Acetate fabric is a man-made fibre that is commonly used for making garments and draping for home furnishings. Cellulose acetate (the scientific name) originates from cellulose the fibres of deconstructed wood pulp or cotton. It was first created in the early 20th century by a pair of Swiss doctors, who were also brothers, Camille and Henri Dreyfus.
The first commercial production of acetate was in 1918 in the UK under the trademark name ‘Celanese’. In the United States, celanese was first spun commercially in 1924.
The texture of acetate fabric feels soft or crisp, with a very silk-like appearance. It has a lovely drape with minimal static cling and no pilling problems. The fabric is highly resistant to water absorption and dries off quickly. Although the material can be washed in water, dry cleaning is a better option for maintaining the quality. It is resilient to mildew, moths and shrinks only a little. The fibre dyes and colour prints fairly easily, and remains colourfast during dry cleaning and against perspiration stains. However, the colours will fade fast if the textile is not properly dyed.
For clothing, acetate is frequently used to make occasions clothing such as bridal attire and party dresses, due to its lustre, dye-fastness and excellent drape. It also breathes well and is very comfortable to wear. The fibre’s heat retention and non-allergenic qualities are poor and so it doesn’t make an ideal material for thermal and hypoallergenic clothing.
When wearing acetate clothes, care should be taken not apply perfumes and alcohol-based deodorants directly onto the material as they do not clean off easily. Nail polish stains are also difficult to take off.
This fibre is also widely used to make linings for garments, where it is known as ‘taffeta lining’. Woven taffeta linings resist shrinkage and dry quickly. They can be hand-washed although care should be taken to use warm water and to wring out the water very lightly so as to avoid stubborn wrinkles. In most cases the outer shell requires dry-cleaning which is also the best method for the acetate lining.
The soft texture of taffeta makes it more comfortable for the wearer against the outer shell of clothes such as woollen jackets and fur coats. Taffeta lining drapes well as an inner lining, while adding style and eye-catching colours to insides of garments. The low water retention means taffeta can draw away moisture and oil from the body. Compared to polyester, taffeta linings are preferred because they are less damp and sticky, and feel lighter in weight.
Seasoned tailors and seamstresses will tell you that care should be taken with the use of pins as it’s difficult to remove the pin-hole marks from acetate materials.
Acetate has a broad range of uses in the world of home furnishings. Curtains, drapery, upholstery and bedspreads are just some examples of textiles made from this fabric. The manufacture of acetate by reusing waste wood pulp makes this an ‘eco-friendly fabric’.
Cellulose acetate is also biodegradable and can be burned or made into compost. Moreover, the acetone solvent used in the manufacturing process is up to 95% recoverable and is biodegradable.