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T Shirt Fabric: How to Understand the Labels

t shirt fabric

T Shirt Fabric

There are a lot of factors that people consider when it comes to t shirt fabrics. Each fabric has its various pros and cons, and no hard evidence seems to show that one is better than the other - you just have to make sure that you choose the right one for you. The fabric plays a big part in not only the design and printing, but in the way it feels and the way it’s worn. Some t shirt fabrics hold ink better than others, and others will last longer. If you know the difference between the fabrics, you're going to make a better decision.

People have been left in the dark when it comes to understanding clothing labels - until recently. T shirt labels can be uncomfortable and annoying, and sometimes cutting them out seems to be the only option. However, with the rise of brand transparency, consumers are now given the option to truly understand the labels in the clothes they wear daily and what they really mean. It also means that the labels should be helpful. Most often, labels communicate three things: the care instructions, the brand logo, and most importantly, the materials that were used to create the shirt.

materials used to make tshirt

Who Made Your Clothes?

The small labels inside your clothes don't tell the full story. There's a whole web of connections involved in the process of creating the t shirts that you wear, from the farmer who grew the cotton, to the person who spun it to the thread, and the person who sewed it all together. Ultimately, we need more information on our labels, more than where it was made. We need to understand who made our clothes and why the specific materials were chosen. Labeling could contain evidence that workers were paid a fair wage, such as Fairtrade Australia. Brands like Lush use stickers with the location, name, and face the people who made each product. Expecting more from clothing makers can help you to get the education that you want to learn about who made your t shirt.

What Are Your T Shirts Made From?

T shirt fabric has a significant impact on the environment as well as the quality of the clothing. Everyone wants high quality, the best fabric, as well as long-lasting comfort. Material can be a little confusing for the consumer, which is why there is no real 'right' answer for the consumer about what their clothing should be made from. Consumers should take a few moments to look at the fibers and be aware of the material pros and cons for the environment and their personal comfort. Let's take a look at the most common materials for t shirt fabrics as well as their individual pros and cons.

cotton plants

Cotton

Cotton is the most common type of fabric that is used to make t shirts, but you should remember that there are a few different types of cotton that can be used for shirt production.

Types of Cotton:

  • Combed cotton is created when short strands are eliminated, then fine brushes straighten the fibers. This makes the fabric softer, smoother, and stronger. It makes for a better material for printing.
  • Organic cotton is a softer, more comfortable and a popular option. It's more expensive than regular cotton, and the cotton is grown without many fertilizers or pesticides.
  • Pima cotton is known to be the highest quality cotton that money can buy, with extra long fibers which ensure the softness of the t shirt fabric. Pima cotton is durable - it resists pilling, fading, and stretching. Supima is the same type of cotton as Pima, but it's specifically grown in the US.
  • Slub cotton is a type of cotton that looks like it has slight lumps in the fabric. This is created before the cotton is weaved, where the cotton is twisted, and the twists are irregular. Slub cotton is unique - it’s light, airy and does not cling to the body. It's also naturally textured, which means that there is no need to iron it.

t shirt fabrics

Pros of Cotton T Shirts

Cotton:

  • Is a natural material
  • Is a renewable resource
  • Is breathable
  • Is great for sensitive skin
  • Is extremely soft
  • Doesn’t require chemicals

Sounds Great! Are There Any Cons to Cotton T shirts?

Cotton:

  • Is more expensive to produce
  • Needs more water to produce
  • Needs land to grow it
  • Has a higher cost to the consumer
  • Is prone to damage

fabrics used to make tshirts

Linen

There are a lot of t shirts that are made with linen. It comes from the flax plant, and the weave is textured. It's such a popular choice for summer clothing because of the breathability and it’s lightweight properties. Linen is also moisture-wicking and dries quickly. Although it’s a great summer material, it can easily wrinkle.

Polyester

Another common fabric used for t shirts is Polyester. It's quick drying and doesn't mildew. It also maintains its shape without stretching. Most athletic apparel companies use polyester in their t shirts. Polyester is synthetic and includes fabrics like nylon, acetate, and acrylic.

Polyester is durable, drying fast after a wash. It's also flexible, cost effective, can potentially be recycled, and can blend with cotton. Along with these positive attributes some some negative effects unfortunately. Polyester doesn't break down quickly, doesn't breathe easily, and it can release plastic microfibers when it's being washed which in turn cause water pollution.

Rayon

Rayon is another athletic-wear fiber, and it's been created as an affordable alternative to silk. Rayon is a human-made fiber formed from trees, plants, and cotton. What you get in the end is a breathable fabric that feels silky and drapes effortlessly. It dyes well, and it’s absorbent. However, it wrinkles easy and is not known as the most eco-conscious option.

Lycra

Lycra is the best-known name, but really it's Spandex which is an additive to other t shirt materials. It's used to give t shirts more room to stretch, and it's found in athletic wear more than anything else because of the ease of movement.

t shirt brands

T Shirt Fabric Costs

Big retailers keep their prices down by cutting corners, whether this is due to materials that are more cost effective, paying low wages, or simply skipping steps in the manufacturing process. While this can produce t shirts that are affordable, they're not always the best quality after a wash. The trouble is that you won't know that the clothing is poor quality until you've put it through a cycle or two in your washer!

