Natural fibers are beautiful not only in the world of seeing and touching the fabric but in the microscopic world. Hemp and organic cotton both make great diapers. And wool makes great diaper covers.
All images are taken by the author with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).
Microscopically, the surface of cotton fibers is smooth, with a slight kink, which makes it easy to them weave into a strong fabric.
Cotton is a natural, cellulosic fiber with excellent properties for diapers: it is soft, absorbent, strong, and machine-washable.
Cotton absorbency comes from the fiber surface (which has a high affinity for water) and the fiber core microstructure (which resembles millions of tiny sponge-like tubes).
Microscopically, hemp fibers have a similar structure to that of cotton, with a smooth outer surface and a sponge-like core. The fibers are flatter in profile than cotton and have a slightly segmented appearance (like bamboo). They also have a natural kink that tends towards a gentle spiral.
Hemp is also a natural, cellulosic fiber—just like cotton. The difference between the two is that hemp possesses all of cotton’s beneficial properties to a greater degree. Hemp is three times stronger than cotton, has good abrasion resistance and is washable.
In addition, hemp has some other helpful properties that make it a fine choice for diapers. It is naturally anti-microbial and resistant to mold, mildew, rot and degradation by UV-light.
A slight drawback of hemp, compared to cotton, is that it is not as soft (although it does soften with repeated washing, which cotton does not). This drawback is usually ameliorated by producing a blend of hemp with cotton. This combines the best properties of both fibers.
Wool is a natural protein fiber made from the fleece of sheep. The surface of wool fibers consists of an outer layer of overlapping scales, called cuticles. Water droplets run off this layer easily, which is how sheep stay dry.
Inside the fiber, the structure resembles that of hemp and cotton. This structure will absorb up to 30% of its own weight from moisture in the surrounding environment. When boiled, the fibers kink and enmesh, forming a lofty, water-repellent, breathable fabric.
Wool is a good insulator and uniquely combines the three useful properties of water repellence, moisture absorption and breathability.
Text and images copyright © 2001 – 2017 Marc Pehkonen. All rights reserved.