Lost in Space

Lost in Space

What is spacer fabric?

Spacer fabric is a multi-layered knitted fabric that is currently in the sportswear and home furnishings market. It has been around for quite a few years but the advantages of it have only recently come to light. It is now used in sportswear but the number of applications are endless! Spacer fabric was first noticed in the 1980’s, when it was cut in the middle to create pile fabrics.

As spacer fabrics became more popular, they started to replace foam materials (such as neoprene and polyurethane) which started their application into the sports market. The brilliance in this fabric is that it has 3 layers. Each layer can be a different material and provide a different function.

This means that there are 3X the properties and 3X the benefits of using this material.

The beauty of spacer fabric is that each layer can be designed perfectly for an individual application. Different yarns can be used in each layer and this determines the properties for each level. Spacer fabric is usually made from polyester yarns on the top and bottom, and is separated by monofilament yarns in the middle.

Fibres can range from polyester to nylon with more technical fibres such as glass fibre, metal and aramid fibres being used. These more technical fibres are used in automotive, protective and geotextiles.

The main properties that a spacer fabric provides is cushioning, breathability, insulation, easy laundering and a light weight. These properties can be enhanced by adding different finishes to the fabric such as antimicrobial or flame retardant.

The structure of a spacer fabric can be adjusted for an individual application by changing the depth of the middle, monofilament layer. The thickness and mass of the monofilament layer affects the material’s resistance against pressure.

The ideal fabric will have a combination of the right fibres, the right fabric structure and the right finishes on the fabric. All of these can be designed and adjusted by knitwear manufacturers.

Spacer fabrics seem like the ideal fabric for many technical applications, however there is a lack of research about them. The positive and negative side effects of spacer fabrics will only be established over time in a particular application.

How are spacer fabrics breathable?

The secret to spacer fabric breathability is through the layers. By using different materials on each layer, each layer has a different property that can work together. As the body heats up during exercise, heat vapour is released. This heat vapour can be absorbed through a hydroscopic material, close to the skin.

The thick monofilament layer in the middle draws air through it and this airflow pushes the heat out. The air is pushed out through a hydrophilic layer and this allows heat to pass through the material, and away from the body.

Spacer fabrics have been tested for their breathability and by drawing air through the fabric, they have been shown to be 10X more permeable than regular knitted fabrics. The ability for spacer fabrics to thermoregulate and manage moisture makes it an ideal fabric in active and sportswear.

Spacer fabrics have a wide variety of end uses from shock absorption, to insulation, to cooling materials, and pressure resistance. Currently, spacer fabrics are used in a few specialist areas such as backpacks, sports shoes, mattress toppers but their usefulness in applications is endless.

The layer of monofilament in Abbey England’s spacer fabric gives the fabric more stiffness and stability, ideal for protection against pressure. This is due to the monofilament yarn having better compression and recovery, compared to other yarns.

For equestrian use, this resistance against pressure can be used for saddlepads, body protectors, knee pads or areas of the saddle under pressure. Saddle pads are commonly made from fleece material as a base insulation layer.

When fleece was tested against spacer fabric, fleece has better insulation properties but spacer fabrics have better wicking capacities, taking heat vapour away from the body. Not only does spacer fabric have better wicking capacities and resistance against pressure when compared to fleece, it also can be stored away for long periods of time with no deformation, making them ideal for seasonal or part time use.

Spacer fabrics have a wide application in protective fabrics. Use in shock absorbers such as gloves, elbow pads, and kneepads for skateboarders and cyclists to use in helmets for riders and cyclists. Potential injuries in the ears, neck and wrists can be prevented by putting the spacer fabric in critical zones. This selective designing can be applied to equestrian use when designing saddles, pads and rugs. The beauty of spacer fabrics is that they can be designed from the yarn to the product. All stages of the manufacture can be designed to a specific application and this could lead to an innovative, intelligent product.

One company, the Dow Corning Cooperation created a type of body armour for the use of motorcyclists and extreme sports wearers such as show jumpers. A type of silicone is infused with spacer fabrics and when hit with impact, the silicone becomes hard and the energy from the impact disperses into the outer yarns.

Due to the thickness and structure of the middle monofilament layer, the effect of the impact is decreased as the energy has a larger area to disperse throughout.

Maybe this could be the fabric to re-design and improve your products for your customers!

For more information on  Lost in Space  talk to  Abbey England Ltd

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