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Textile market on the sidewalks of Karachi, Pakistan
Magnified view of a plain or tabby weave textile
Fabric shop in canal town Mukalla, Yemen
Late antique textile, Egyptian, now in the Dumbarton Oaks collection

Textile is an umbrella term that includes various fiber-based materials, including fibers, yarns, filaments, threads, different fabric types, etc. At first, the word "textiles" only referred to woven fabrics. However, weaving is not the only manufacturing method, and many other methods were later developed to form textile structures based on their intended use. Knitting and non-woven are other popular types of fabric manufacturing.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Textiles are divided into two groups: Domestic purpose [consumer textiles] and technical textiles. In consumer textiles, aesthetics and comfort are the most important factors, but in technical textiles, functional properties are the priority.[7][8]

Geotextiles, industrial textiles, medical textiles, and many other areas are examples of technical textiles, whereas clothing and furnishings are examples of consumer textiles. Each component of a textile product, including fiber, yarn, fabric, processing, and finishing, affects the final product. Components may vary among various textile products as they are selected based on fitness for purpose.[7][9][8]

Fiber is the smallest component of a fabric; fibers are typically spun into yarn, and yarns are used to manufacture fabrics.[10][9] Fiber has a hair-like appearance and a higher length-to-width ratio. The sources of fibers may be natural, synthetic, or both. The techniques of felting and bonding directly transform fibers into fabric. In other cases, yarns are manipulated with different fabric manufacturing systems to produce various fabric constructions. The fibers are twisted or laid out to make a long, continuous strand of yarn.[2] Yarns are then used to make different kinds of fabric by weaving, knitting, crocheting, knotting, tatting, or braiding.[11][12][6] After manufacturing, textile materials are processed and finished to add value, such as aesthetics, physical characteristics, and increased usefulness.[13] The manufacturing of textiles is the oldest industrial art.[14] Dyeing, printing, and embroidery are all different decorative arts applied to textile materials.[15]



The word 'textile' comes from the Latin adjective textilis, meaning 'woven', which itself stems from textus, the past participle of the verb texere, 'to weave'.[5] Originally applied to woven fabrics, the term "textiles" is now used to encompass a diverse range of materials, including fibers, yarns, and fabrics, as well as other related items.[2][1][3]


Fabric is a structure composed of yarns, or fibers, or both.[16] Fabric is synonymous with cloth, material, goods, or piece goods.[7][6] The word 'fabric' also derives from Latin, with roots in the Proto-Indo-European language. Stemming most recently from the Middle French fabrique, or 'building, thing made', and earlier from the Latin fabrica ('workshop; an art, trade; a skillful production, structure, fabric'), the noun fabrica stems from the Latin faber, or 'artisan who works in hard materials', which itself is derived from the Proto-Indo-European dhabh-, meaning 'to fit together'.[17]


The generic name for all textile fabrics is cloth.[6] The word 'cloth' derives from the Old English clað, meaning a 'cloth, woven or felted material to wrap around ones body', from the Proto-Germanic kalithaz, similar to the Old Frisian klath, the Middle Dutch cleet, the Middle High German kleit and the German kleid, all meaning 'garment'.[18]

Related terms[edit]

The related words "fabric"[12] and "cloth"[4] and "material" are often used in textile assembly trades (such as tailoring and dressmaking) as synonyms for textile. However, there are subtle differences in these terms in specialized usage. A textile is any material made of interlacing fibers, including carpeting and geotextiles, which may not necessarily be used in the production of further goods, such as clothing and upholstery. A fabric is a material made through weaving, knitting, spreading, felting, stitching, crocheting or bonding that may be used in the production of further products, such as clothing and upholstery, thus requiring a further step of the production. Cloth may also be used synonymously with fabric, but often specifically refers to a piece of fabric that has been processed or cut.[citation needed]

Textiles made from Alpaca wool at the Otavalo Artisan Market in the Andes Mountains, Ecuador


The Banton Burial Cloth, the oldest existing example of warp ikat in Southeast Asia, displayed at the National Museum of the Philippines. The cloth was most likely made by the native Asia people of northwest Romblon.