Price is never a guarantee of quality. Oftentimes an expensive product is linked more to the name of the brand than the quality of the item itself. When it comes to t shirts that are of excellent quality, people usually agree that cotton is the best option. Natural fibers age better than the synthetic ones, which - when blending textiles - can become a problem. T shirts that are made from polyblends often look out of shape after a handful of wears. It also is worth mentioning that even if something says 100% cotton, it doesn't necessarily mean that the quality is high, which is unfortunate. Not all types of cotton are created equal.

There are low-end cottons and high-end cottons. The tighter the weave, the longer the t shirt will last. It doesn't mean that the t shirt is heavier or wears differently, it just means that the density of the fabric is different than the thickness (that may sound like one in the same but it isn’t!). The length of the fiber usually determines the quality that you find in cotton and the longer it is, the better it is. It can be bonded together to be durable and soft, and softness is typically associated with good quality. It's also, sadly (for you), something that can be cheated. Starch can make a fabric soft to the touch, but that softness can dissipate over time.

t shirt materials

Should You Go Natural?

Some people believe that there are both good and bad textiles, and they'd be right - the same can be said for synthetic materials. Polyester often has a bad reputation, but it doesn't mean that it's a bad fabric to use. Some brands choose synthetics to keep costs down. Other times, synthetics are used to add elasticity, impermeability, and breathability. Synthetic athletic apparel is almost exclusively human-made.

Understanding the way that a t shirt is made is going to help to get an idea of it’s quality. It doesn't matter how good the material is if the construction is poor. There are different types of knits and stitches used to help with the durability of t shirt fabric, and there are also tests that you can run while you're buying your t shirt:

  • Touch. Merely touching the t shirt can tell you if the quality is good. It shouldn’t feel rough to the touch or too thin, it should be firm and soft at the same time. The chances are the material will be a better quality when it's both firm and soft.
  • Labels. There won't be a thread count, but it’ll show what the material is made of and whether or not it's been mixed with another fabric/fiber will be shown on the label.
  • Wrinkle It. Crumple a piece of the t shirt in your hand and let go. If there are still wrinkles, the quality won't be that great.
  • Stitch Count. These keep everything together, and manufacturers always pay more attention to the outside as that's what the public sees. The easiest way to tell if a stitch is done well or not is to check the inside of it. Check for loose threads and signs of poor manufacturing.

Understanding tshirt fabrics is essential, as is understanding the labels.

washing machine

Clothing Care

Clothing labels often have garment care written into them, as it can make a huge difference in the length of time that your tshirt survives. The longer they last in your wardrobe, the longer they stay out of a landfill. Washing your clothes is essential for the oceans, while we're on the subject, because microfiber pollution is a big deal for your health as well as the health of our entire planet. If you want to reduce the release of microfibers into the ocean, you can do the following:

  • Buy high-quality garments because they shed less in the wash.
  • If you wash less often, you help your clothing last longer (and save water!)
  • Use filter bags for your clothes
  • Try to ensure that your washing machine is full before running a cycle

How to Read Ironing Labels on T Shirts

While the average person does four or five loads of laundry per week (not including their dry-cleaned items), most people throw caution to the wind and forgo reading labels at all. Maybe it’s because they’re so difficult to decipher—after all, when was the last time you checked the tag for washing instructions? Here we’ll look at how to figure out what those labels mean so you can wash your clothes the right way.

Why These Symbols?

The symbols you see on your t-shirt label—and all your other textile goods—are pictograms which aim to reduce confusion over washing directions. But the truth is, although English is nearly global at this point, symbols are still the best way to communicate a message across multiple cultures.

Sometimes there are written instructions, too, but it’s also easier to fit a handful of pictograms on a label rather than a paragraph or two of washing details. At the same time, copyrights exist for some of the symbols, so they’re not all international or universal.

Clothing Label Pictures & Their Meanings

There are at least five basic shapes which make up most of the clothing care symbols we see regularly. But in addition to those shapes, there are also lines, multiple symbols, and letters which change the meaning of the shape itself. We’ll break each care symbols down below, along with the variations of each.

Basin

This shape isn’t a traditional geometric one, but most people can recognize it as a basin-type shape. It does look a lot like a washer, with a flat bottom, angled sides, and a wavy line symbolizing water across the top. This symbol signifies washing, and on its own, that’s what it means. With other lines and numbers, however, the meaning changes.

A basin symbol with a number denotes a specific water temperature limit—these numbers range from 30 to 60 degrees Celsius. If you’re in the US, you’ll have to convert the temperatures yourself, however. Also, sometimes dots are used instead; one dot for every ten degrees. And finally, a hand in the basin means to hand wash.

Triangle

The triangle shape has to do with bleach, including whether or not to use it (a strikethrough or filled-in triangle) and what type to use (diagonal lines mean non-chlorine bleach).

Square

Think about the shape of a clothes dryer; they’re mostly cube-shaped, which explains the use of a square to symbolize drying. But you have to pay close attention to the lines on the dryer symbol: a straight horizontal line means to dry flat, vertical lines mean to drip dry, a curved line means line dry, and corner lines indicate drying in the shade.

Iron

The iron shape is, thankfully, self-explanatory, as is the strikethrough version telling you not to iron your garment. Same as with the basin symbol, dots mean temperature limits here, too.

Circle

Perhaps the most confusing symbol is the circle. This one means professional cleaning, most often of the dry-cleaning variety. If you see this, take your clothes to a professional dry-cleaning service for the right treatment.

 

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