Ah, the modest umbrella. Everybody knows it, everybody loves it. It’s got you covered – very literally – in any type of adverse weather condition.
However, when you’re using your umbrella in the next downpour of rain… will you stop to think about how it’s been made? Or how it was even thought up as an invention?
Umbrella materials are quite important – from nylons to polyesters, the material is everything. It’ll be the difference between full coverage and a very soggy jacket.
Whatever your fascination, whether you’re a history buff or just wanting to be well-prepared, our handy guide below will take you through the different kinds of umbrella materials!
The Origins of the Umbrella
Now, one of the first interesting bits of information to know is just where the name came from for these handy products. They keep you covered in the worst of weather, but how did they get their name?
Well, ‘umbrella‘ actually comes from the Latin word ‘umbra’. In Roman mythology, Umbra was the goddess of shadows! Makes sense, right?
We all know that this handy device serves to protect its user from different weather conditions – from torrential rain to blinding sun, even to air humidity. With this in mind, the best umbrella needs to be designed specifically, using specific methods, to ensure that they serve their purpose with ease.
These purposes have been fulfilled throughout the ages. For example, in the Greek and Roman periods, sun umbrellas or personal parasols were generally used by the wider populace. What’s more, they actually used to be made of paper!
In fact, it wasn’t until the early 1800s (that’s the 19th century for those not historically inclined…) that the umbrella we know today became a common stylish and practical accessory.
These devices were, in fact, so practical that the handles were originally used to conceal and carry liquor and other taboo items. Obviously, it’s not common today to find an umbrella that ensures you won’t lose your booze!
Next up, we’ll take you through some of the different materials used historically in the construction of umbrellas, leading up to the market products we know and love today.
Umbrella Material History
As we told you before, umbrellas haven’t always used the polyester fabric you’ll recognize on a modern golf umbrella. The first umbrellas were used in ancient civilizations such as Egypt, and they were made from natural fibres. Umbrella canopies, similarly, used paper.
If you’re a fan of history, you’re going to love this section – as we’re going to take a look at a number of key time periods and the types of umbrella that were present. Of course, the ancients didn’t have the rigorous quality control that modern technology affords – so there may have been a problem here and there.
Nonetheless, it’s intriguing to see how one model differs from others, and how they each ultimately helped to shade their users.
The first umbrella appeared in ancient Egypt around 3,000 years ago, and its form was a parasol. This was primarily invented to protect the skin from sunlight; yes, even sunburn was an issue back then!
Because of this, umbrellas weren’t made to be waterproof at the time. The climate in Egypt, indeed, was as warm – if not more so – as the modern climate today… so shade was most definitely needed.
Parasols during this time used a few different natural resources, including palm fronds, feathers, and papyrus.
The first waterproof umbrella comes all the way from ancient China – in 11 BC to be precise. The first-ever fabric used in order to provide a waterproof coating was leather. This fabric was expensive – so only the elite at this time could afford these waterproof umbrellas.
What’s more, it was generally online nobility or royalty – upperclassmen and women – who boasted these designs.
It wasn’t until the early period of the second millennia that the waterproof umbrella made its first appearance in Europe.
Ancient Greece and Rome
Like ancient Egypt years before, the first umbrella models in ancient Greece and Rome were non-waterproof. Because of this, they were unsurprisingly made of similar materials.
Interestingly, these types of umbrellas – that is, those using paper and palm frond, were reserved only for the wealthiest of women. They were therefore used as a status symbol, as well as a shade provision.
One of the key things to note here is that men at this time viewed umbrellas as a woman’s device. Therefore, a number of men endured harsh weather and high temperatures. Perhaps, in parts, this was in order to prove their masculinity!
In Ancient Greece, a white parasol had particular significance for women and followers of the goddess Athena. Don’t believe us? Take to Wikipedia for more information!
In the 16th Century – or the Renaissance for you history nerds -, umbrellas made a reappearance after their brief hiatus. In Italy, England, and France, umbrellas here were a device used to primarily shield from sunlight.
