I’ll be recovering my patio furniture soon and need a strong fabric. Something that can survive the outside life and still look good. But which material should I go for? Should I go natural or synthetic? What is the strongest fabric material?
The strongest fabric material available is polyethylene. It’s a synthetic, lightweight fiber, able to withstand strengths up to 2.4 Gpa (gigapascals). Next in line are natural fabrics. Flax-based linen is the strongest plant-based fabric. While spider silk is the strongest animal-based fiber.
Polyethylene may be the strongest fabric material, but is it the right one for your project? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the pros and cons of strong synthetics and natural fibers. Comparing both to find out what is the strongest fabric material.
What Is a Strong and Durable Fabric?
Strong and durable fabric is one that can withstand heavy or regular use without being damaged. When you think of a strong, durable fabric, it’s easy to be drawn towards heavyweight fabrics. Materials like upholstery fabric or canvas are both contenders for being strong and durable.
While it’s true most strong and durable fabrics tend to be heavier materials like denim, duck cloth, and corduroy, it’s not always the case. Some lighter fabrics can also be strong or durable. Take linen and silk, for instance, or synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester.
Linen is incredibly durable but can crease easily and be a pain to iron. Silk is strong and can be used for bedsheets, so it will take regular use with ease. However, it does require some tender loving care, especially when it comes to laundry time. Synthetic fabrics are strong, but most are heat intolerant.
The thing is, a fabric being strong doesn’t necessarily mean it’s durable. Although the two terms, strong and durable, are used interchangeably, there is a slight difference. That difference is usually down to the weave of the fabric for natural fibers and the chemical properties for synthetics.
Most Durable and Strongest Fabric Materials
When it comes to choosing a durable and strong fabric, you have two options. Fabrics can be made from natural fibers like silk and cotton or synthetics like polyester and nylon. Each group has fabrics that are stronger than others in the same band. Let’s take a look at both and see which synthetic or natural fiber comes out on top.
Most Durable Synthetic Fabric
PolyesterA fabric made from polyethylene terephthalate, polyester is a PE derivative you can buy from your local store. Polyester has been around for years. It first became popular as a garment fabric back in the 1970s.
Originally polyester was derided as being too much like plastic. Cold and artificial, it made the wearer sweat in hot weather. This caused the fabric to stick to the skin. Not only that, but the fabric had no insulation properties meaning it was useless in cold weather.
The fabric has come a long way since those early days. Modern polyesters are more comfortable to wear and it is becoming more difficult to tell a polyester from a natural fiber. Fleece, for instance, is so much like wool it can be hard to tell it’s a synthetic material.
Polyester can be heat-molded into pleats or have decorative shapes and patterns cut into it with lasers. It’s stain-resistant and repels water, making it an ideal fabric for outerwear, particularly rain protection. As one of the more popular synthetics, it can be used to create dresses, pants, tops, skirts, and coats. Used on its own or as a blend with a natural fiber like cotton, polyester is a wardrobe staple.
PolyethylenePolyethylene, also known as PE, is a thermoplastic polymer. There is more than one type of polyethylene, from Low-Density, or LDPE, to High-Density, HDPE. The density refers to the level of crystalline structure that makes up each one. This difference in crystalline density makes the different polyethylenes suitable for different functions.
Low-Density PE is used for plastic bags and plastic film coverings. This type can stretch under strain, so it has a low strength level. High-Density PE is a lot more robust. This is the kind you find in milk cartons and cutting boards. With a higher crystalline level, this one is a lot stronger.
An extremely dense version of PE is known as Ultrahigh Molecular Weight Polyethylene, or UHMW. This form of PE creates threads with a tensile strength greater than steel. It’s this characteristic that makes polyethylene the strongest fabric material.
At the moment, polyethylene isn’t available from the local fabric store. Its main use is for bulletproof equipment, so it can’t be purchased as a material a home sewist can use.
As with most synthetic materials, PE repels water. It runs off it like water on a duck’s back, which is fine if you use PE in a plastic bag. If PE was used as a textile, any sweat from the wearer would be trapped next to the skin. This would make wearing PE-derived garments very uncomfortable.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are looking into making Polyethylene the fabric of the future. It is hoped that it will become a self-cooling material ideal for sportswear and sneakers. The technology could see plastic carrier bags becoming fashionable clothing. Not only would this reduce waste, but the PE fabric could be washed easily in cold water, making Polyethylene a great candidate for a sustainable fabric.
