Textiles have a rich and fascinating history that leads up to modern times. People once weaved simple linen garments and materials, but today textiles can save lives in the medical industry and redefine fashion.
In this article, you’ll learn about the three different types of textile weaves, a brief overview of some of the most popular fabrics, and a complete history of the textile industry.
The booming textile industry continues to grow in success, and you’ll be surprised how many aspects of your life involve textiles.
Textile is a wide term that defines any fiber-based materials, such as yarn, threads, and filaments. Uses of textiles include clothing, upholstery, bags, baskets, towels, window shades and curtains, table coverings, bed sheets, comforters, and art supplies like a woven canvas.
Textiles are almost as old as human civilization itself. The first archeological evidence of human civilization is the existence of woven cloth and textiles. The first textiles are thought to have been in the ancient world, particularly in Egypt and other places in Africa.
Types of Textile Weaves
The foundation of every textile is a thread weave. There are three main types of weaves to be aware of when discussing textiles: plain weave, twill weave, and satin weave. This section will discuss the differences between each to give you an idea of the various structures a textile can have.
A plain weave is the most common kind of weave you will encounter. It uses a straightforward over and under pattern using warp and weft threads interlacing. When people start to create fabrics, they often begin with a plain weave technique because it’s the easiest. Plain weaves produce strong and durable fabrics that are high-quality and attractive.
A plain weave has a checkerboard appearance and can weave on either side of the fabric, another reason it’s one of the easier weaves to accomplish. This versatile and flexible type of weave is mostly for fabrics like buckram, chambray, chiffon, cheesecloth, flannel, muslin, organza, velvet, and poplin, just to name a few.
While the plain weave is typically straightforward, there are some variations one can do. The variations concern the thickness of the different threads and how many threads make up the textile. For example, Poplin fabric uses two weft threads and one warp thread of the same color to create its unique texture.
Another variation is the ripstop weave, which uses an extra thread to reinforce the material. The Hopsack weave is another variation. This one has two or more threads for the warp and weft thread, making it super durable and thick. Almost half of all kinds of woven fabric adhere to this simple weave technique.
Other names for the plain weave include the tabby weave, taffeta weave, or linen weave, but the plain weave is the most used term.
The next most used type of weave is the twill weave, which is slightly more complicated to execute than the plain weave.
The twill weave uses one or more warp threads over and under one or more of the weft threads. It’s an over-and-under pattern with two or more fibers that alternate. A twill weave is even stronger than a plain weave but is also desired for its gorgeous draping effect, creating diagonal ribbing. Common twill weave fabrics include jersey, gaberdine, denim, some velvets, and some flannels.
Twill weave also has several popular variations. This includes the diagonal twill, which has a more pronounced diagonal pattern, running from left to right. A more distinct variation of the twill weave is the pinhead weave, which uses one light and one dark warp thread and darker weft threads for an interesting color effect.
Similar variations to the pinhead weave are the barleycorn, cavalry, and the salt and pepper weave. All of these use different colored threads to create a unique effect on the textile. The cavalry weave, however, also plays with the thickness of the twill weave.
Despite the complex weave, a twill fabric can be lightweight or thick and heavy. It can create textiles appropriate for all seasons. But denim is undeniably the most popular fabric that utilizes the twill weave. Many people don’t realize the distinct look and feel of denim comes from the twill weave and at least two different colored threads.
The satin weave is the most complex and challenging, as the weft threads sort of float above the warp threads, creating a stunning texture.
A satin weave is distinct because it requires filament fibers, such as silk or nylon. While twill and plain weaves can use a wide variety of fibers to make a fabric, the satin weave has stricter requirements.
Satin weave is undeniably the weakest weave, as the filaments can easily catch and become loose. But for many, the elegant texture and flowing appearance make it the most coveted weave you can find. It’s also the most expensive, so fabrics that use the satin weave are more costly than those that use the plain or twill weave.
There are also no common variations of the satin weave because it’s so delicate.
Other Fabric Weaves
Below is a list of other fabric weaves you may encounter. People consider these to be drastic variations of plain and twill. When discussing types of weaves, plain, twill, and satin will always be the big three.