The precursor of today's textiles includes leaves, barks, fur pelts, and felted cloths.[19]

The Banton Burial Cloth, the oldest existing example of warp ikat in Southeast Asia, is displayed at the National Museum of the Philippines. The cloth was most likely made by the native Asian people of the northwest Romblon. The first clothes, worn at least 70,000 years ago and perhaps much earlier, were probably made of animal skins and helped protect early humans from the elements. At some point, people learned to weave plant fibers into textiles. The discovery of dyed flax fibers in a cave in the Republic of Georgia dated to 34,000 BCE suggests that textile-like materials were made as early as the Paleolithic era.[20][21]

A weaving shed of the Finlayson & Co factory in Tampere, Finland in 1932[22]
Textile machinery at the Cambrian Factory, Llanwrtyd, Wales in the 1940s

The speed and scale of textile production have been altered almost beyond recognition by industrialization and the introduction of modern manufacturing techniques.[23]

Textile industry[edit]

The textile industry grew out of art and craft and was kept going by guilds. In the 18th and 19th centuries, during the industrial revolution, it became increasingly mechanized. In the 20th century, science and technology were driving forces.[24]


Most textiles were called by their generic names, their place of origin, or were put into groups based loosely on manufacturing techniques and on their designs.[25][26][27][28]


Clothing made of textiles, Thailand

Textiles are various materials made from fibers and yarns. The term "textile" was originally only used to refer to woven fabrics, but today it covers a broad range of subjects.[1]

Consumer textiles[edit]

Textiles have an assortment of uses, the most common of which are for clothing and for containers such as bags and baskets. In the household, textiles are used in carpeting, upholstered furnishings, window shades, towels, coverings for tables, beds, and other flat surfaces, and in art. Textiles are used in many traditional hand crafts such as sewing, quilting and embroidery.[7]

Technical textiles[edit]

Textiles produced for industrial purposes, and designed and chosen for technical characteristics beyond their appearance, are commonly referred to as technical textiles. Technical textiles include textile structures for automotive applications, medical textiles (such as implants), geotextile (reinforcement of embankments), agrotextiles (textiles for crop protection), protective clothing (such as clothing resistant to heat and radiation for fire fighter clothing, against molten metals for welders, stab protection, and bullet proof vests).

In the workplace, textiles can be used in industrial and scientific processes such as filtering. Miscellaneous uses include flags, backpacks, tents, nets, cleaning rags, transportation devices such as balloons, kites, sails, and parachutes; textiles are also used to provide strengthening in composite materials such as fibreglass and industrial geotextiles. [7][8]

Due to the often highly technical and legal requirements of these products, these textiles are typically tested in order to ensure they meet stringent performance requirements. Other forms of technical textiles may be produced to experiment with their scientific qualities and to explore the possible benefits they may have in the future. Threads coated with zinc oxide nanowires, when woven into fabric, have been shown capable of "self-powering nanosystems", using vibrations created by everyday actions like wind or body movements to generate energy.[29][30]

Use and applications[edit]

Textiles are all around us. Textile is a component of basic needs like food and shelter. Textiles are everywhere in our lives, from bath towels to space suits. Textiles help humans by comforting, protecting, and extending their lives. Textiles meet our clothing needs, keeping us warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There are several applications for textiles, such as medical textiles, intelligent textiles, and automotive textiles. All of them contribute to the well-being of humans.[2]

