Textiles – A Closer Look


Did you know?

The word ‘textile’ originally comes from the Latin word ‘Taxere’ meaning ‘to weave’. It covers any flexible material made of interlacing fibres. The production of textiles is an ancient craft but today the speed and scale of production in textiles has changed beyond recognition from those ancient crafts by mass production and the introduction of modern manufacturing techniques. Textiles are all around us in our everyday life – some of its uses include clothing, bags, furnishing, geo textiles, carpets, etc.


Types of Textiles

Textiles are made from a variety of materials – they can be broken down into animal (Alpaca, cashmere, mohair, wool, silk), vegetable (cotton, hemp, linen, sisal), plant (paper, rayon, modal), mineral (glass fibre, metal) and synthetic (lurex, acrylic, polypropylene, lycra, nylon, polyester).

The process from the material to a textile can be broken down into;

a. harvest/shear the fibre/wool

b. card and spin into threads

c. process the threads into a cloth

d. make the upholstery/garment


Working with Textiles

The processes of bringing the fibres to a fabric include; crochet, knitting, lace, felt, and weaving. These processes are also part of the decoration/making and handle of the fabric. In crafts/art/design the decoration of textiles is a major area and as well as including the processes of making they also include the following; batik, embroidery, print. Fibre art uses all these processes to push boundaries into art and sculptural work.


Embroidery; can be hand or machine stitch and is a way of decorating fabric/materials using a needle and thread/yarn. It can stitch other materials like beads or found objects into the work. Stitches such as blanket stitch, running stitch, cross stitch are just a few of the numerous types of stitches which can be used.

Lace; is an openwork fabric, patterned with open holes in the work, made by machine or by hand. Types of lace include needle, crochet, bobbin and openwork lace. Lace can be made with cotton, linen, gold, silk, metal wire, etc.

Print; is the process of applying colour to fabric. Thickened dyes are used to print using wooden blocks, stencils, engraved plates, silk screens, etc onto the fabric.

Patchwork; is a form of needlework that involves sewing together pieces of fabric into a larger piece of fabric. Techniques include cathedral windows, seminole, stained glass windows, foundation piecework, etc.

Felt; is a non-woven fabric that is produced by wet or needle felting.

Weaving; two sets of threads on a loom, the warp and the weft interlock to make fabric.

Knit; can be by machine or hand. The thread passes through a loop eventually building to make a garment, etc. Yarn/Knit bombing is a bit like graffiti with trees and buildings covered in knit.

Batik; is a cloth that traditionally uses a manual wax resist dyeing technique. The cloth is drawn on with a brush/ tjanting using hot wax and then cold dyed.

The use of science and technology has allowed fabrics and materials to be developed and combined for specialist applications whether dry suits for deep sea diving, waterproof yet breathable suits for outdoor and leisure pursuits, space suits, hazardous waste suits and stay cool sports gear and insulation.



A man-made textile is made by the same process except that the original fibre is derived from a chemical process and is then spun.

The manufacturing processes for making fabric have been developed in Europe and America. The cost of production has now resulted in most textile manufacturing to move to less developed countries where wages are a fraction of developed world rates, e.g. China, India Turkey.

Geo textiles are permeable fabrics when used with soil have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect and drain. Made from polypropylene, polyester and coir it is used in civil engineering for roads, airfields and sand dunes.



Textile- A material made from natural or manmade fibres

Natural fibres- Fibres which come from animals, plants and minerals for example wool, glass fibre and silk.

Manmade fibres-  Fibres which are artificially made for example acrylic,lycra and nylon.

Fibre Art- Art form that uses the textile materials and techniques to make work, for example wool, batik, embroidery.


© Caroline Schofield 2011