- Leno weave
- Jacquard weave
- Double cloth weave
- Herringbone weave
- Dobby weave
- Crepe weave
- Chequered weave
- Bedford cord weave
- Basket weave
- Oxford weave
- Pile weave
- Rib weave
- Sateen weave
- Striped weave
- Tapestry weave
- Waffle weave
The different weaves are the building blocks for the endless variety of fabrics that exist. Variations of these weaves paired with different types of fibers result in the many fabrics you’re probably familiar with.
Types of Fabrics
There are hundreds of different fabrics available in the world. From soft silk fabrics to durable denim, the options seem endless. Generally, fabrics break down into two categories: natural and synthetic.
The difference between natural fabric and synthetic materials is the fibers used to make the weave. Synthetic fibers are created by man, often in a lab, but natural fibers come from plants or animals.
Below are five of the most common and well-known fabrics used for clothing, furniture, and other products. You’re probably familiar with these five materials, but this section will look closely at how each is made and used.
Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics for clothing, bedding material, and more. It’s durable but still soft and tends to last longer when cared for. It’s a super breathable material, making it ideal for clothing for all seasons. It uses organic fibers from the seeds of cotton plants, which are soft and thin.
Cotton came about in ancient India, and India is still the most prominent cotton manufacturer today. The plain weave is the most common weave used to crate cotton fabrics, but the twill weave works in certain situations. But the lightweight durability of the cotton fibers pairs well with the tough plain weave.
You can cotton in almost everything. The most common uses are shirts, dresses, blouses, socks, sweaters, underwear, sheets, blankets, bags, jeans, and skirts. Cotton is the go-to fabric for the affordable fashion industry.
Silk is a delicate and soft textile that originated in ancient China. The term silk can refer to woven fabric or filament fiber itself. Silk is a natural fiber produced by the silkworm insect, making it rarer and more expensive.
Silk is a super breathable and flowing fabric used for luxury items, such as lingerie, nightgowns, eveningwear, robes, suits, blouses, sports coats, curtains, and pillowcases. Silk also pops up in unexpected places like parachute construction, medical dressings, and even bicycle tires.
Silk is the strongest natural textile in the world, but there are new synthetic materials that can mimic its softness and strength. You can use a wide variety of weaves with silk filaments, but the plain weave is the most common. You can also create silk fabrics using crepe, satin, and jacquard weaves.
This material is one of the most luscious and shiny fabrics you can find, making it a timeless material that humans use for the most luxurious products.
When people buy clothing and other items to combat cold weather, they often opt for wool because of how thick and cozy this material is. Wool cloth is hair fibers from various animals, mostly sheep. It creates a dense fabric that is not very breathable but has excellent heat retention, helping people stay warm when it’s chilly outside.
Wool fabric originated in Australia, which makes sense because the country has a robust livestock supply, especially sheep! Wool fabric is most commonly used to create socks, blankets, sweaters, pants, hats, scarves, gloves, carpets, and suits. It’s even used in building insulation and firefighting gear to protect them from harm.
This fabric is typically woven using the plain weave, as it’s the easiest and most affordable when selling clothing. However, to make wool even thicker and more durable, you can use the twill weave. Other fabrics made using wool fibers include cashmere, fleece, faux fur, and tweed.
For more information see our Guide on Wool Fabric.
Often lumped in with cotton, linen is a similar textile that is versatile and durable, but they are different. Linen comes from spinning the fibers of the stalks of flax plants. Flax plants are abundant and easy to grow, just like the cotton plant, making linen another popular and affordable textile option for clothing and bedding materials.
Linen is one of the most breathable fabrics, making it excellent for all seasons, especially summer. The origins of linen are rather mysterious, as it may be the oldest fabric in the world. But most experts believe it first originated in prehistoric Europe, but today, it mostly comes from China.
Unsurprisingly, linen fabrics typically use the plain weave. But you can also create a satin or twill weave using linen fibers. Linen fibers are usually flat and reversible, making it easy to execute many different weave variations.
Linen is most commonly used to craft bed sheets, blankets, pillowcases, dish towels, bath towels, skirts, shirts, suits, dresses, aprons, bags, and tablecloths. You can also use linen to make wallpaper, upholstery, luggage, and diapers. It’s also the most common material to make sewing thread that people often keep in their homes for repairs.
