Students come to understand the basics of engineering associated with the use, selection, and properties of fabrics. A wide variety of natural and synthetic fibers are used in our clothing, home furnishings and in our travel and sports equipment. The specific material chosen for each application depends on how closely the properties of the material match the design needs. This activity focuses on the different characteristics of fabrics and shows students how natural and synthetic fabrics differ from one another. Students weigh the advantages and disadvantages of fabrics when considering the appropriate fabric to be used.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- G. Requirements for design are made up of criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Massachusetts: Science
- 2.1 Identify and explain the steps of the engineering design process, i.e., identify the need or problem, research the problem, develop possible solutions, select the best possible solution(s), construct a prototype, test and evaluate, communicate the solution(s), and redesign. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 1.1 Given a design task, identify appropriate materials (e.g., wood, paper, plastic, aggregates, ceramics, metals, solvents, adhesives) based on specific properties and characteristics (e.g., weight, strength, hardness, and flexibility). (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Use engineering terms involving decisions related to advantages and disadvantages of process and products.
- Analyze a product to determine the need it was designed to meet and the customer(s) it was mean to attract.
- Invent a product to meet a need.
- Use science, math and engineering principles to design and optimize the product.
- one 8" x 6" sample of six types of fabrics. Provide the following natural fabrics to test: cotton, linen, silk. Provide the following synthetic fabrics: polyester, nylon, rayon. Use a permanent marker to write the fabric name on each sample.
- balance, either a beam balance or an electronic balance accurate to 0.01g.
- watch with a second hand
- 250ml beaker
- ½ teaspoon
- paper towels
- Worksheet A: Lab Instruction Sheet
- Worksheet B: Strength Test Diagram
- Worksheet C: Characteristics of Fabrics
|synthetic fiber:||An artificial fiber produced by combining chemicals or altering natural fibers.|
|cellulose:||Long chains of glucose that make up the cell walls of plants.|
|regenerated:||Chemical process that turns natural cellulose into a liquid that is then re-treated and extruded as a fiber.|
|nylon:||Material based on synthetic resin.|
|polyester:||Synthetic material formed from plastic.|
|rayon:||Synthetic material based on regenerated cellulose. (Sometimes considered a semi-synthetic because it is neither a truly synthetic fiber nor a natural fiber.)|
With the Students
- Divide the class into groups of 2, 3 or 4 students each, depending on materials availability. Have students brainstorm a list of fabric types.
- Give each group the following: Worksheet A: Lab Instruction Sheet and the lab materials identified on Worksheet A and Worksheet B: Strength Test Diagram.
- Have each group perform the three tests on the fabric samples that are described on Worksheet A. The strength test must be done first. The permeability and absorbency tests are then done on the divided fabric samples.
- After the groups have completed the tests, come to a consensus as a class about the results.
- Pass out the attached Worksheet C: Characteristics of Fabrics. Have students add the results of their tests to the characteristics already listed.
- Lead a discussion on the ways that natural fibers differ from synthetic ones. Ask students whether they think rayon is natural or synthetic. This leads to a discussion of the differences between synthetic fibers from chemicals versus those regenerated from cellulose.
- Propose the following design challenge: The Department of Agriculture has proposed that fabrics with seeds embedded in them be used to ensure proper seed spacing. Other advantages of this method include no seed loss to birds, a reduction in soil loss, and reducing weeds in the crops.
- Based on their research, have students recommend which material the seeded fabric should be made from. Groups should be prepared to discuss their choices, backing up their decisions with information about the characteristics of the fibers.
- Conclude with a class discussion about how students approached the problem like engineers.
- Along with justifying the best design, did students consider the impact to the environment? What does it take to create the fabric? Is the fabric you selected biodegradable?
- What other characteristics of fibers would be valuable to investigate? (Some other characteristics are abrasion resistance, stain resistance, biodegradability, and shape retention.)
- T-shirts are often made of a 50/50 blend of polyester and cotton. What advantage exist with a blend rather than a 100% cotton shirt? (Two advantages are that adding polyester makes the material less absorbent and more resistant to shrinkage. What would be best for use as a table napkin or a bathroom towel?)
- Why do the prices of fabrics vary so much? Fabric prices vary because they depend on availability of the raw materials, manufacturing costs, and supply and demand pressures.
Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia CD. Fiber, polyester, nylon.
© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2001 WEPAN/Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Making the Connection, Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network (WEPAN)
Last modified: April 24, 2015