Commercial textiles/ Domestic textiles End uses Technical textiles/ Industrial purpose textiles End uses
Clothing Clothing items for men, women and children. nightwear, sportswear, lingerie, undergarments, swimsuit. Accessories such as caps, umbrella, socks, gloves, and handbags.[7][31] Agro-textiles Agro-textiles are used in agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture, landscape gardening and forestry. Mainly for crop protection, in crop development for instance shade nets, thermal insulation and sunscreen materials, windshield, antibird nets, covering livestock protection, suppressing weed and insect control, etc.[32]
Furnishing Upholstery, curtains, draperies, Carpets, towels.[7][31] Geotextile Technical textiles which are used in civil engineering, roads, airfields, railroads, embankments, retaining structures, reservoirs, canals, dams, bank protection, coastal engineering and construction site silt fences, and protection of melting glaciers.[33]
Bedding Bed sheets, khes, blankets, pillows.[7][31] Automotive textile Airbags, Seat belts, Headliners, Upholstery, car carpets, and Door card.[34]
Others Shower curtains[7] Medical textile Implants, Sutures, Dressings, Bandages, Medical gowns, Face masks.[7]
Indutech This particular sector includes conveyor belts, drive belts, ropes and cordages, filtration products, glass battery separators, decatising and bolting cloth, AGM (absorption glass mat) plasma screens, coated abrasives, composite materials, printed circuit boards, printer ribbon, seals, gaskets, paper making fabrics.[8]

Other uses[edit]

Instrument of historic information[edit]

In addition, textiles serve as a medium for transmitting information about numerous civilizations, traditions, and cultures, such as the Inca Empire's textile arts remnants, which represent the aesthetics and social values of the Incas.[35][36]

There are textile museums that display history related to many aspects of textiles.

Narrative art[edit]

Bayeux Tapestry is a rare example of secular Romanesque art. The art work depicts the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.[37][38]

Decorative arts[edit]

Textiles are also used for decorative art. Appliqué work of pipili is decorative art of Odisha, a state in eastern India, used for umbrellas, wall hangings, lamp sheds, and bags. To make a range of decorative products, colored clothes are sewn in the shapes of animals, birds, flowers, and magnificent walls on a base cloth.[39]


Architextiles, a combination of the words architecture and textile, are textile-based assemblages. Awnings are a basic type of architectural textile.[40] Mughal Shahi Lal Dera Tent, which was a movable palace, is an example of the architextiles of the Mughal period.[41]

Fiber sources and types[edit]

Textiles are made from many materials, with four main sources: animal (wool, silk), plant (cotton, flax, jute, bamboo), mineral (asbestos, glass fibre), and synthetic (nylon, polyester, acrylic, rayon). The first three are natural. In the 20th century, they were supplemented by artificial fibers made from petroleum. Textiles are made in various strengths and degrees of durability, from the finest microfibre made of strands thinner than one denier to the sturdiest canvas. Textile manufacturing terminology has a wealth of descriptive terms, from light gauze-like gossamer to heavy grosgrain cloth and beyond.


Animal textiles are commonly made from hair, fur, skin or silk (in the case of silkworms).

  • Wool refers to the hair of the domestic sheep or goat, which is distinguished from other types of animal hair in that the individual strands are coated with scales and tightly crimped, and the wool as a whole is coated with a wax mixture known as lanolin (sometimes called wool grease), which is waterproof and dirtproof.[42] The lanolin and other contaminants are removed from the raw wool before further processing.[43] Woollen refers to a yarn produced from carded, non-parallel fibre, while worsted refers to a finer yarn spun from longer fibers which have been combed to be parallel.
    • Other animal textiles which are made from hair or fur are alpaca wool, vicuña wool, llama wool, and camel hair, generally used in the production of coats, jackets, ponchos, blankets, and other warm coverings.
    • Cashmere, the hair of the Indian cashmere goat, and mohair, the hair of the North African angora goat, are types of wool known for their softness. Used in the production of sweaters and scarfs.
  • Silk is an animal textile made from the fibres of the cocoon of the Chinese silkworm which is spun into a smooth fabric prized for its softness. There are two main types of the silk: 'mulberry silk' produced by the Bombyx Mori, and 'wild silk' such as Tussah silk (wild silk). Silkworm larvae produce the first type if cultivated in habitats with fresh mulberry leaves for consumption, while Tussah silk is produced by silkworms feeding purely on oak leaves. Around four-fifths of the world's silk production consists of cultivated silk.[44] Silk production consists of pillow covers, dresses, tops, skirts, bed sheets, curtains.


