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Science, Maths & Technology

Fabric molecules magnified

Updated Tuesday 8th August 2006

How do we manage to spin clothes out of plastics, worm cocoons and sheep fur?

Wool and silk couldn’t feel more different: wool is spiky and springy, whereas silk is smooth and less elastic.

Yarn made from wool, silk and nylon [Image:girlwparasol under CC-BY-NC-ND licence] Creative commons image Icon girlwparasol via Flickr under Creative-Commons license
Yarn made from wool, silk and nylon [Image:girlwparasol under CC-BY-NC-ND licence]

Wool and silk are natural polymer fibres obtained from animals. Each is made up of fine threads, hundreds of times longer than they are thick.

Both wool and silk are made up of proteins called keratins.

Wool contains alpha-keratin which folds into coiled, helix type structures, whilst silk is made up of beta-keratin which folds backwards and forwards into flat sheet type structures.

Nylon is a synthetic fibre. It’s a polymer that feels smooth like silk but is wholly man-made in its creation.

 

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