Polyester is the only synthetic fabric discussed on this list, but it’s still one of the most popular fabrics in the affordable fashion industry.
The fibers come from natural sources like fossil fuels but are then manufactured into an ultra-thin plastic, making it a synthetic material. Besides fossil fuels like petroleum, polyester fibers can also come from recycled plastic, waste, and crops.
Because of polyester’s synthetic nature, it can work with all three types of weaves and many other variations. It’s made with a plain weave, but any weave will work well.
Compared with the other fabrics mentioned here, polyester is relatively new. It did not originate in the ancient world but from the United States. Scientist W. H. Caruthers gets credit for inventing this synthetic material in the 1930s at DuPont Lab. Polyester has one of the clearest histories, unlike many other textiles that come from the ancient world.
Polyester can be used to make many products, such as pants, hoodies, dresses, jackets, shirts, underwear, socks, blankets, hats, ropes, sheets, and upholstery.
For more information on the various types of fabrics, see our Types of Fabrics guide.
Uses of Textiles
Most people think about fashion and clothing when they think about textiles. However, there are endless uses for textiles, and many will surprise you.
This section will look at some of the most common uses of textiles. Plus, rare and surprising uses you may not expect. Textile uses can overlap in different industries, but this section offers an overview of how people utilize textiles in various industries.
While reading this section, look around you and take note of how many different textiles are around you. Whether you’re sitting on a couch, riding on a train, or relaxing in a park, you’ll be surprised how much of our world features textiles.
As mentioned, textiles are most popular in the fashion industry. From high-end runway shows to plain t-shirts at your local Walmart, textiles are everything when it comes to clothing.
Practically every item of clothing, from the socks on your feet to the hat on your head and everything in between, is made using textiles. Many items use a combination of different textiles. For example, many classic suits have an interior lining of satin or silk, and an exterior made from linen, twill, or cotton.
The obvious items that use textiles include shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, blouses, pajamas, jackets, sweaters, and anything else you wear on your body. But there are some items you may not have thought about as textiles.
Leather bags, shoes, and certain accessories, like headbands and bracelets, also use textiles. You could spend all day looking at the different products in the fashion industry that use textiles. It’s likely more difficult to find fashion products that do not feature any textiles.
While other industries discussed below gravitate toward very specific textiles, there is a place for practically every textile in the fashion industry. They use everything from luscious silk to chunky leather to durable denim to stiff plastic.
Home goods are the second most common use of textiles that people think of. Homes should be a source of comfort and relaxation, and much of this can be attributed to textiles. Homes are teeming with different textiles, from furniture to bath towels to kitchen towels to carpets to drapes.
Anything in your home that is soft and comfortable is likely a textile. You sleep on textiles every night and dry yourself off with them after a shower. People sit on textiles while they watch TV or enjoy their dinner. When you walk around barefoot on your carpet, you can thank a textile for your comfy rug.
Without textiles, humans would live far more uncomfortable lives. So much of home comfort and “creature comforts” can be attributed to the invention and application of different textiles. Even highly functional items in your home, like dog collars, leashes, and mattresses, were made using a textile.
The most common fabrics you’ll find in your home are linen, cotton, terrycloth, gingham, and polyester. But satin and silk are commonly used to make pillowcases and luxurious sheets. Another common textile in your home, especially if you have kids or pets, ar plush toys. Stuffed animals, rope chew toys, and similar items are made mostly of textiles.
Textiles also have a home in the art industry. They make up painting canvases, tapestries, embroidering, and more. Fashion can be seen as an art, but rather than wearing it, these textiles are materials for creating masterpieces.
Next time you are in an art store, look around at how many soft items, or hard ones, are textiles. Most of the art hanging on your walls in your home use textiles paired with other materials like paint or other art supplies.
One of the most prominent examples of textiles in art, aside from painting canvases, are crocheted items. Currently, crocheting is regaining popularity and becoming a fun craft for many, whether they make clothing or art! Even knitting and sewing can be considered art forms.
People will likely continue to find new and creative ways to incorporate different textiles into their artistic endeavors.
