Rayons, acetates and triacetates are man-made fibers produced from cellulose such as cotton linters or wood chips, to which various chemical solvents are added. When a French scientist reproduced the chemical actions of a silkworm feeding on mulberry leaves and spinning a cocoon, he came up with a sort of artificial silk. This new fiber, produced from wood pulp, was called rayon. Because rayon is made from plant material, it is sometimes called a man-made natural fiber. Rayon dyes better than other synthetics, withstands strong sunlight better than silk and produces a durable, economical fabric. However, it does not wash well and wrinkles easily.
Acetates are truly synthetic fabrics, since they contain synthetic protein (cellulose). Acetates are available in a wide range of colors and a variety of weaves. One step in the process of producing acetate includes dissolving particles in acetone. This same substance is found in nail polish removers, perfumes, air fresheners and bug sprays. Therefore, any of these acetone-based products can make holes in the fabric by dissolving it. Acetates normally have a high luster and are frequently used alone or combined with other substances, to create satin, taffeta, and other silk-like fabrics. That they cannot be cleaned well is a major drawback of acetates, but they do not rot and do hold colors well.
Triacetates are related to acetates but include more synthetic cellulose to give them extra body. In addition, because less acetone is used, triacetates can withstand greater amounts of heat, which means that they can be treated for permanent press. Triacetates fall in beautiful gathers and can be cleaned or washed without particular effort or concern.
Our next post will be about Nylon…