Kapok Tree

How is Kapok fabric made?

Kapok is a cotton-like fabric indigenous to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. It comes from the Kapok tree. This tree is also known as the Silk cotton tree and is Native to Africa. It was then transported to Asia where it is cultivated for its fibre. Its full name is Ceiba Pentandra.

Kapok Manufacture

The kapok tree is harvested by cutting down or collecting the pods when they fall. It is then smashed open with a mallet. Inside these pods are the pale kapok fibres in which over 200 seeds are embedded. These fibres are sometimes referred to as Silk Cotton and are a yellowish brown colour, lightweight and lustrous. The seeds and fibres are obtained from the pods by hand and stirred in a basket. The seeds fall to the bottom of the basket, leaving the fibres free to be used. The seeds from the Kapok tree can be processed into soap and used for their oil.

The kapok fibres are between 1cm and 1.5cm in length. Each of these fibres is coated with a waxy substance called Cutine and the fibre is hollow. These two properties give the fibres their buoyancy. Kapok fibres are made up mainly of cellulose.

Kapok is usually blended with polyester or Sisal to enhance their properties. Kapok is notoriously difficult to spin into yarns as it doesn’t have the natural twists that many natural fibres do.  The process of manufacturing Kapok is very labour intensive and manual.

Properties of Kapok

  • Buoyant
  • Resilient
  • Moisture Resistant
  • Vermin resistant
  • Smooth
  • Lustrous
  • Powerful performance fabric
  • Lightweight
  • Hydrophobic
  • Quick-drying
  • Doesn’t have scales so doesn’t mat or felt easily
  • Weighs only one-eighth as much as cotton
  • Warm as wool
  • Smooth as Silk
  • Thick and woolly to the touch
  • Can support over 38 times its own weight in water
  • Eco friendly
  • Biodegradable

End uses of Kapok

  • Mats
  • Used as down in mattresses, pillows and stuffed toys
  • Life jackets
  • Has now been largely replaced by synthetic fibres.

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Written by Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell, extremely competent and reliable, she is currently in her third year at the University of Lincoln UK, studying Fashion. Kelly is responsible for the Fabrics, Fibers and Leathers sections of our Dictionary

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