Man-Made Fibers: Rayon

One of the first synthetic fibers produced in the United States, rayon, may be one of my favorite synthetics!  If you have spun anything blended with bamboo fiber, you’ve spun a rayon.

Rayons (by their current definition) were first produced in 1894 by Charles Frederic Cross, Edward John Bevan and Clayton Beadle.  They named their product viscose and marketed as artificial silk.  In 1910, it was brought to the United States, where the term “rayon” caught on.

Rayons bridge the space between natural and synthetic fibers.  Rayons are made by forcing regenerated cellulose through a mechanical spinneret, which forms the cellulose into fibers.  Usually made with wood pulp, rayon can be made with any cellulose matter, including rose, aloe, or mint (which we happen to carry here!)

Bamboo has fallen under some controversy in the last decade.  In 2010, a number of companies received a hand slap from the U.S. Federal trade commission for labeling their products as bamboo, making them seem more environmentally friendly than they actually are.  Companies were ordered to label their products as “rayon” or “rayon from bamboo.”  In the fiber world full of indie artists and small businesses, you will often still find it listed as bamboo.

Rayons are a popular blending fiber for hand-spinners, often used as an alternative to silk, sometimes for price point, sometimes for its specific properties.  Because they are slick and shorter-stapled than silk, they are not often spun alone.  However, most rayons, when spun by themselves, will make a yarn with great luster and drape.

Geoffrey Owen (9 September 2010). The Rise and Fall of Great Companies: Courtaulds and the Reshaping of the Man-Made Fibres Industry. OUP/Pasold Research Fund.

Lipka, M. (2016, July 15). Bamboo-zled: FTC says retailers fibbed about bamboo product claims. Retrieved September 12, 2018, from


2 comments on “Man-Made Fibers: Rayon”

  1. maylin Reply

    I understand that viscose is not kind to the environment in it’s production but that Tencel (just another label I believe?) has made efforts to reduce any negative impact. Do you know if this is correct? I confess Merino/Tencel is one of my favorite fibres to spin.

    I am finding it a minefield trying to make the right decisions – on the one hand there is the vegan lobby which effectively promotes synthetics as well as plant fibres, on the other hand some of these fibres go through quite destructive processes. Where is the middle path?

    • luthvarian Reply

      This is both a brilliant and impossible to clearly answer question. With most of these synthetics, you will hear pros and cons from all angles. Manufacturers often tout the eco-friendliness of their process at the same time that environmental groups are tearing them down. And even within the broad categories, different manufacturers use different methods to produce the same materials. For example, the superwash process is often criticized for its waste water management techniques. Chargeurs Wool US, which produces US superwash fibers, has its own waste water treatment facility and focuses on environmental best practices. What does this really mean to the end consumer? How do you know which company that particular fiber came from, especially when a secondary company has come along to blend it with other fibers or dye it. There is no clear cut answer and no real transparency in the industry.

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