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Natural fibres

Micrograph gallery

The Institute of Macromolecular Studies in Biella, Italy, contributed these electronically scanned photomicrographs of 18 natural fibres

CNR-ISMAC, Biella, Italy
ABACA

With a fibre diameter from 17-21 microns, abaca is prized for its great mechanical strength, buoyancy and resistance to saltwater

ALPACA

Alpaca fibre is light, stronger (but less elastic) than sheep's wool, and provides excellent insulation. Fibre diameter is 20-70 microns

ANGORA

Wool from the Angora rabbit is an exceptionally fine 14-16 microns in diameter, and can grow up to 7 cm in length.

CAMEL

Baby camel hair, which can measure as little as 16 microns (on a par with fine cashmere), is the softest and most prized

CASHMERE

The fine hair of Kashmir goats (14-19 microns) has natural crimp, allowing it to be spun into very lightweight fabrics

COIR

Coir fibres measure up to 35 cm in length with a diameter of 17-21 microns. Resists microbial action and salt water damage

COTTON

Almost pure cellulose, soft and "breathable", cotton fibres vary in length from 1 to 6.5 cm, with a diameter of 11-22 microns

FLAX

With an diameter of 17-21 microns, flax fibre absorbs and releases water quickly, making linen comfortable to wear in hot weather

HEMP

Long, strong and durable, hemp fibres are about 70% cellulose and contain low levels of lignin (around 8-10%). The fibre diameter ranges from 16 to 50 microns

JUTE

Jute is long, soft and shiny, with a length of 1 to 4 m and a diameter of 16-20 microns. It is one of nature's strongest vegetable fibres

MOHAIR

Mohair's diameter ranges from 23 microns at first shearing to 38 microns in older animals. Light and insulating, with good tensile strength

QIVIUT

Plucked (not sheared) from the Arctic musk ox, qiviut is one of the softest and most expensive wools. Diameter as low as 10 microns

RAMIE

Similar to flax in absorbency and density but coarser in diameter (25-30 microns). One of the strongest vegetable fibres, it has low elasticity and dyes easily

SILK

A silk filament is a continuous thread of great tensile strength measuring up to 1.5 km in length, with a diameter of 10-13 microns

SISAL

Lustrous and creamy white, sisal fibre measures up to 1 m in length, with a diameter of 100-300 microns. A hard fibre unsuitable for fabrics

VICUÑA

The wild ancestor of the alpaca produces superfine fibres measuring as little as 12 microns in diameter

WOOL

Wool has natural crimpiness that make it easy to spin. Diameter ranges from 16 microns in superfine Merino wool to 40+ microns in coarse hairy wools.

YAK

Fabric made from yak down has more lustre than wool, handles well and provides excellent heat insulation. Down fibre diameter: 15-22 microns

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Contact us to get involved:

International Year of Natural Fibres
Trade and Markets Division
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00153 Rome, Italy
Web: www.naturalfibres2009.org
Fax: +39 06 57054495
E-mail: IYNF-2009@fao.org