- Rayon is not quite a natural fiber but not completely artificial, either. It is derived from cellulose (the structural component of green plant cell walls), but cellulose must be processed significantly in order to become rayon fibers.
- It has been around since the late 19th-early 20th century. It was first developed as a cheaper alternative to silk.
- It is drapey and soft, making it ideal for garments. It is also highly absorbent and easy to dye.
- There are many varieties, weights, and weaves of rayon, including knits. It’s a versatile fiber.
- New rayon solids, prints, and blends are available in most shops carrying garment fabrics, but my survey of what’s available over the internet indicates that the prints are rather uninspiring.
- If you are identifying fabric via a burn test, if the fabric burns rapidly, leaves only a trace of ash, and smells like burning leaves, it’s probably rayon.
- Modal, which seems to be the trendy thing to put in socks and undergarments these days, is a variety of rayon. It’s a machine-washable variety of rayon that has extra sheen and higher strength when wet.
- The most common rayon is “viscose,” which loses strength when wet. This can lead to distortion and shrinking.
- Because of this, dry cleaning of viscose rayon is usually recommended. Handwashing is sometimes OK, just avoid wringing, then smooth and shape the fabric and dry flat.
- So if it’s plant-derived, is it biodegradable? According to Wikipedia, Korean researchers found that rayon biodegrades faster than cotton. But that’s the only reference I found.
- According the Kate Fletcher in her book Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys, “the raw material for cellulosic fibres is frequently described as carbon neutral … [but] the rest of the viscose fibre production process has significant environmental implications.”
- According to my very unscientific observations, as recently as a couple years ago, some wonderful rayon prints from the 1940s-50s were available on eBay for a song, but lately it seems like prices have increased significantly.
- When you find vintage rayon for sale it’s often a piece of 2+ yards, since the original buyer likely intended for garment sewing.
Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet on rayon
Fabric Identification on Fabrics.net
“Miracle Fibers: rayon and nylon,” by Joan Kiplinger on Fabrics.net, originally published May/June 2000
What Is Rayon? on WiseGEEK