Activity: Compare Fabric Materials



Students will look at different types of fabric and their respective individual properties. Using a magnifying glass and sandpaper they will test the weave of fabrics and the wear quality of sample fabrics. By comparing the qualities of different fabrics they will better understand why there are so many different types of fabric and be able to recongnize or suggest different uses for them.

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY [1 = Least Difficult : 5 = Most Difficult]



30-45 minutes


$5 or less depending on availibility of materials at school.


1.1 Identify materials used to accomplish a design task based on a specific property, i.e. weight, strength, hardness, and flexibility.
2.2 Describe different ways in which a problem can be represented, e.g., sketches, diagrams, graphic organizers, and lists.

How to use a magnifying glass
The structure of fabric
Basic experimental testing skills

WEAR: damage, destruction, or marks of use by scraping or rubbing
"WEAR AND TEAR": the loss or damage that occurs to something in the course of normal use
BREAKTHROUGH: a sudden advance in knowledge or technique; point when a hole is created through a barrier
SANDPAPER: paper with rough material (like sand) fixed on one side and used for smoothing and polishing
MAGNIFYING GLASS: a lens that magnifies objects viewed through it
FABRIC: a woven or knitted material/cloth
WEAVE: any pattern or method of weaving; to make on a loom by lacing together threads going lengthwise with threads going crosswise
THREAD: a thin fine cord formed by spinning and twisting short fibers into a continuous strand
FIBER: a slender and long natural or synthetic unit of material (like wool, cotton, asbestos, gold, glass, or rayon) usually able to be spun into yarn

Cotton comes from a cotton boll plant. Woven cloth made of cotton breathes freely, making it comfortable to wear in many kinds of weather. It can be sewn, woven, heated and pressed easily into flannel or used to make knit fabric. Linen is another type of natural fabric. Linen comes from a flax plant instead of a cotton ball plant. Linen wrinkles very easily, but is lightweight, for optimal use in hot weather. Silk is spun by silk worms and can be either smooth or rough. Finally, wool is made from animal hair.Fabric made of wool can provide tremendous warmth. Often, wool is combined with man-made fibers to make outdoor apparel for cold weather.

Polyester is an example of a synthetic fiber used to make cloth. Polyester was popular when first introduced because of the ease of cleaning, durability and wrinkle-free appearance. However, unlike cotton, fiber made of pure polyester does not breath freely, trapping body heat and moisture, which can make it uncomfortable. Rayon is a more delicate fabric, but its soft draping quality can look like linen. Rayon is more absorbant than polyester, so it is more comfortable to wear. Another fabric, nylon is often a part of many fabrics that stretch, like undergarments and swim suits. Acrylic is another material that can be made into fabric. Acrylic can be used as a wool substitute, since it is warm and does not wrinkle easily. Often, acrylic is found in winter outdoor apparel.

For a more challenging activity, a discussion about the types of fabric and their various weave designs can be included.

RESOURCES: - good descriptions of different types of fabric - provides links to sites dealing with natural fibers - gives descriptions of different synthetic fibers - describes different types of weaves
MATERIALS: (per group)
magnifying glass
three different pieces of fabric (i.e. nylon stocking, light weight cotton, denim)
baseball or heavy ball
extra coarse sandpaper
rubber band
Obtain materials
Cut each fabric into 4 ¼" x 11" pieces.
Photocopy the "Fabric Wear and Tear" chart. (see link)


Part One: Observation

1. Put studnets in groups of two.
2. Give each group one piece of each type of fabric.
3. Have the students use a magnifying glass to look closely at each fabric.
4. Instruct each group to draw what each fabric weave looks like on the data sheet.

Part Two: Fabric Wear and Tear

5. Give each group a baseball or heavy ball.
6. Have each group wrap one of their pieces of fabric tightly around the ball and secure with a rubber band. (Note: The tighter the fabric is, the faster the experiment progress.)
7. Within each group, one partner should secure a piece of sandpaper (rough side up), while the other partner drags the ball across it. DO NOT PRESS DOWN on the ball, just let the weight of the ball drag once across the sandpaper.
8. Student should use the magnifying glass to observe the area where the fabric was dragged across the sandpaper. Question for discussion: Was there any wear after just one scrape?
9. Students should continue to test the fabric one scrape at a time. After each successive scrape, examine the area with the magnifying glass, counting each scrape until you notice some wear on the fabric. Make a tick mark on the data sheet for each scrape.
10. When students notice some wear on the fabric, have them count and record the number of scrapes in the chart under "First Wear" for the tested fabric.
11. Have the students continue scraping the fabric and counting each scrape until they notice a hole or tear.
12. Record the number of scrapes in the chart under "Breakthrough" for that fabric.
13. Repeat steps 6 -12 for each of the other two fabrics.

What makes fabrics different?
Which fabrics are the strongest?
Why do certain parts of your clothes, such as the knees of pants or the elbows of shirts, wear faster than other parts?
Which fabric needed the most scrapes to show the first signs of wear?
Which fabric needed the least scrapes to show the first signs of wear?
Which fabric lasted the longest between the first signs of wear and the breakthrough point?
Which fabric qualities do you think were the most important for the durability of the fabric (e.g. type of fiber in the thread, strength of the thread, type or tightness of the weave)?

Richards, Roy. An Early Start to Technology from Science. London: Simon & Schuster, 1990, pp. 66-67.

The Best of WonderScience: Elementary Science Activities. Albany: Delmar Publishers, 1997, pp. 110.*

A Beginner's Guide to Fabrics. Online. [24 July 2001].

*Adapted with permission from The Best of Wonderscience, Copyright 1997, American Chemical Society Published by Wadsworth Publishing, Inc.. If you enjoyed this activity check out, Your Science Place in Cyberspace, for free elementary physical science activities.


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See Associated Download.