Small parasols were very popular at this time – and were commonly carried by women.
Finally, in the 18th Century – or 1700s -, the umbrella was regarded officially as a unisex item – for a male or female customer. Talk about gender roles!
Once English society saw fellow Englishman Jonas Hanway carrying an umbrella – with a distinctly ‘male style’ – they were hooked. And away society went! From this moment on in the UK, umbrellas became a staple accessory for protecting against the typically miserable English rains!
What Fabric Is Used for Umbrellas Today?
It doesn’t need to be repeated that the material variations of umbrella fabric have varied throughout time. From the stretchers to the coating, even down to the handle, umbrellas were made up of more than what you’d think. There was a distinct level of thought that went into their construction. This level of thought continues today!
Today, umbrella fabric is usually nylon or polyester, with some metal elements in the finer mechanisms. This is in stark contrast to the original flimsy paper parasols employed by ancient societies to protect from the sun.
Quite different from your standard golf umbrella!
Thanks to manufacturing advancements and positive navigation from engineers, the material used to make umbrellas has certainly improved over time. However, you’ll notice that certain fabrics might come with a slightly higher price from the fabric supplier.
In the history of the umbrella and its purpose, a significant moment comes in 1850. This is the time when Samuel Fox pioneered the use of rods in the shape of a ‘U’. These rods provided more robustness for the stretchers and ribs of the humble folding umbrella.
Soon, umbrella engineers came to realize that such a move would drastically improve the quality of the product and its component parts: from the stretchers to the rods, to the ribs and coating.
Before this discovery, the materials used in the umbrella industry for the folding umbrella’s components were typically whalebone or cane.
This resulted in bulky designs that were also quite heavy to carry around and to hold up when in use. Stretchers today can be produced quickly for any umbrella and allow the umbrella to fold easily when not in use.
Nylon is the most common umbrella fabric as it is entirely waterproof and can effectively block harmful UV rays too. Pretty handy, right?
A lightweight and flexible fabric, it can be easily stretched over the umbrella’s skeleton during manufacturing, and it doesn’t weigh down the user when they carry the umbrella. From a golf umbrella to your standard rain protector, nylon is a brilliant fabric – any fabric supplier would recommend.
The majority of umbrella designs today feature this material and for a good reason too. Nylon is a type of fabric that will also dry relatively quickly once wet, which makes it ideal for just about any type of umbrella for the rain.
The material itself is very soft with a silk-like texture, and it costs just a fraction which makes it highly desirable as a fabric for umbrella manufacturers.
Polyester is a fabric or material that is produced from a synthetic polymer, also known as polyethene terephthalate (PET).
Because this fabric is extremely durable, it makes an excellent material choice for umbrella material. You’ll find this type of fabric material used for fashion and folding umbrellas most commonly as it is both resistant to shrinking and stretching.
The synthetics fibres used throughout the material is extremely lightweight, making it an ideal fabric choice for an accessory such as an umbrella. This material is easy to dye as well making it a fantastic choice for fashion umbrellas.
If you haven’t heard of pongee before – and we wouldn’t blame you, it’s pretty specific – it’s a soft Chinese fabric that is made of thin threads that are not bleached.
This material is formed with a mixture of fibres that create a high-density texture. After the material is prepared, it is thinly woven to bring about a cotton-like feel.
Pongee umbrella fabric is far more expensive to produce than nylon, and for this reason, the price of these umbrellas are noticeably higher.
This fabric is waterproof, and because of its smooth surface, rain droplets can run off the material onto the floor.
Satin is used for fashion umbrellas, and it is known for its thicker texture and reflective sheen.
Satin can look particularly glamorous, and many Chinese umbrella makers choose to utilize this fabric to bring about an expensive look.
Satin can also be made from synthetic and viscose fibres as it is cheaper to produce and it has high elasticity, so it is less likely to rip.
Umbrella Shaft Material
The shaft of an umbrella, also know as the pole, is the most important part of the umbrella as it forms the body of the accessory.