Close-up view of a Barong Tagalog made with piña fiber in the Philippines

Grass, rush, hemp, and sisal are all used in making rope. In the first two, the entire plant is used for this purpose, while in the last two, only fibres from the plant are utilized. Coir (coconut fibre) is used in making twine, and also in floormats, doormats, brushes, mattresses, floor tiles, and sacking.

  • Straw and bamboo are both used to make hats. Straw, a dried form of grass, is also used for stuffing, as is kapok.
  • Cotton, flax, jute, hemp, modal and even banana[45] and bamboo fibre are all used in clothing. Piña (pineapple fibre) and ramie are also fibres used in clothing, generally with a blend of other fibres such as cotton. Nettles have also been used to make a fibre and fabric very similar to hemp or flax. The use of milkweed stalk fibre has also been reported, but it tends to be somewhat weaker than other fibres like hemp or flax.
  • The inner bark of the lacebark tree is a fine netting that has been used to make clothing and accessories as well as utilitarian articles such as rope.
  • Seaweed is used in the production of textiles: a water-soluble fibre known as alginate is produced and is used as a holding fibre; when the cloth is finished, the alginate is dissolved, leaving an open area.
  • Rayon is a manufactured fabric derived from plant pulp. Different types of rayon can imitate feel and texture of silk, cotton, wool, or linen.

Fibres from the stalks of plants, such as hemp, flax, and nettles, are also known as 'bast' fibres. Hemp Fiber is yellowish-brown fiber made from the hemp plant. The fiber characteristics are coarser, harsher, strong and lightweight. Hemp fiber is used primary to make twine, rope and cordage.[46]


  • Asbestos and basalt fibre are used for vinyl tiles, sheeting and adhesives, "transite" panels and siding, acoustical ceilings, stage curtains, and fire blankets.
  • Glass fibre is used in the production of ironing board and mattress covers, ropes and cables, reinforcement fibre for composite materials, insect netting, flame-retardant and protective fabric, soundproof, fireproof, and insulating fibres. Glass fibres are woven and coated with Teflon to produce beta cloth, a virtually fireproof fabric which replaced nylon in the outer layer of United States space suits since 1968.[verification needed]
  • Metal fibre, metal foil, and metal wire have a variety of uses, including the production of cloth-of-gold and jewellery. Hardware cloth (US term only) is a coarse woven mesh of steel wire, used in construction. It is much like standard window screening, but heavier and with a more open weave.

Minerals and natural and synthetic fabrics may be combined, as in emery cloth, a layer of emery abrasive glued to a cloth backing. Also, "sand cloth" is a U.S. term for fine wire mesh with abrasive glued to it, employed like emery cloth or coarse sandpaper.


A variety of contemporary fabrics. From the left: evenweave cotton, velvet, printed cotton, calico, felt, satin, silk, hessian, polycotton
Woven tartan of Clan Campbell, Scotland
Embroidered skirts by the Alfaro-Nùñez family of Cochas, Peru, using traditional Peruvian embroidery methods[47]
A fabric tunnel in Moulvibazar District, Bangladesh.

Synthetic textiles are used primarily in the production of clothing, as well as the manufacture of geotextiles. Synthetic fibers are those that are chemically constructed, therefore are unsustainable.

