYear of First ProductionNotes
Rayon1891Considered the first man-made fiber, originally called artificial silk.
Nylon1935First true synthetic fiber, made from petrochemicals.
Polyester1941Introduced as a textile fiber but commercial production began in 1950.
Acrylic1941Wool substitute with similar warmth properties.
Modacrylic1949Variant of acrylic that is more flame resistant.
Polyolefin1950Encompasses polypropylene and polyethylene fibers.
Spandex (Lycra)1958Known for its exceptional elasticity.
Aramid (Kevlar)1965Known for its use in ballistic and stab-resistant body armor.
Polyimide1950 - 1960Known for its thermal and chemical stability.
Lyocell (Tencel)1990Environmentally friendly alternative to rayon.

Different Kinds of Synthetic Fabrics

First up, we have polyester. This is great for making gym clothes because it does not shrink or stretch. It dries very quickly while keep you warm. 

Then there’s nylon, strong and stretchy. It feels soft and is perfect for active wear. It can resist water.

Acrylic comes next. It works the same way wool does – keeping you warm. It is lightweight and is often used to make sweaters, socks and sports clothes. It can resist moths, sunlight as well as chemicals.

There’s also Spandex or Lycra, famous for its super stretchy nature. Perfect for tight clothes like leggings.

Rayon gives a high-end fashion feel. It drapes well and is a favorite choice for fine clothing.

Next, we have viscose. It’s the best for summer clothes because it is breathable and absorbs sweat. This fabric is light and comfortable.

Acetate is similar to silk. It's known for its shine and flow. Mostly seen in lingerie and formal wear.

Lastly, there's polypropylene or olefin. It’s light, dries quickly and provides good insulation. It’s often used for sportswear.

How Synthetic Fabrics are Made

We start making synthetic knit fabrics by turning crude oil into synthetic fibers.

Getting these fibers involves a special process that changes the oil into synthetic strands.

More on How Synthetic Fibers are Made

You might wonder how crude oil turns into synthetic fibers. This happens through a fancy chemical dance called polymerization. During this process, small particles called monomers latch onto each other to form polymers. These polymers are the main ingredients for synthetic fibers. The way they bond affects the fiber's final look and quality.

Using crude oil as a base and the chemical reactions in fiber production can harm the environment. This shows why the synthetic fabric industry needs to keep coming up with new, green solutions.

Then, these fibers go through a cooling and hardening phase, an important step before spinning. Fibers are cut precisely and interwoven. This creates an elastic yarn.

This yarn is the main material of the knit fabric.

Next comes knitting. Ee use advanced machinery to turn the yarn into stitches. These machines work in different ways depending on whether the fabric needs to be flat or tubular.

After knitting, the fabric is dyed and finished. The dyeing involves cleaning, bleaching, and color application. After dyeing, finishing treatments are used to make the fabric soft. These treatments make sure the fabric meets high-quality standards.

Throughout the whole process, we test the fabric. We check its strength, color, and performance. We use recycled materials to reduce the impact on the environment.

Benefits of Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic fabrics are known for their long-lasting. They're super versatile too - you can transform these materials into lots of different styles, from sporty gear to fancy clothes.

A key trait of these fabrics is how stretchy they are, making clothes fit perfectly. They also bounce back into shape easily. They may not absorb as much water as natural fibers, but many synthetic are great at wicking sweat away, ideal for sportswear.

They also keep you warm while still lightweight. Perfect for cozy winter clothes.

Synthetic knit fabrics are easy to work with and hold bright colors, even after many washes.

They're easy to wash and can dry quickly.

However, it's important to mention their impact on the environment. Manufacturing synthetic knit fabric can use up a lot of resources that are harmful to our planet.

But the good news is that they're making progress in becoming more eco-friendly. 

Another benefit is that these fabrics are hypoallergenic, which means they're ideal for people with sensitive skin.


The story of man-made knit fabrics is about innovation and creativity. We've gone from hand-knitting to using computers and high-tech machines. Now, we have strong and flexible materials like nylon and polyester. These changes have made our clothes better in many ways. At the same time, we're finding ways to make fabric more sustainable.

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