The industrial industry’s use of textiles is far-reaching. Industrial is an umbrella term for many other industries, such as the packaging, printing, manufacturing industry, and more.
Textiles have an important role in the industrial world. This article will touch upon the most prominent textile uses in the industrial world. Even the medical industry takes advantage of the versatility of textiles to help heal people.
You can find textiles in many medical settings to make IV bag support mesh, cubicle mesh curtains in hospitals, and load-bearing patient slings for broken or fractured limbs.
More common uses include sutures and wound dressings. Beige or white bandages that doctors and nurses use to wrap wounds and prevent infection are polyester fabric.
When people get stitches or sutures, doctors use types of threads, which would be considered textiles.
Lastly, textiles are necessary for grafting materials, which can save lives.
Fabrics used in the medical industry must often be radiation-resistant, antibacterial, moisture-wicking, and generally comfortable for patients. Textiles designed for the medical industry are durable and high-quality with distinct features that help them fulfill their purpose.
When you think of cars and transportation, you probably think of metal materials and plastic before you think about textiles. But textiles are an integral part of the transportation industry, making traveling more comfortable for humans.
Can you imagine sitting on a plane for five hours in a metal seat? It would be torture. Thanks to the many versatile textiles of the world, you get to sit on a comfy leather seat. The same goes for cars, trains, boats, and any other vehicles you can think of. Even motorcycles have a leather seat for the rider to be comfortable as they cruise around.
Automobiles use a variety of different textiles. The seats are typically one fabric, and the interior has a soft material above and around you. Transportation without textiles would be super uncomfortable, so the world is lucky that many fabrics have been incorporated into vehicles.
But aside from comfort, textiles in the transportation industry can also keep people safe. Seatbelts, filters, airbags, seat pockets, and more features that make your car a safer place are textiles. Fabrics even keep people safe on wild rollercoasters by making seatbelts and harnesses.
The use of textiles in the transportation industry exemplifies how textiles do not just enhance comfort but can also protect people from serious harm. Most people have never considered that the seatbelt they wear daily is a textile that could save their life.
Outdoor and Recreation
Textiles are in many recreational products and outdoor gear. The list of items is endless. As mentioned, textiles are necessary for making parachutes, but they also make camping tents, sports uniforms, fishing nets, sporting nets, sports equipment, ropes, and more.
For example, a fun outdoor activity like rock climbing requires a combination of different textile products, like harnesses, ropes, and safety clothing. A lacrosse player has a lacrosse stick with textile netting, clothing, and shoes made from textiles, and throws the ball into a textile net to score a goal.
Baseball gloves, batting gloves, cleats, sneakers, and other sporting equipment all feature textiles. Hammocks, picnic blankets, beach towels, and bathing suits are relaxing recreational items that use textiles too.
Lastly, textiles have a large place in outdoor recreational activities like scuba diving, sailing, and other water activities. Waterproof diving suits and durable boat sails are some of the most impressive textiles that showcase how functional textiles can be.
As mentioned, textiles play an important role in safety in the transportation industry. But, textiles have other protective uses.
A section above mentioned how wool can insulate firefighting gear, but this is just one of the protective possibilities. Several examples of textile uses in the medical industry are protective, but still, there are more instances to discuss.
Textiles are necessary for crafting PPE for industrial workers, reflective safety vests and clothing, protective lining in military uniforms, and reflective safety flags.
These are a few ways textiles can protect people. Protective fabrics are regulated by certain entities, such as OSHA, ANSI, ASTM, Mil-Spec, Mil-C, and Berry Amendment, to name a few.
Protective textiles have saved lives, and as the technology surrounding textiles continues to advance, you can expect more protective fabrics to become standard in risky activities and occupations.
History of Textiles
Textiles were not always so widely used. Over time, people have found new ways to use textiles, whether for fun, fashion, or survival. This all began in the ancient world and has led to the amazing modern uses of textiles.
To better understand how far textiles have come and how much potential they have, this section will look at the use and evolution of textiles through the ages, starting in the prehistoric world.
Prehistoric Textiles and Clothing
Textiles have been around almost as long as humans have, satisfying the need for clothing, comfort, and shelter. While the prehistoric history of textiles has no documentation, there is still enough information to offer modern humans a glimpse into how textiles evolved to be as widespread as they are today.