  • Polyester fibre is used in all types of clothing, either alone or blended with fibres such as cotton.
  • Aramid fibre (e.g. Twaron) is used for flame-retardant clothing, cut-protection, and armour.
  • Acrylic is a fibre used to imitate wools,[48] including cashmere, and is often used in replacement of them.
  • Nylon is a fibre used to imitate silk; it is used in the production of pantyhose. Thicker nylon fibres are used in rope and outdoor clothing.
  • Olefin fibre is a fibre used in activewear, linings, and warm clothing. Olefins are hydrophobic, allowing them to dry quickly. A sintered felt of olefin fibres is sold under the trade name Tyvek.
  • Ingeo is a polylactide fibre blended with other fibres such as cotton and used in clothing. It is more hydrophilic than most other synthetics, allowing it to wick away perspiration.
  • Lurex is a metallic fibre used in clothing embellishment.
  • Milk proteins have also been used to create synthetic fabric. Milk or casein fibre cloth was developed during World War I in Germany, and further developed in Italy and America during the 1930s.[49] Milk fibre fabric is not very durable and wrinkles easily, but has a pH similar to human skin and possesses anti-bacterial properties. It is marketed as a biodegradable, renewable synthetic fibre.[50]

Blends (Blended textiles)[edit]

Fabric or yarn produced with a combination of two or more types of different fibers, or yarns to obtain desired traits. Blending is possible at various stages of textile manufacturing. Final composition is liable for the properties of the resultant product. Natural and Synthetic fibers are blended to overcome disadvantage of single fiber properties and to achieve better performance characteristics and aesthetic effects such as devoré, heather effect, cross dyeing and stripes pattern etc. Clothing woven from a blend of cotton and polyester can be more durable and easier to maintain than material woven solely from cotton. Other than sharing functional properties, blending makes the products more economical.[51][52]

Union or Union fabrics is the 19th century term for blended fabrics. While it is no longer in use.[53] ''Mixture'' or ''Mixed cloth'' is another term used for blended cloths when different types of yarns are used in warp and weft sides.[54][55]

Blended textiles are not new.

  • Mashru was a 16th-century fabric, is one of the earliest forms of "mixed cloth," a material composed of silk and cotton.[56]
  • Siamoise was a 17th century cotton and linen material.[57]


Fiber composition[58] the fiber blend composition of mixtures of the fibers,[59] is an important criterion to analyze the behavior, properties such as functional aspects, and commercial classification of the merchandise.[60][61][62]

The most common blend is cotton and polyester. Regular blended fabric is 65% Polyester and 35% Cotton. It is called a ''reverse blend'' if the ratio of cotton predominates—the percentage of the fibers changes with the price and required properties.

Blending adds value to the textiles; it helps in reducing the cost (Artificial fibers are less expensive than natural fibers) and adding advantage in properties of the final product.[63][64] For instance, a small amount of spandex adds stretch to the fabrics.[65] Wool can add warmth.[66]

Production methods[edit]

Top five exporters of textiles—2013
($ billion)
China 274
India 40
Italy 36
Germany 35
Bangladesh 28
  • Weaving is a textile production method which involves interlacing a set of longer threads (called the warp) with a set of crossing threads (called the weft). This is done on a frame or machine known as a loom, of which there are a number of types. Some weaving is still done by hand, but the vast majority is mechanized.
  • Knitting, looping, and crocheting involve interlacing loops of yarn, which are formed either on a knitting needle, needle, or on a crochet hook, together in a line. The processes are different in that knitting has several active loops at one time, on the knitting needle waiting to interlock with another loop, while looping and crocheting never have more than one active loop on the needle. Knitting can be performed by machine, but crochet can only be performed by hand.[68]
  • Spread tow is a production method where the tow fibres are spread into thin tapes, and then the tapes are woven as warp and weft. This method is mostly used for composite materials; spread tow fabrics can be made in carbon, aramid and other fibres.
  • Braiding or plaiting involves intertwining threads together into cloth. Knotting involves tying threads together and is used in making tatting and macrame.
  • Lace is made by interlocking threads together independently, using a backing alongside any of the methods described above, to create a fine fabric with open holes in the work. Lace can be made by either hand or machine.
  • Carpets, rugs, velvet, velour, and velveteen, referred to as pile fabrics, are made by interlacing a secondary yarn through woven cloth, creating a tufted layer known as a nap or pile.
  • Non-woven textiles are manufactured by the bonding of fibres to make fabric. Bonding may be thermal, mechanical, chemical, or adhesives can be used.
  • Felting involves applying pressure and friction to a mat of fibres, working and rubbing them together until the fibres become interlocked and tangled, forming a nonwoven textile. A liquid, such as soapy water, is usually added to lubricate the fibres, and to open up the microscopic scales on strands of wool.
  • Barkcloth is made by pounding bark until it is soft and flat.