Synthetic Fabric Pros:
- Relatively inexpensive depending on the synthetic
- Durable and strong
- Resistant to stains, shrinking, wrinkling, and abrasions
Synthetic Fabric Cons:
- Heat intolerant
- Easily damaged by sunlight
- Can pill if handled roughly
- Can feel cold and artificial when worn
- Does not breathe
Strong Natural Fabric Materials
LinenPlant-based and as old as the hills, linen has been a wardrobe favorite for generations. Linen is derived from the flax plant and is known for its longevity, strength, and durability. Linen fabric can withstand frequent washing and regular wear. In fact, the more a linen garment is worn and the older the fabric gets, the softer it is to wear. This fabric is at its best when it has a lived-in look.
Known for being breathable and cooling in warm climates, linen is hypo-allergenic, anti-bacterial, and easy to wear. Less structured than cotton, linen can be used to create loose-fitting clothing, which is ideal for hot weather.
A recent scientific test found linen to be around 30% stronger than cotton. This makes it the strongest plant-based fiber available. It does, however, have a slight downside. This fabric will crease as soon as you look at it. You need to be best buddies with an iron if you want linen clothing.
Spider SilkSilk is synonymous with the silkworm, but that isn’t the only animal that can produce the strong, fine fibers used to create it. Spider silk is known to be the strongest animal-based fiber you can get. That’s right, you can get silk from spiders.
The silk from spiders is tougher than silk from a silkworm and has a slightly stronger elasticity. It’s also waterproof, which opens it up to use in a wider range of applications than silk from silkworms.
One thin strand of spider silk is stronger than a steel beam. This isn’t surprising when you think about what a spider can do with the silk they spin. Spiders use it for shelter, transport, and for trapping their food.
Although silk from silkworms is the more common variety, spider silk has been used for centuries. The Greeks and Romans used silk from spider webs to stop wounds from bleeding. Harvesting the silk from spiders is problematic. Spiders are carnivorous, so they can’t be kept in farm conditions. They’d eat each other.
Because of this, imitation spider silk is being developed. The uses for artificial silk include artificial ligaments, surgical sutures, and tissue repair. Medicinal applications still feature highly in the world of spider silk.
Natural Fabric Pros:
- Strong and durable
Natural Fabric Cons:
- Can wrinkle easily
- Can be expensive
- Can take a long time to dry
- Prone to damage by pests
Alternative Strong Fabric Material Types
There are other strong fabric materials available. They each range in strength and durability. Although not as strong or durable as the ones listed above, the following options are great alternatives.
A stiff and rigid material, the canvas can be used to make bags, awnings, sails, and seat covers. It comes in a selection of different weights in either a twill or basket weave. Canvas can be made from natural or synthetic fibers and has a slightly ribbed surface.
Although you can make garments out of the canvas, it isn’t as popular or as comfortable to wear as denim. It is, however, one of the most durable fabrics available.
Chenille fabric has an all-over texture of fuzzy tufts that look a bit like caterpillars. Thought to have originated in 18th Century France, the fabric can be made from silk, rayon, cotton, or synthetic fibers. Its name is the French word for caterpillar.
The pile effect created by the multitude of little tufts gives a super-soft sleek fabric. So not only is this fabric durable, but it’s also incredibly comfortable to wear.
A coated fabric is one with a special finish or coating. Normally the coating gives a material extra qualities like water resistance or protection against rips and tears. Both manmade and natural fiber materials can be coated. The coating is always made from a synthetic substance.
Used for outerwear like raincoats, the coating gives the fabric an almost plastic-like feel. Having a plastic coating can reduce the overall strength of the fabric, but the extra resilience against sunlight or moisture gives the fabric greater longevity.
This fabric, also known as a cord, has a ribbed texture made up of ridges and dips. The dips are known as wales. Cord fabric has a range of different wale sizes. One of the narrowest is needlecord.
Cord can be used to make jackets, bags, hats, and jean-style pants. It is also durable enough for upholstery. Just like denim, it’s a firm favorite for hardwearing apparel and accessories.
Probably one of the most versatile fabrics available today, denim can be used for jeans, jackets, dresses, and skirts. Incredibly durable, denim has been a popular fabric for working clothes for decades. This heavy twill weave can withstand rough use and regular washing.
The longevity of denim makes it a firm favorite for recycling or upcycling into something else. For instance, used jeans are regularly turned into bags, bedspreads, and quilts.
The name duck cloth comes from the Dutch word ‘doek’, which means linen canvas. Known for its durability, this fabric has been used for generations. Although duck cloth has been used for clothing in the past, these days, it tends to be reserved for bags, sails, hammocks and tents.
A close relative to canvas, duck cloth has many of the same properties. It’s coarse, stiff, and incredibly hardwearing. Duck cloth also comes in a range of weights to suit different projects.
