If you are a keen painter and spend a lot of time in the world of arts and crafts, acrylic is a term that you are probably very familiar with. We see it as a solid plastic and as liquid paint, but have you ever considered how much acrylic there may be in your clothing?
Acrylic is everywhere and in more items of clothing than you might suspect. If you go to your wardrobe and go through some of your sweatshirts and winter wear, you might find that there is at least a small percentage of acrylic in there. So, what is acrylic? How is it made and how can we take advantage of it in our sewing and crafting projects?
What is Acrylic Fabric?
Acrylic fabrics are synthetic materials created from a man-made yarn. Often, this yarn is knitted into a material to mimic wool for outerwear. You can also find other sheets of acrylic for items of clothing or practical use. Acrylic is also an important part of a range of other materials from paint to carpeting.
How is Acrylic Fabric Made?
As acrylic fabric is a synthetic material, it needs to be created from plastics in a processing plant. There is a long process involved in turning the basic materials into sheets or fibers for yarn. The polymers involved are extruded carefully, spun into fibers, and then processed and treated to become the final material. Any material created has to have a composition of at least 85% acrylonitrile for the material to be classed as acrylic.
Acrylic Fabrics Used In “Woolen” Winter Wear
A common application for acrylic material is winter wear because of the different benefits mentioned below. You can find a range of sweaters, sweater dresses, and other more thermal products like hoodies with acrylic in them. They may not be 100% acrylic. But, many manufacturers will add a good percentage of acrylic to polyester to create a more advantageous blend. You can find items in all kinds of colors and styles. This goes for scarves, hats, and gloves too.
Knitting With Acrylic Yarn
This creation of acrylic yarn as a spun material means that you can get balls of the stuff for use in your own projects. Yarn doesn’t just mean wool or similar fibers from goats, alpacas, and other farmed animals. If you can spin a material into long twisted strands ready for weaving and knitting, you have yarn. The spun materials created in acrylic processing plants are easily packaged in the same way for use in both commercial and personal ventures.
Acrylic yarn is, therefore, a great synthetic alternative to those animal-based products. While some will question the environmental implications of using a material like this in clothing, and the processes involved, others like the idea of reducing their reliance on animal products in their clothing. Keen knitters can switch out their wool for a ball of acrylic yarn and get some similar results in terms of feel and warmth. This is a great idea when making gifts for other people.
Is Acrylic Yarn Better Than Other Materials?
Knitting with acrylic yarn isn’t necessarily any better than using wool if you have no concerns about the origin of the material. Some people find that it is a nice affordable alternative with great durability and color options. Others prefer the natural softness of wool. More generally, there are other benefits and disadvantages to using acrylic fabric, as you will see below.
An alternative option here is to look for yarn that is a blend, rather than exclusively acrylic, wool, or anything else. This is a great way of finding something affordable and durable but with a little extra softness or stretch. You can also look out for acrylic in the best hand knitting yarn. This is a great way to use this synthetic material to create oversized blankets for winter.
The Benefits of Acrylic Fabric
There are advantages in choosing acrylic, either in store-bought clothing or when making your own items at home. Acrylic is one of the more durable materials and can ensure that anything you knit lasts a little longer. Acrylic is also warmer than wool as it is dense and less breathable. This means that you can feel the benefits more easily when out in the cold. Those living in areas with harsh winters could see a big difference.
There is also the fact that acrylic doesn’t shrink in the same way as wool. Therefore, there are fewer concerns about machine washing acrylic items. However, it should also be noted that acrylic sweaters can stretch out quite easily with time or rough handling. So, you still need to be careful with these garments. The plastics in acrylic also don’t respond well to high heat as there is a melting point. This means it is best not to dry these materials in the dryer.
The Disadvantages of Acrylic Fabric
One of the additional disadvantages of acrylic is the lack of breathability. While this can be helpful for trapping heat in insulating clothing, it can make these items more uncomfortable than anything made from wool. Wool can be lighter and more easily layered as needed.
Another downside is the environmental implication of creating a synthetic material in a factory. This can require a lot of energy and water, especially when the materials are dyed and spun into the final pieces of yarn. There is also the fact that plastics don’t biodegrade in the same way as wool and cotton.
The Popularity of Acrylic as a Plastic and Material
Acrylic isn’t just a popular material for yarn and knitting sweaters. You can find acrylic in a wide range of products where the strong synthetic fibers can mimic the natural softness and hold the right color. A good example of this is carpeting. We saw before how acrylic yarn and materials are ideal for cozy throws and winter wear. But, they also make great piles for carpets and rugs. If you want to sit on the floor and mindlessly run your fingers through a thick faux fur rug as you drink your cocoa this winter, chances are that it will be an acrylic rug. You can also find these softer fibers in wigs and hair extensions.
Then there are all the times when we use acrylic as a hard plastic rather than a lighter fabric. This shows how the structure and treatment of these polymer strands can play a big part in the properties of the material. There are applications from industrial sectors and aeronautics to personal electronics and more. The plastic of your false nails could also be acrylic, which may explain the familiar feel of the material and the bold range of colors.
Acrylic As a Paint
Many of us will be more familiar with acrylic as a paint. The plastics within the paint give it completely different properties to other common paints. Artists that prefer to work in acrylic love the fast drying process and the way that the paint hardens with dense blocks of color. It is great for quicker projects where you aren’t waiting ages for a section to dry – as with oils – where there is a risk of moving or muddying the paint. It is also far more vibrant than watercolors. If you leave some paint to dry on a palette and then peel it off, you can notice the tacky feel and elasticity that comes from the polymers.
Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Fabric?
Of course, if you are an artist, you are probably also familiar with the problem of getting acrylic paint on your clothes. The fast-drying paint means that the polymers and pigments bond with the fabric pretty quickly and is a pain to get off. Removing acrylic paint isn’t impossible, and you can learn more in our guide: does acrylic paint wash off?
But what if you want to deliberately use acrylic paint to decorate a piece of clothing or an accessory? Fabric paint does exist as a way of adding design to garments, bags, shoes, and more. But, the properties and color of acrylic paint make it seem like the perfect addition to clothing. The downside to this is that it will harden on the surface rather than seeping into the fibers. But, you can still get some interesting effects. The designs might not last too long. It all depends on how you care for the pieces.
Acrylic Is More Common And Practical Than You Might Assume
So, as you can see, acrylic is all around us. We can not only find it in a range of synthetic blends for winter wear, but use acrylic yarn and acrylic paint for a more hands-on experience with the material. Acrylic isn’t perfect, and may not be the ideal alternative to wool in all situations, but it can be comfortable, durable, and affordable. Get to know which items you own are acrylic, care for them properly, and consider using acrylic paint and yarn yourself in some interesting projects.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and fond memory for all of us.