I get asked this question a lot by customers keen to avoid synthetic fibres. Is viscose natural?
The short answer is: yes, sort of.
Viscose was initially 'invented' as a form of artificial silk. Early attempts to create man-made silk were made in the mid-1800s, and in 1894, the first practical process for 'viscose' was patented.
Viscose is derived from natural cellulose materials made from wood pulp and is therefore based on natural material. It has many of the qualities of cotton, such as high breathability and an ability to absorb moisture. It also has a smooth silk-like feel with a subtle sheen.
Wood pulp commonly used in viscose is derived from fast growing and renewable species such as beech, spruce, eucalyptus and bamboo.
The process of creating viscose is more involved than spinning cotton or linen, as the cellulose has to be broken down first to create silk-like fibres suitable for spinning.
This makes it a man-made natural fibre, kind of inbetween 100% natural fibres and synthetic fibres. Thanks to the use of renewable resources, viscose is more environmentally friendly than acrylic yarns, but the environmental credentials of the final product also depend on the process used to break down the cellulose and create the fibres.
It is important to know that the quality of viscose or bamboo yarns is not always the same. Cheaper viscose or bamboo yarns can split and continuously shed fibres, so it is definitely worth choosing a quality product over a cheaper yarn. A better quality yarn is also far more likely to have been produced with environmentally friendly processes.
For those who love working with bamboo it is worth noting that bamboo yarn is a classic viscose yarn. You may find that some yarns that are labelled 'viscose' are actually wholly or in part made from bamboo fibres.