All About Textiles: Definition, Types, and Uses

Textile is a general term for many materials, including fabrics. Textiles and their production date as far back as prehistoric times and have significantly progressed, making a wide variety of textiles available to be used by people in numerous aspects of their life, religion, and profession. 

One might wonder what the difference between textiles and fabric is. Textiles can either be finished or unfinished products produced from fibers and yarns that serve as sources for fabric production.

Fabrics are the finished products that can go on to form clothing. Fabric can be woven or non-woven. 

What Are Textiles?

Textiles are flexible materials made from natural or artificial yarn, fiber, filament, or thread. The term “textiles” is a general one encompassing all fiber-based materials.

These materials are manufactured using several methods, including knitting, weaving, crocheting, pressing, knotting, pressing, or braiding. The method used to manufacture a particular textile will depend on its intended use.

Textiles have an extensive range as not only are they made from natural fibers but also synthesized artificially.

African Textiles
African Textiles

Over time, textile production methods have enhanced, and the wide variety of textiles used now is for trendy clothing and decorative fabrics.

The development of the textile industry has played an essential role in advancing human civilization. Since prehistoric times, humans have discovered ways to make textiles used for every task one can imagine, from solely producing materials for clothing to upholstery for automobiles to space suits. 

People wear clothes from summer dresses to winter coats to protect themselves against mild and harsh weather conditions using different textile materials.

How Are Textiles Produced?

Textile Production

Textiles vary according to how they are produced, which plays a role in how they are used and the different product fabrics. 

Textile production involves the following: 

Firstly, the textile fibers are harvested from various natural sources. The fibers could be natural plant fibers such as cotton, and linen, animal fibers such as wool, and silk, synthetics such as polyester and polyacrylic, or artificial fiber such as rayon.

These fibers can be arranged in various ways to get the flexibility, strength, texture, and appearance prominent in today’s fabric. 

Next up, the fibers produced are then spun into yarns. This mechanical process requires spinning oils to minimize friction and increase the fiber’s strength and cohesion.

After spinning the fabric yarn, they are subjected to different processes such as knitting, weaving, crocheting, or other methods.

With weaving, two distinct sets of yarns are interwoven at right angles to form a fabric with looms. For knitting, a continuous yarn or set of yarns is/ are used to create a series of interlocking loops using knitting needles. 

For crocheting, a crochet hook is used to interlock loops of yarns.

The fabrics, yarns, or fibers produced are then pre-treated to allow for subsequent chemical processing of the material.

Fabric pretreatment is a multi-step process and usually varies based on the type of fabric, blend of fiber, and finishing treatments. These pretreatment steps include washing and cleaning the fabrics, scouring natural fibers, die-sizing yarns, bleaching, and treatment with sodium hydroxide (mercerizing) and carbonizing.

Dyeing and printing are applied to the textiles, which give the color of choice and design to the textiles using dyes and pigments. 

Depending on the type of textile being produced and the specifications that go along with it, clothing manufacturers utilize various colors in the production process. Printing is done after dyeing in the process of enhancing the appearance of textiles, and it is accomplished by applying pigments, dyes, and other substances in the shape of patterns.

Textile fabric printing uses rollers, blocks, heat transfer, screens, and digital printing with printing techniques including discharge, resist, or direct techniques.

After all the processes are concluded, the fabric is passed through end treatments with a broad range of chemicals used to add unique characteristics and aesthetic appeal to the textile.

The chemicals used will depend on the desired properties, such as antibacterial treatment, flame resistance, crease resistance, etc.

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A Brief History of Textiles

Different textile fibers originate from different parts of the world, such as silk from China, cotton from Africa, India, and wool from the Mediterranean. From ancient to recent times, these textiles have found ways to reach every part of the world. 

Textiles date as far back as prehistoric times, and with human civilization, the history and production of textiles are commonly seen in people in Africa and Peru.

By the start of the middle age, felted cloths, towels, and carpets were skillfully produced by Turkish tribes with fine-printed and painted muslins in India.

Textiles were big business during the Middle Ages because of the widespread availability of dyes and prints. As a result, royalty and the upper class favored imported fabrics like silk.

In recent times, textile production and use evolved with improved sustainable practices connected with the environment and enhanced textile technology. 

Types of Textiles

Textiles can be classified based on their origin into natural and synthetic fibers and consumer and technical textiles based on their uses. 

Natural Textiles

Natural Bamboo Textile
Natural Bamboo Textile

These are the types found in nature. They’re usually lightweight and environmentally friendly. They include:

  • Plant Textiles

For years, many manufacturing companies have preferred to use plant-based textile fabrics because they’re strong, highly renewable, and eco-friendly. With technological advancements, it’s also become easier to transform these fibers into exquisite fabrics. Some of the plant-based textile fibers include cotton, linen, hemp, and many others.

  • Animal Textiles

These textiles are made of fur and hair of animals and used in making coats, blazers, jackets, and similar clothes. Animal-based fibers are elastic, have outstanding absorbent characteristics, and are wrinkle resistant. Silk and wool are examples of animal-based fibers.

Synthetic Textiles

Synthetic viscose Textiles
Synthetic Viscose Textiles

Synthetic textiles include: 

  • Cellulosic Textiles

Cellulosic textile fibers are manufactured from natural materials reformed by chemical processes. That is by extracting cellulose from woody plants and combining it with caustic soda and carbon disulfide.