A double ikat weaving made by the Tausug people from Sulu, made of banana leaf stalk fiber (Abacá)

After manufacturing, textiles undergo a range of finishing procedures, including bleaching, dyeing, printing, as well as mechanical and chemical finishing.[13]


Textiles are often dyed, with fabrics available in almost every colour. The dyeing process often requires several dozen gallons of water for each pound of clothing.[69] Coloured designs in textiles can be created by weaving together fibres of different colours (tartan or Uzbek Ikat), adding coloured stitches to finished fabric (embroidery), creating patterns by resist dyeing methods, tying off areas of cloth and dyeing the rest (tie-dyeing), drawing wax designs on cloth and dyeing in between them (batik), or using various printing processes on finished fabric. Woodblock printing, still used in India and elsewhere today, is the oldest of these dating back to at least 220 CE in China. Textiles are also sometimes bleached, making the textile pale or white.


Since the 1990s, with advances in technologies such as permanent press process, finishing agents have been used to strengthen fabrics and make them wrinkle free.[70] More recently, nanomaterials research has led to additional advancements, with companies such as Nano-Tex and NanoHorizons developing permanent treatments based on metallic nanoparticles for making textiles more resistant to things such as water, stains, wrinkles, and pathogens such as bacteria and fungi.[71]

Textiles receive a range of treatments before they reach the end-user. From formaldehyde finishes (to improve crease-resistance) to biocidic finishes and from flame retardants to dyeing of many types of fabric, the possibilities are almost endless. However, many of these finishes may also have detrimental effects on the end user. A number of disperse, acid and reactive dyes, for example, have been shown to be allergenic to sensitive individuals.[72] Further to this, specific dyes within this group have also been shown to induce purpuric contact dermatitis.[73]

Eisengarn, meaning "iron yarn" in English, is a light-reflecting, strong material invented in Germany in the 19th century. It is made by soaking cotton threads in a starch and paraffin wax solution. The threads are then stretched and polished by steel rollers and brushes. The end result of the process is a lustrous, tear-resistant yarn which is extremely hardwearing.[74][75]

Environmental and health impacts[edit]

Although formaldehyde levels in clothing are unlikely to be at levels high enough to cause an allergic reaction,[76] due to the presence of such a chemical, quality control and testing are of utmost importance. Flame retardants (mainly in the brominated form) are also of concern where the environment, and their potential toxicity, are concerned.[77]

Environmental and health effects of textile industry wastewater[edit]

Many kind of respiratory diseases, skin problems and allergies maybe caused by the dyes and pigments discharged in water


Testing for these additives is possible at a number of commercial laboratories, it is also possible to have textiles tested according to the Oeko-tex certification standard, which contains limits levels for the use of certain chemicals in textiles products.

Laws and regulations[edit]

Different countries have certain laws and regulations to protect consumers' interests. Textile Fiber Products Identification Act is a law that protects consumers in the United States. The act protects producer and consumer interests by implementing labelling (required content disclosure) and advertising requirements on textile products. The Textile Fiber Products Identification Act applies to all textile fiber products besides wool, which is governed by the Wool Product Label Number. The law prohibits misinformation about the fiber content, misbranding, and any unfair advertising practice, as well as requires businesses to operate in a particular manner.[78][7]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]