The earliest textile is the string! The string was the beginning of it all. Before people figured out how to create strong fabric with these filaments, they used string to create garments like netted caps, bandeaus, and string skirts.
The first evidence of fibers woven together was around 7,000 BC as the Neolithic period began. It began with basket weaving and the plain weave on clay and bone but soon developed into fabrics using fibers.
Mats, baskets, and garments are the first known uses of woven textiles. Sewing needles found in certain areas could date back to the Stone Age. People believe that prehistoric humans used flax fibers to create clothing. The earliest examples are Venus statues wearing garments crafted more than 25,000 years ago.
The most preserved textiles of the prehistoric world were in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and surrounding locations, which was once called Mesopotamia. As woven fabrics emerge and patterns are incorporated, textiles move into the ancient world, where documented human history begins.
Ancient Textiles and Clothing
Moving into ancient times, historians have a better idea of how fabrics were used and created. The first instance documented is in India around 5,000 BC, where they began weaving cotton filaments together to make fabric.
While India makes cotton, Egypt is busy making loads of linen fabric, which they use as clothing. An excess of flax plants in Egypt made crafting linen easy. But Egyptians, known for their impeccable ancient inventions and feats, began using spinning techniques.
Ancient Egyptians utilized the drop spindle, hand-to-hand spinning, rolling on the thigh technique, horizontal ground loom, and a vertical two-beam loom. Egypt was the first culture to use textiles widely, from Pharaohs to peasants. Almost everyone in ancient Egypt utilized some textile garment.
Linen was also necessary for mummification. The incredible mummification process used in ancient Egypt would not be as effective if it weren’t for the linen bandages.
Next comes the silk from China, followed by sewing and weaving in Japan. Asia picks up similar spinning and weaving techniques used in African countries. China’s ability to produce silk helped it become one of the dominating civilizations in the ancient world. The world traded these fabrics through China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, and Rome.
Soon, Greeks and Italians began to construct their own dramatic clothing, like long robes and dresses. They often used wool or linen and secured their clothing with sashes or pins. During this time, the iconic toga was born, only to be worn by free Roman men.
Medieval Textiles and Clothing
Ancient and prehistoric clothing was mostly flowing, draped garments with little or no tailoring. But with the coming of the Iron Age and Medieval times, fashion emerged. Rather than wearing clothes for humility and protection, people began considering clothing as an aesthetic item.
During the Iron Age women wore heavy wool dresses and skirts, but they began incorporating patterns and various textiles to create new styles. People began dying textiles and embroidering items. Byzantines were the first to create rich patterns which became a coveted material.
This period is when fashion and garments began to symbolize class and wealth. Only the most affluent people could afford certain textiles and patterned clothes. Lower-class people wore plain clothing with less tailoring and design.
Certain clothing even indicated what culture one identified with at the time, whether it was the old Roman population, new invaders, Franks, Anglo-Saxons, or Visigoths.
Between 1100 and 1200, clothes were still simple aside from some patterns and colors. At the start of the 1200s, people began dyeing clothing and trying different weaves to create new fabrics. Crusaders spread the technique for crafting silk across the world wherever they went.
As the 1200s ended and the 1300s begin, the world moves into the Renaissance period, where fashion began to evolve.
Early Modern Textiles and Clothing
During early modern times, fashion plays a major role in society. Wool remains the most popular fabric, along with linen and hemp.
Only high-class citizens and royalty got to wear patterns and dyed clothing. But, as fashion evolves, urban middle-class people begin wearing more fashionable garments.
In the 1500s, there are more intricate and complex textile uses, such as ruffles, passementerie, and needlelace. While delicate styles like this were mostly crafted by hand, the Renaissance is when looms become widely used and manufactured.
Only professional and skilled weavers could operate looms. Despite the growing popularity of different fabrics, they remained expensive because of the skill and labor involved.
The most common types of looms used during early modern times were band looms and tablet-weaving looms, which made it easier for weavers to craft more fabric faster and with less exertion.