Cellulosic textiles have a great texture and are highly durable. Examples are viscose, triacetate, and acetate.

  • Synthetic Textiles

These textile fibers are made by chemical synthesis from start to finish. They’re created to imitate natural textile fibers and tend to be smooth, lightweight, and resistant to wrinkles. They are also high in demand, probably because of their affordability. 

Spandex, polyester, and acrylic are examples of this textile. The downside to these artificial fibers is the non-eco-friendly and harmful materials involved in their manufacturing process.

  • Mineral Textiles

Mineral textiles are inorganic and nonmetallic textile fibers. These fibers are obtained from mineral resources. 

Examples of such textiles include asbestos and basalt used for sheeting, stage curtains, and adhesive. There’s also metal fiber, metal wire, and metal foil used in making jewelry and other related items. 

Based on their uses, textiles include: 

  • Consumer Textiles

Consumer textiles include apparel textiles used to make clothing, household textiles, and textiles for upholstery, furnishings, carpetings, and table and bed covers.

These textiles are also used to make bags and baskets and for sewing, quilting, and other forms of handcraft.

  • Technical Textiles

Technical textiles are used for industrial purposes and possess subtypes based on the industry it’s used in. They range from agro textile, medical textile, geotextile, and so on.

Technical textiles are used to manufacture items like protective wears, parachutes, tents, sails, flags, bulletproof vests, backpacks, and other related things.

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What’s The Average Cost of Textiles Per Yard?

The price of textiles varies according to the type of fiber used and where it was harvested. There are numerous kinds of textiles, including natural ones like wool and cotton and synthetic ones like polyester and acrylic.

Cotton textile’s low production cost is primarily due to its abundant supply. On the other hand, authentic silk fibers can be more costly because they are less common and may need to be imported. 

The average cost of textiles per yard varies with the type of textile. For upholstery textiles, the average cost per yard ranges from $30 to $65. While cheap ones are available for prices ranging from $10 to $15, you may find costly ones for about $200.

In addition, the cost of textiles like silk depends on the quality of silk. Silk textiles have an average cost of around $30, although there are less pricier types for $5 and expensive ones for $50 per yard.

On average, textiles produced from cotton material cost around $2 to $10 per yard.

Textile Usage And Applications

Textiles are a very versatile material and serve a variety of applications in a wide range of industries. Some textile usage and applications include:

  • Fashion

Textile materials are used popularly in the fashion industry to make clothing items. Textile materials like cotton, silk, linen, wool, and so on are used to make apparel from pants, skirts, shirts, jackets, shorts, and underwear.

  • Household fabrics 

Textile materials are also widely applied in making certain items used in home improvement and interior decorating.

These textiles manufactured using both synthetic and natural textiles are usually used to accessorize the house.

These textiles include bedsheets, towels, table and kitchen linen, window treatments, outdoor furnishings, carpetings, and so on. 

  • Medical uses

The use of textiles is also seen in medicine. Bandages, masks, and wipes are produced from textile materials alongside baby diapers and feminine hygiene products. Not all types of textile can be used in the medical line because of the frequent interaction with bodily fluids.

  • Transportation

Technical textiles are used to construct railways, automobiles, ships, aircraft, and spacecraft. These textiles used are sunlight and UV resistant and have reduced flammability.

Some of these textiles used in the transportation industry are used in seat belts, airbags, seat upholstery, aircraft upholstery, and car interiors. 

  • Building and Construction

Another application of textiles is in construction and building. Textiles used in this industry are known as Buildtex.

These materials are used in flooring, roofing, house wrap, and plastering. They are also used as concrete reinforcement, insulation, and waterproofing materials.

  • Agriculture

Agrotextiles are another significant application of technical textiles. These textiles are used in agrotech, horticulture, forestry, and aquaculture.

These textiles are used in agricultural fields, are resistant to microorganisms, can withstand UV radiation, and possess protective functions. These items include insect meshes, windshields, plant nets, bird protection nets, etc.

  • Sports

Textile materials are used to make sportswear like swimwear, shorts, jerseys, tracksuit, sports footwear, and sports equipment such as nets and yoga mats.

Textiles used in sports range from natural to artificial, including silk, cotton, spandex, and polyester.

Sports textiles are easily handled, highly adjustable, have excellent water and air permeability, and protect against UV rays.

Textile Care And Maintenance

Textile materials require adequate care and maintenance to prolong their appearance and durability.

Some textile care and maintenance tips include:

  • Textiles should be handled carefully and with clean hands, if you must, to prevent any form of damage.
  • Textiles also vary in the standard of care based on the methods used to produce them. To properly maintain textiles, you could research the best way to care for your textile, depending on the one you’ve got. 
  • Household upholstery, rugs, and bedspreads should be vacuumed cleaned on low suction using a crevice tool covered with nylon netting to avoid snagging.
  • Before washing or ironing the textile material, you should remove fasteners, jewelry, metal pins, etc. If you don’t, they can snag and weaken the textile. 
  • Flattened textiles should be rolled and not folded, resulting in creases that can crack or tear over time.
  • After washing, you should hang your textile materials away from direct sunlight as they’re prone to fading.
  • When eating and drinking, be careful not to allow the food and drink to stain the textiles. 
  • You can rotate carpets and rugs or refold them from time to time to change the sections exposed to light.
  • Textiles shouldn’t be placed directly on wood surfaces nor in plastic bags or boxes as they can damage and change the material’s color.

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