This fabric originated in Turkey. It is a heavyweight fabric with a ribbed texture similar to corduroy. The main difference between the two, corduroy ribs follow the straight grain of the fabric while Ottoman ribs run along the width.
Ottoman material is tightly woven and comes in a variety of ribs sizes, from wide to narrow. The overall appearance of the fabric is slightly more shiny than corduroy. Used for coats and upholstery, this fabric is durable and hardwearing.
Fleece is the synthetic equivalent of wool fabric. Designed to imitate wool, polyester fleece is synthetic, so it is easier to care for. It doesn’t shrink or pull out of shape when wet. Nor does it become scratchy.
This fabric is used mainly for cold-weather garments. Its insulating properties make it an ideal lining fabric for winter jackets and coats. Used on its own for sweaters and hoodies, it makes a fantastic fabric for garments designed to be layered.
Suede & Sueded Fabric
Suede is the underside of animal skin. It’s the soft, fuzzy side of the leather. Usually made from the hide of cows, deer, and sheep, suede is used for coats, vests, and hats. Sueded fabric is a synthetic material designed to imitate suede. It has the same look and feel like real suede.
Because it’s animal skin, suede is incredibly strong. It’s not very durable, though. Both manmade and natural suede can be easily damaged by moisture. Suede needs tender care to keep it in tip-top condition.
Tweed is a popular fabric for country-style clothing. Manufacturers like Burburry are famous for their use of wool tweed in their clothing collections.
Durable, strong, and more importantly, warm, wool tweed is the go-to fabric for outerwear in cold climates. Ideal for jackets, coats, bags, and hats, this fabric conjures images of landed gentry or gentleman farmers.
When To Use Strong Fabric Material?
You should use a strong fabric material when your project needs extra strength and durability. Or for projects you want to last for a long time.
If you are making new covers for your upholstery, you’ll need a heavy-duty fabric. Sofas and chairs are used regularly and need a covering that can take the weight of a human and the friction caused by wriggling while watching the TV.
Outdoor chair covers like my patio furniture need a fabric that can take the rigors of everyday use. They also need a weatherproof fabric. Being outside means they are exposed to the elements. Even in summer, constant sunshine and heat can take their toll on fabric. Only a strong and durable one will survive.
Hard-wearing garments used for manual work also need a strong fabric. So does fabric used for boat sails and tarpaulins. In fact, anything that needs to withstand harsh or heavy use needs a fabric that can take a beating.
You can also use strong fabrics for light use. Summer clothing made out of linen is not only cool and comfortable, but it’s also hardwearing. It will last season after season.
What Is the Most Durable Fabric for Clothing?The most durable fabric for clothing is linen. With all the benefits of natural fiber, it can withstand regular use and gets softer with age.
Linen is hypo-allergenic, breathable, and absorbs moisture making it super comfy when the temperature rises.
Not only that, but it’s also anti-microbial, meaning it’s resistant to bacteria. That means it won’t get smelly in the washing basket as a synthetic fabric would.
Able to withstand frequent washes and heat, this fabric gets stronger when it’s wet with properties like that it beats synthetic fabrics for durability, hands down.
What Is the Strongest Fabric in the World?
The strongest fabric in the world is Polyethylene or PE for short. PE is a crystalline structure that can be formed into different densities to make a variety of weights. Each weight is used for a different product, from plastic bottles and bags to bulletproof equipment.
PE used in armor and fishing gear was originally known as Cuben Fiber. Now known as Dyneema, it’s taking a break into the outdoor gear market. At the moment, it is becoming popular as a lightweight material for backpacks.
An Ultra-High Molecular Weight polyethylene, Dyneema is the strongest thermoplastic, superlight fiber available. With a tensile strength 15 times greater than steel yet light enough to float on water, this fabric is more than the strongest fabric in the world. It’s also touted as being the fabric of the future.
Is There Bulletproof Fabric?
Yes, there are bulletproof fabrics. It’s not something you can buy from your local fabric store, though. Bulletproof materials are specialist fabrics and normally come ready-made into bulletproof clothing.
Kevlar is probably the most well-known bulletproof fabric. It’s a lightweight synthetic material that is strong and heat resistant. This fabric is so lightweight; it has become the go-to choice for wearable protection from bullets.
Another material known for bullet stopping power is polyethylene. Reliable, affordable, and moisture-resistant, polyethylene is an inexpensive plastic known to perform better than kevlar at stopping some bullets.
Polyethylene is the world’s strongest fabric material. But, it’s not easy to come by for use in home projects. This may change in the future. For now, Linen, silk, and polyester make great alternatives.
Let me know in the comments if this article has helped you choose a strong and durable fabric for your project. Have you ever used a backpack made from Dyneema? Are you looking forward to using PE as a home fabric in the future?