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Quality Fabric Of The Month

Cotton Delivers

Cotton Incorporated has developed a process to make super-water-repellent, breathable cotton fabrics that compete with leading branded waterproof products.

Janet Bealer Rodie, Assistant Editor

E ver striving to find ways to help cotton compete with performance-delivering man-made fabrics, Cotton Incorporated has developed a process to make a highly water-repellent 100-percent cotton fabric suitable for rainwear and outerwear without sacrificing the fiber's inherent breathability and comfort.

"When it comes to finishing, cotton is the most reactive fiber available," said Dean Turner, senior vice president, Global Product Marketing. He added that Cotton Incorporated markets its developments to a wide range of companies. "We've broadened our reach beyond the mills to include brands and retail products," he said.

An informal wear test comparing the comfort levels of a super-water-repellent cotton canvas jacket and a leading branded waterproof laminated polyester jacket showed the cotton jacket to be quieter and more comfortable.

Kristie J. Phillips, Ph.D., a textile chemist at the Cary, N.C.-based research and development and marketing company, conducted the research on water repellency under the direction of Vikki Martin, manager, Textile Chemistry Research, with funding from the Importer Support Program of the Cotton Board. Phillips said the fabric must compete performancewise with a leading branded waterproof laminated polyester product, and also be less expensive to produce. Therefore, the fabric must be easily obtainable, and conventional manufacturing processes must be used.

Phillips treated a standard 10-ounce cotton canvas - which has a tight fabric construction and is relatively stiff - with a fluorochemical water repellent, a resin to give wrinkle resistance, and other chemical agents. She then softened it mechanically using Biancalani equipment. When tested for water resistance after 10 home-laundry-tumble-dry cycles, the fabric achieved the highest level for apparel, she said.

Phillips noted the treated canvas exhibits a much higher degree of air permeability than the branded waterproof polyester product, and higher even than canvas with no finish applied. It also transmits moisture vapor at a faster rate than both the polyester product and a standard cotton twill fabric that also was treated and evaluated as part of the project. Laid flat to air-dry, the treated canvas dries in approximately one-fifth the time as untreated canvas.

Cotton Incorporated had several jackets constructed from the treated canvas fabric, and conducted an unofficial 30-minute wear test using volunteers in the laboratory to compare the comfort level of the treated canvas jacket with that of a jacket made with the branded fabric. Phillips said those wearing the cotton jackets cooled down faster than those wearing the branded jackets. As well, she noted, the cotton jackets were "quiet," while the others were "crinkly."

"Another advantage of cotton is that no lining is necessary because cotton feels better next to the skin," she added. "And, while the fabric does not meet the test for strict waterproofness, it is super-water-repellent and as such is very suitable for everyday outerwear. The other fabric really is overkill for everyday wear."

For more information about super-water-repellent, breathable cotton, contact Vikki Martin (919) 678-2220.

December 2004