Textiles are everywhere, and they have played a significant role in the lives of individuals from early civilisation until now. The clothes you wear, bed sheets, draperies, towels, carpeting and upholstery fabrics you use, are all produced from textiles. Textiles have even made it into space as the lining of the cargo holds in space shuttles.

The versatility of textile is due to the different materials used in its production. Made from filaments or thin threads, textiles can be natural, artificial or a combination of both. These thin thread or yarns are created by spinning the raw fibres of various materials such as cotton, wool, flax, hemp and other materials to make fabric. Different methods such as knitting, weaving, felting, crocheting, knotting or braiding are used to produce textiles.

Sources & Types

There are four major sources from which textiles are produced; animal, plant, minerals and synthetic. Animal, plant and minerals are natural sources. During the 20th century, artificial fibres made from petroleum were used as supplements.

Textiles are available in varying degrees of strengths and durableness, from the finest microfiber, produced from very thin strands to the heavy-duty canvas. In textile manufacturing, several descriptive terminologies are used (from light gauze-like sheer to heavy grosgrain cloth and more). The textile industry comprises of different manufacturers and textile cutting services that are all available to consumers.

Animal Textiles

Textiles from animals are usually made from silk, wool, hair, skin or fur. Wool is the hair of sheep or goat. Wool is generally used to make clothing such as sweaters, coats and skirts. Woolen is a bulky yarn, which is made from carding, non-parallel fiber, while worsted is a finer yarn produced from longer fibers and combed to be parallel. Cashmere gets its name from the cashmere goat of India, while mohair is the hair of the angora goat of North Africa. Cashmere and mohair are well known for their softness and are the softest type of wool.

Some other animal textiles made from hair or fur are alpaca wool, llama wool, vicuña wool, and camel hair, which are usually used to make blankets, coats, ponchos and other warm coverings. Angora is the long, soft, thick hair of the Angora rabbit, while the muskox fine inner wool is called qiviut. Sea silk is an extremely fine, rare, and valuable fabric that is made from the long silky filaments or byssus secreted by a gland in the foot of pen shells.

Plant Textiles

There is a wide range of plant fibres used to produce several materials:

• A rope is made from plant textiles such as grass, sisal, hemp and rush.

• Coconut fibre known as coir is used to make twine, mattresses, doormats, brushes, floor mats, sacking and floor tiles.

• Hats are made from bamboo and straw, while dried grass a special type of straw is used for stuffing.

• Paper is made from fibres of pulpwood trees, rice, cotton, and nettle and hemp plants.

• Clothes are made from plant materials such as flax, cotton, hemp, jute, modal and bamboo.

• Pina, which is pineapple fibre, and ramie are also used in clothing but usually with a mixture of other fibres such as cotton.

• The lacebark tree’s inner bark is used in the manufacturing of clothing, accessories, and functional objects such as rope.

• ‘Bast’ fibers are those made from the stalk of hemp, nettle and flax plants.

Mineral Textiles

Textiles made from minerals have a wide range of uses:

• Asbestos and basalt fibre; these are used for fire blankets, vinyl tiles, stage curtains, sheeting and adhesives, acoustical ceilings, “transite” panels and siding.

• Glass Fibers are used to make covers for iron boards, mattresses, cables and ropes, insect netting, flameproof, fireproof, insulating and soundproof fabric. The beta cloth is a fireproof fabric that is made from woven glass fibres, coated with Teflon.

• Metal fibres, metal wire and metal foil have a number of uses including the making of jewellery and cloth-of-gold.

• ‘Hardware cloth’ is a US term, which refers to the coarse woven web of steel wire, which is used in construction. This is similar to window screening, but it is heavier and has a more open weave.

Minerals, natural and artificial fabrics can be mixed, as in emery cloth or sand cloth with a layer of abrasive attached to the back. The sand cloth is a US term used to describe fine mesh wire, which also has abrasive attached to it and is then used as you would use sandpaper. Read here for more on textiles.

Synthetic or Artificial Textiles

Synthetic or artificial textiles are mainly used in the construction of clothing and in the manufacturing of geotextiles.

• Polyester fibre can be used alone or mixed with other fibres such as cotton to produce clothing.

• Aramid fibre is used to produce flame-resistant clothing, armour and cut-protection.

• Acrylic fibre is a clone for wools and often used as a replacement of them, including cashmere.

• Nylon fibre is used to replicate silk and pantyhose is manufactured from nylon.

• Spandex whose trade name is Lycra is used to make tight-fitting fabric including bras, active-wear and swimsuits.

• Olefin fibres are used to make linings, active wear and warm clothing. This fabric dries quickly.

• Lurex fibre is metallic and is used as clothing enhancements.

Treatments

Textiles are available in many different colours due to dyeing. Chemical processes are used to finish textiles so as to modify their characteristics. Starching was used on clothing during the 19th century to make them more stain and wrinkle resistant. The advancement in technology has resulted in the permanent press and finishing agents are used to reinforce fabrics, providing consumers with wrinkle-free garments.

Before textiles get to the consumer, they go through a wide variety of treatments such as improved crease-resistance, flameproof and dyeing among others. Many of these finishes, however, can create health-related issues such as allergies and problems relating to the skin. Since there is the likelihood of allergic reactions by some individuals caused from the dyes used to color the different fabric, quality control as well as testing is of paramount importance. Toxicity and the effect on the environmental resulting from the use of flame-retardant fabric is also of equal importance.

However, regardless of the impact on consumers and the environment, textiles are here to stay and will be, as long as this world lasts.

Author

Melvin is an experienced Swimming Coach, Outdoor Teacher, and Youth Leadership Trainer with more than 8 years of experience. During his free time, he enjoys a healthy dose of reading, travelling and writing.

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