Apexmills Blog

Everything You Need to Know About Elastic Fabrics

Elastic fabrics are ever-present in our daily life.  Flexible, stretchy, malleable, elastic fabrics can form around a shape when force is applied. When force is removed, elastic fabrics recover to their original size and shape. Medical compression supports, socks, post-surgical garments, undergarments, sports apparel, athleisure, and swimsuits are only a sampling of the many applications where stretch, comfortable fit, and form are required.

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These flexible fabrics undergo a complex production process to achieve their many uses. In a snapshot – elastic fabrics start with fibers that are spun into a yarn, knitted into a fabric, then refined in a dyeing and finishing process depending on the application, inspected, tested, and ready for its end-use.

Elastic yarns fabrics are made from polymers, and other materials that are heated, extruded, or twisted, and bound into yarn. These can be knit, woven, or braided together.

What Is Elastic Yarn?

On the world stage, elastics are referred to in many ways: elastic, elastane, elastomeric, or spandex. Commonly referred to names like elastane and spandex describe branded textiles like Lycra®. Elastic fabric may be formed from fibrous materials that have flexible properties. Elastic isn’t technically a material itself but describes its stretchy, flexible, and resilient characteristics to recover after elongation. The measurement of an elastic fabric’s resistance to force is expressed as its “modulus”. An elastic fabric can have high or low modulus.  Elastic fabrics have a low modulus as they elongate (stretch) easily versus rigid fabrics that have a high modulus.

An elastic fabric may contain an elastomer — such as natural or synthetic rubber, certain polyurethanes, or some silicones — on its own or in combination with other textile materials.
A piece of clothing with an elastic additive can easily return or recover to its original shape after being stretched.

What Is Elastic Made of?

Below are some common types of elastomers used to make elastic yarns and fabrics:

  • Spandex: A special type of synthetic elastomeric material containing polyurethane (soft) and polyurea (hard) segments. This material is known for its flexibility, and form-fitting comfort properties. It’s commonly used to add stretching, elongation or compression capabilities for clothing, hygiene products, hosiery, and socks. Consumers will be most familiar with the branded name for spandex as Lycra®, made by The Lycra Company.
  • Neoprene: Neoprene is a synthetic rubber also called poly(chloroprene). It retains flexibility over a broad temperature range and offers good chemical stability. Manufacturers frequently use neoprene for industrial belts, wetsuits, cable jackets, gaskets, seals, orthopedic braces, and tubing.
  • Polyurethanes: Elastomeric polyurethanes provide comfort and durability for home furnishings like bedding, furniture, and carpet underlay. They can also be used to manufacture items like footwear, watch straps and thermal insulation.
  • Rubber: Natural and synthetic rubber have high tensile strength, elasticity, and abrasion resistance. These elastomers are commonly used in the automotive industry, in applications such as tires, vehicle suspension systems, and windshield wiper blades. They’re also used to manufacture balloons, medical tubes, and adhesives.
  • Silicone: Due to their high thermal and chemical resistance, silicone elastomers are used to manufacture medical equipment like prostheses, implants, and surgical tubing. They can also be used for electrical appliances, seals, and hoses.
  • Nylon 11: A sustainable elastomeric made from castor bean seeds — Nylon 11 is a polyamide, bioplastic, and a member of the nylon family known for superior elongation, break resistance and recovery. Applications include soles of footwear, racket sports for racket strings, and apparel.


How Are Elastic Fibers and Yarn Made?

A prepolymer serves as the foundation of elastic yarns and textiles. Combined with solvents for easy handling, the material is pushed through a device called a spinneret, which resembles a showerhead with tiny holes. These holes transform the solution into fibers. The manufacturer then heats these fibers with a solvent gas and nitrogen solution, which turns the liquid polymer into solid strands.

Next, the manufacturer bundles these strands together as they exit the spinning cell. A compressed air device helps twist the fibers together to produce a yarn with a wide range of thicknesses.

Applications of Elastic Textiles

Elastic textiles have an incredibly wide variety of applications. Below are a few of many examples:

  • Medical uses: Using an elastic fabric in post-surgical garments, bandages, braces, compression sleeves, socks, and bindings, can reduce stiffness to allow a wide range of body movements, while providing a comfortable fit.
  • Undergarments and socks: Elastic fabrics are commonly used in undergarments, hosiery, and socks for men and women.
  • Swimwear: Manufacturers often use elastic fabrics to make swimwear for formfitting, two-way stretch capabilities. Some of these fabrics can even be chlorine resistant.
  • Athleisure: Elastic fabrics can be used to make yoga pants, leggings, running shirts, bike shorts and other athletic apparel
  • Camping gear:  Elastic textiles are frequently used in camping equipment such as tents, sleeping bags and rain jackets.

Elastic textiles are useful in any situation where fabric needs to be stretched, and recover its shape making it a prized versatile type of material.


Elastic Textiles Made to Suit Your Needs

Originally founded in 1943, Apex Mills specializes in high-performance textile manufacturing. In 2023 Apex Mills acquired facilities in Woolwine, Virginia, now operating under the name “Insight Textiles”. Insight Textiles has a strong legacy of producing critical quality elastic textiles for the intimate apparel and shapewear industries.

The 240,000 square foot facility houses warp knit tricot, raschel and Rascheltronic equipment as well as an automated dye house with jet and beam dyeing capabilities.

Additionally, the finishing operations provide an extension of treatments to Apex Mill’s diverse innovative fabric solutions including fire retardant finishes, anti-microbial protections, moisture management, abrasion resistance, health and wellness, sustainable, and custom finishes.

Our high-quality solutions include performance-based solid and circular knits, mesh/nettings, elastomerics, and 3D spacer fabrics . We collaborate with our customers to ensure their vision is fully communicated and understood. Our team constantly evaluates each stage of the fabric creation process to ensure the product meets your approval.

Apex Mills is your source for personalized textile solutions suited to your applications. If you’re interested in our custom solutions, you can fill out our questionnaire to help you identify sample textiles for your unique requirements. One of our fabric specialists will contact you within 48 hours.

For any questions about our process, please reach out to us at any time!


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