Looms and spinning wheels will remain the most efficient way to create textiles for hundreds of years. Between the 1200s and the 1800s, everything was crafted by hand in conjunction with wooden equipment, like looms and wheels. But, with the Industrial Revolution comes new technology.
Industrial Revolution Textiles and Clothing
Humanity made incredible technological strides during the Industrial Revolution, including textile inventions and techniques.
Machines that can spin, weave, and sew with more automation begin to appear. This means fabrics can be made faster, cheaper, and of better quality. For textiles, the Industrial Revolution was a milestone.
Now, textiles can be made large scale using assembly lines. The need for skilled weavers drops. Textiles are now widely produced in urban settings. The textile industry was the largest industry during the Industrial Revolution concerning employment and jobs.
Many textile machine inventions took place during this time, including flying shuttles, cotton mills, spinning jenny, water frames, spinning mules, power looms, and cotton gins. The Industrial Revolution also brought the introduction of synthetic dyes and materials.
Effective synthetic fabrics, like polyester, won’t be invented for another few decades, but the Industrial Revolution birthed the idea of synthetic fabrics and materials in the textile industry.
The quality of life for many people changed drastically but in different ways. One of the driving factors of this change was accessibility to clothing and textiles, as well as the evolution of fashion.
Lower and middle-class people were in dirty factories making ends meet and often wore the most affordable garments they could find. But upper-class people were wearing stylish suits and extravagant dresses. While some still bought clothing out of necessity and comfort, the higher-class population sought pleasing aesthetics and inventive styles.
Victorian-era fashion is stunning to this day and inspires many designers. The wide variety of Victorian styles was only possible thanks to the progress made in the Industrial Revolution, leading to how we use textiles and view fashion today.
Modern Day Textiles and Clothing
The modern world is leaning slightly away from aesthetic garments and opting for comfort over style. The rise of athleisure exemplifies this, but high fashion is still driving aspects of culture.
Modern textile machines have come a long way, even from the Industrial Revolution. Today’s sewing machines work quickly and produce high-quality garments. Most modern textile companies use one or more of the following machines to craft fabric and clothing:
- Woolen mill machines
- Thread winding machines
- Bleaching machines
- Dyeing machines
- Scutching machines
- Carding machines
- Spinning machines
- Yarn gassing machines
While luxury clothes are still costly and reserved for upper-class people, clothing in general and other textiles, like home goods, have become drastically more affordable for the average person.
The Future of Textiles and Clothing
It’s easy to think that textiles have come as far as they can, but this is likely not the truth. Experts in the textile industry believe there will be a shift and evolution toward smart textiles.
Smart textiles will allow for more energy storage to make garments and other textiles more functional. Smart textiles can be even more protective and durable than some of the best textiles already in existence.
Along with advances in textiles, there are also predictions concerning fashion. As smart textiles evolve, people expect fashion to shift toward lifestyle and experience rather than simple aesthetics. You can already see trends like this in reflective interior on jackets and similar textile inventions, making for a better wearing experience rather than just visual appeal.
Types of Spinning and Weaving Tools and Inventions
As discussed in this article, a major aspect of textile history are the different tools used to craft fabrics and weave threads. This section will give an overview of some of the most well-known and widely used textile machines of the past.
Many tools and inventions on this list, like power looms, water frames, and spinning jenny, are types of looms. No one knows who or where the first loom came from, but many suspect ancient Egypt. The machine can weave threads together to make fabric using shuttles and wheels.
Another textile machine thought to come from China is the handloom. A handloom is simple but effective and was likely one of the first textile machines ever invented.
Inkle Loom Band
An inkle loom band is a versatile handloom that can make textiles like shoelaces or hairbands. The band came about in the 16th century, but is unclear by whom and when.
Drawloom was likely invented in ancient China but may be from Syria. This machine allowed weavers to make patterns in the fabric, creating new styles and art.
The water frame, or spinning frame, came shortly after the spinning jenny and is thought to be the superior version. It operates the same as the spinning jenny, but the weaver does not have to spin the wheel by hand, as a water wheel does it automatically.
It is said to have been invented by Richard Arkwright in 1764 in Europe, but evidence suggests ancient Egyptians used a similar machine.