It begins from the umbrella handle and extends right to the tip, where the fabric of choice is pulled over the stretchers.
Every umbrella must also have springs that are placed within the shaft; this is the part of the umbrella that helps it to open and close. This part of the umbrella remains the same across all types of designs from golf umbrellas to PVC umbrellas.
Plywood is often the wood material of choice as it is affordable to produce in bulk across stick umbrellas and can be shaped for the handle.
Aluminium offers a more lightweight alternative than wood for an umbrella shaft, making it a popular choice among many umbrella manufacturers.
The shaft of a folding umbrella models is unlike that of stick umbrellas as it isn’t a single stick. Rather, a shaft for a folding umbrella has a round or even hexagonal shape.
Only two materials are used for a folding umbrella shaft: metal and aluminium.
Sometimes a coating is added to a metal shaft, and this coating is composed of quality nickel to bring about a high-sheen finish.
What Are UV Fabrics?
If you’re seeking an umbrella for UV ray protection, you should start by knowing which type of material is suitable for this.
This type of fabric in umbrella designs are characterized by a high number of threads in the fabric itself. In addition to a tightly woven piece of material, umbrella makers coat the umbrella with ingredients that block the sun’s harmful rays when in use.
Generally speaking, the denser a fabric is, the more likely it is to have properties needed to block out the sun. This type of umbrella should also be waterproof as protection against the sun will not be as effective when the fabric used gets damp or wet.
How Are Umbrellas Designed To Be Waterproof?
Umbrellas are waterproof as they use fabric that is tightly woven together, which prevents water from getting through. When the fabric is woven in such a way, an extra layer that is resistant to rain is created. Umbrella makers also choose to spray the fabric they use with a silicone layer to help prevent moisture that builds upon the material’s surface.
When you take an umbrella into a really windy and rainy environment, this can cause the surface tension of the material to lessen, which results in rain eventually seeping into the fabric. To make the fabric entirely waterproof, a dual-layer of different materials should be used for the umbrella.
High-quality umbrella designs have an outer layer which in umbrella terms is known as the face material. Usually, this material is made of either nylon or polyester and is commonly seen in folding umbrella models.
In addition to the face fabric on an umbrella, another layer is added which is generally made of Teflon or expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene. The first layer (the face material) is used to protect the canopy underneath and make the umbrella appear stylish in design. However, it is the second material that is coated in silicone which ensures no rainwater can permeate.
Have you still got some questions surrounding different umbrella fabric material options? Below, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions, so you don’t have to search for the answers.
Which material is best for an Umbrella?
Both polyester and nylon are good fabric choices for an umbrella as they are waterproof and very flexible. For a folding umbrella design, both of these options are suitable for stretching and are lightweight too.
As well as being suitable fabrics for the rain, both of these material options are also good for UV protection. If you’re unsure of which type of umbrella fabric to go for, your best option is going to be either one of these fabrics.
If you require in-depth help and guidance, be sure to read this entire guide to get a complete idea of the types of fabric used for umbrella manufacturing.
Why is an umbrella made of Nylon?
Many umbrella designs use nylon as a fabric of choice as it is lightweight, waterproof for rain, offers UV protection, is flexible, and is lightweight to carry. nylon is also an affordable fabric for umbrella production when compared to fabrics such as satin. If you’re looking for a quality umbrella, a nylon canopy will certainly provide practicality in wet weather conditions.
Nylon is most commonly used for personal umbrella designs, whereas larger umbrellas such as the golf umbrella use fibreglass in their design as it is more robust. In addition to nylon, raw materials such including metal are used for the stretchers and shaft of the umbrella, helping the umbrella to function in the way intended.
Which umbrella is better Nylon or polyester?
Both nylon and polyester are solid choices for the outer part of an umbrella as both types of fabric are waterproof.
If you are trying to decide between a nylon canopy or a polyester umbrella, both of these options are excellent choices and come at an affordable price too.