“I refuse to wear anything that’s polyester or viscose.” Sound familiar? Even if this view isn’t something you adhere to, it’s quite likely a friend does.
I’ve already addressed why it’s time to have a rethink when it comes to polyester, so this time I’m talking viscose (or viscose rayon, or just rayon as it’s commonly known in the US).
Naturally, the best place to start is: what is viscose? I was rather disappointed recently when I read a blogger, purporting to be an authority on fabrics, classified viscose as synthetic. It isn’t. It’s semi-synthetic. Because it derives from wood (and sometimes cotton linters).
Without boring you with all the scientific details, essentially viscose is any fibre that has been made from regenerated cellulose – which is either traditionally from wood and lignin, or just wood (as is the case with newer methods). This goes through several chemical processes until it becomes a viscous yellow solution. Once ‘ripened’, any undissolved particles and bubbles are removed, the solution goes through a final process to become fibres, and any chemical residues are washed away.
Viscose was invented to be an imitation of silk, so it’s unsurprising that it possesses similar qualities to the natural fibre. Its properties are:
absorbent without insulating body heat
soft and smooth to touch
Traditionally viscose can lose up to half its strength when wet (so it’s best to dry clean) and it has low elastic recovery. However, there is now a ‘new generation’ viscose rayon called Lyocell –which still a cellulose fibre made from wood pulp. It is stronger than the traditional fabric and less prone to shrink. If you see the words TENCEL, Modal or Seacell – that’s it. Lyocell drapes well and has a lovely lustre, but is prone to pilling and doesn't absorb dye well if it’s untreated.
So why does viscose have such a bad rep?
Unfortunately, because of its association with chemical processes and it not a ‘natural fibre’ per se, many people dismiss it straight away. Traditionally, man-made fibres haven’t been desirable (for obvious reasons) but technological developments have upgraded these fabrics to becoming potentially just as luxurious as natural ones.
There have been environmental concerns associated with viscose, but generally that’s the case with every fabric (both natural and man-made), and today the processes involved with most modern ‘versions’ tend to be considered eco-friendly. Plus the care involved in viscose is usually less energy intensive than that required for natural fabrics.
What I’ve found through talking to lots of different women is a general surprise when they realise what viscose really is. And when they’ve feel the pieces we offer that are made of it, they always remark on beautiful feel and quality!
Because of the past horrors of synthetics, it’s hardly shocking if you see a fabric name you don't recognise as natural and instantly assume it’s to be avoided. No one wants to wear something that’s sweaty, scratchy and tacky. But that’s why I’ve created the Fabrics Up-Close series – to delve deeper into fabrics and dispel any misnomers.
So give today’s viscose a try because there really are some beautiful pieces out there that use it, and it offers some wonderful properties to clothes unavailable with naturals.