Viscose, What is it?

          By: Allison MacDiarmid

Many people ask the question: What exactly is viscose? How is it made? Why is it all the rage right now? It seems like a very mysterious, enigmatic fabric, but is very simple once broken down! Here is the good, the bad, and some helpful information about viscose.

            To start, viscose is a type of rayon and was originally known as artificial silk.  The difference between the two is not much, but worth understanding.  Viscose is made from wood pulp or cotton linter, while rayon is made with cellulose from a variety of plants.  Typically, both can be highly absorbent and easy to dye with viscose having the additional benefit of looking   like silk but feeling like cotton. Both fabrics fall between a natural and synthetic fiber due to the use of chemicals to make them. The process to make both is labor intensive and involves dissolving fast growing wood into a substance that then can be spun into fibers. Some of the chemicals used can be harsh, but will never make it into the final product, making it safe for consumers to wear.  Both fabrics are increasingly being manufactured using the Lyocell process.  This process produces less waste product making it far more eco-friendly!

            Now, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of viscose. Due to it being made of natural materials, it is extremely breathable and feels like a soft silk on the skin. It will drape and flow beautifully on the body allowing for an elegant, soft look. Viscose is also great for looking luxurious without truly breaking the bank. It can be blended with other natural or synthetic fibers to give a garment even more benefit to the wearer. Another reason it is becoming so wildly used in the apparel industry is due to the fact that it can be dyed very easily and will keep vibrant colors throughout the life of the garment. Another great benefit is that this fabric can be finished in many different ways that allow it to have a variety of textures and hand! At Tides, there are quite a few pieces that incorporate a natural crinkle into the garment which allows it to be perfect for travel. No more worrying about how to keep your outfits wrinkle free!

            As with every other fabric, there are always disadvantages to go along. Let’s briefly cover some of the biggest concerns people have with the fabric. It has been proven that viscose becomes much weaker when exposed to water, which is why you will see many labels saying that it must be dry cleaned or handwashed. The reason behind this is that the fabric will not withstand the wringing and twisting in a typical washing machine and can cause odd wrinkling, stretch, shrinkage or other damage.  Several of the lines that we have at Tides work with viscose or a blend with viscose.  Most of these pieces have washing instructions indicating you can hand wash in cold water or on delicate in your machine, line dry and if needed to touch up with an iron, do so inside out.  A sample of a viscose garment tag can be found below.  This allows a consumer to enjoy this fabric and not have to deal with dry cleaning, but always make sure to pay attention to the washing/drying instructions.

Finally, the mystery of viscose has been solved! It isn’t quite as confusing as people make it out to be.  Viscose is definitely one of the most misunderstood of all fibers as it is not a natural fiber but it is also not synthetic.  Many people love the fabric, while others never touch it, but it’s definitely always worth trying out to see if it works for you!


Here is a sample tag from our Masai line:

Notice they recommend a wool setting on the washer, this lets the machine know that this garment is not to be spun!


Notice the weave on this garment:

Viscose can be woven to be both thick and thin! This is a great example of fabric that has a little more weight.


Here is a great example of the drape:

When viscose is spun and woven in a thin way, it gives the garment a light airy feel. When put on the body it gives off a very elegant touch!

Jennifer Mann