Back Strap Loom
The back strap loom is a mobile loom that weavers could use on the go! The origins are unclear, but many assume it originated in Eastern Asia during the Bronze or Iron Ages and made it easy for weavers to work wherever they went.
The origin of the spindle is unknown, likely invented during prehistoric times. It’s a slender rounded rod used in hand-spinning to twist thread from a mass of wool or flax.
Haute-Lisse and Basse-Lisse Looms
These looms were for weaving intricate tapestries. The Haute-lisse has yarn hung vertically between two spools, while the basse-lisse loom has a warp thread stretched out horizontally. These also date back to ancient times, and the origins are unknown.
No one knows who invented the warp-weighted loom and when, as it’s ancient. It holds warp threads parallel and under tension using the weight of a stone, pottery, or metal. People attributed the invention to the ancient Egyptians, but it was most popular during the Middle Ages in Western civilizations.
Spinning wheels likely came to be around 500 AD, so the exact origin is unknown, but experts suspect Europe. It spins fibers together one thread at a time and laid the foundations for the most modern textile machines.
Invented by John Kay in 1733 in Britain, the flying shuttle is an improvement on standard looms, allowing the weavers to work more quickly. In the loom, the shuttle now flies with the jerk of a cord, making it easier to finish a piece of fabric in less time.
The spinning jenny was invented in 1770 in Britain by James Hargreaves. It was a significant invention in the textile industry because of its multi-spindle spinning frame. This design meant a weaver could spin eight threads at once instead of one.
Invented in 1779 by Samuel Crompton in Britain, the spinning mule made it simpler to produce cotton yarn and threads. A person could operate over 1,000 spindles at once.
Roller printing is an invention that made it possible to create patterns. It uses a series of engraved metal rollers that contain patterns in a particular color. Thomas Bell invented this machine in Scotland in 1783, revolutionizing printing on clothes.
Edmund Cartwright designed the first one in England in 1786. The power loom significantly reduced the need for skilled weavers, which created waves of unemployment, but increased textile manufacturing.
In 1794, Eli Whitney patented his invention of the cotton gin in England. This machine did not help weavers but sped up the process of separating cotton seeds from the cotton fibers needed to make the thread.
Modern Textile Industry
Unsurprisingly, the modern textile industry is still booming as fast fashion becomes the norm and high fashion is still in full swing. However, the need for industrial textiles has grown as technology advances, making it even a more lucrative industry.
Today, most textiles come from China and other Asian countries. However, almost every nation in the world manufactures textiles to some extent.
In 2021, the global textile market was worth $993.6 billion and is expected to grow in value over the next several years.
Environmental Impact of the Textile Industry
Unfortunately, the high demand for textiles harms the environment. Demand for fast fashion means more clothes are being produced then thrown away than ever before. There are many issues with the textile industry. Some of the environmental problems the textile industry causes are below.
Unsustainable Manufacturing Practices
Many of the manufacturing processes used in the textile industry require excessive energy and cannot last forever. Companies must move toward a more sustainable way of making clothes.
Most textile companies use synthetic dyes and other chemicals to create their clothing, which often runs into the environment when disposed of.
Consumption of Vital Resources
Like most manufacturing industries, the textile industry uses tons of vital resources, especially water and energy. It takes 2,700 liters of water to produce one t-shirt: that’s enough drinking water to last one person 2.5 years!
All factories produce pollution, and textile factories are no different. They produce large amounts of toxic gases, contributing to pollution and global warming, and show no signs of slowing down.
Massive Fuel Consumption
Everyone knows how harmful burning fossil fuels is to the environment, and mining for them is just as bad. Unfortunately, the textile industry is one of the worst when it comes to using oils and fuels.
These issues must be combatted on a global and corporate level. However, individuals can do their part by donating and recycling clothing and only buying new clothes when necessary.
Textiles are a massive part of human civilization. Once upon a time, people draped fabric over them, wore string clothing, and saw clothes as merely a necessity. Today, clothes are more than that, and textiles do more than one can imagine.
Textiles make up our clothing, homes, and more. The versatility of fabric is unmatched, ranging from protective gear to sporting equipment to high fashion pieces.
Thanks to the impressive potential of textiles, the future of fabric will be even more astounding.