I. Introduction

Textiles, generic term (from Latin texere,"to weave") originally applied to woven fabrics, but now also applied to natural and synthetic filaments, yarns, and threads as well as to the woven, knitted, felted, tufted, braided, bonded, knotted, and embroidered fabrics made from them; and to nonwoven fabrics produced by mechanically or chemically bonding fibers.

II. Textile Fibers

The term textile fibers refers to fibers that can be spun into yarn or made into fabric by such operations as weaving, knitting, braiding, and felting. Weaving, one of the first crafts, was practiced as early as the New Stone Age, as shown by fragments of flax fibers found in the remains of lake dwellings in Switzerland. In ancient Egypt, the earliest textiles were woven from flax; in India, Peru, and Cambodia, from cotton; in the southern European area, from wool; and in China, from silk. See Fiber.

A. Linen

Made from flax, linen was first used by the ancient Egyptians. Because the earliest linen cloth was usually white, it became a symbol of purity for the Egyptians, and was used not only for clothing and household articles but also in religious practices. The Egyptians also produced textiles made of cotton imported from India. The term linens, now popularly used to designate such household items as cotton sheets, napkins, and towels, probably originated from the Egyptian word linum. See Flax.

B. Wool

The Bible refers to the superior quality of wool sold in the ancient city of Damascus. The ancient peoples of the Caucasian peninsula wore woolen robes called shal, from which the word shawl is derived. Sheep were raised for fiber, as well as for meat and leather, throughout the Mediterranean area. Sicily and southern Italy provided wool for clothing in Rome until the time of the Roman Empire, when fabrics of silk, imported from China, became fashionable. The finest wool came from merino sheep, raised in Spain by the Basque people, whose reputation as the most able sheepherders in the world continues to the present day.

Subsequently, the Belgians became skillful in producing fine-quality wool textiles and taught their art to the Saxons in Britain, who also became noted for their fine woolen fabrics. See Wool.

C. Cotton

Although cotton is the most common textile fiber now in use, it was the last natural fiber to attain commercial importance. In the 5th century BC the Greek historian Herodotus reported that among the valuable products in India was the wild plant that bears fleece as its fruit. In the following century cotton was introduced from India into Greece by Alexander the Great. Although the early Greeks and Romans used cotton for awnings and sails as well as for clothing, it was not adopted for widespread use in Europe until centuries later.

In the New World, the Mexicans used cotton for weaving in the pre-Columbian period. Cotton textiles were found in the West Indies and in South America by explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. Cotton was cultivated by the early American colonists, and after the introduction of the cotton gin, invented in 1793 by the American inventor Eli Whitney, cotton became the most important staple fiber in the world for quantity, economy, and utility. See Cotton.

D. Silk

According to Chinese legend, the weaving of silk originated in the 27th century BC during the reign of Emperor Huang Ti, whose wife supposedly developed the technique of reeling the thread of the silkworm for use in weaving. Although for many centuries raw silk and silk fabrics were exported to the Mediterranean countries, the source of the fiber remained unknown to Europeans until the 6th century AD, when travelers returning from China smuggled eggs of the silkworm into the Western world. From this stock, silkworm culture was introduced into Greece and Italy. By the 12th century silk was used for the weaving of precious fibers throughout Europe.

In the western hemisphere, attempts to cultivate the silkworm began in 1620 when King James I of England urged the colonists to produce silk instead of tobacco. Some success was achieved by the Georgian colonists, but subsequent efforts in Connecticut and New Jersey failed because of the lack of efficient, low-cost labor required to raise the mulberry trees, upon which the silkworms feed, and to care for silkworms.

In the mid-20th century only Japan and China were important silk-producing countries. At the beginning of World War II, Japan supplied 90 percent of the world production of raw silk. When the Western world was cut off from this source during the war, nylon fibers, which had been developed in the 1930s, were used as a substitute. See Silk.

E. Synthetic Fibers

The beauty and value of silk stimulated many early scientists to attempt to develop fiber resembling the thread of the silkworm. In 1664 the English scientist Robert Hooke suggested the possibility of synthesizing a glutinous substance similar to the fluid secreted by the silkworm when it spins its cocoon. Not until 200 years later, however, was the commercial production of manufactured fibers, originally named artificial silk, launched by the French scientist Count Hilaire de Chardonnet. His process, which followed the principle suggested by earlier chemists, consisted of forcing a viscous fluid through small thimblelike nozzles called spinnerets and hardening the fluid into thread by coagulation in a chemical bath. This process continues to be the basic method that is used for the production of synthetic textile fibers.

In 1924 the term artificial silk was replaced by the more definitive name rayon, which in 1937 was officially recognized in the U.S. by the Federal Trade Commission as the generic term for the new fiber. Subsequently, two major processes used in rayon production led to the classification of rayons into two distinct categories, viscose rayon and acetate rayon.

Nylon was introduced in the 1930s. Stronger than silk, this fiber is used extensively in the production of clothing, hosiery, parachute fabric, and rope. After 1940 many other synthetic fibers achieved importance in the textile industry, including the polyesters, sometimes called dacrons, polyvinyls, polyethylenes, acrylics, and olefins (see Plastics). A silklike nylon known as Qiana was introduced in 1968. Fabrics made of Qiana resist wrinkles, retain creases and pleats, and have good color clarity and stability when dyed.

The use of synthetic fibers brought many changes in the textile economy, because production methods and the physical characteristics of these fibers could be adjusted to suit specific requirements. Highly industrialized nations that previously had been forced to import cotton and wool as raw materials for textiles were able to manufacture their own fibers from such readily available resources as coal, petroleum, and wood pulp. The development of synthetic fibers led to the production of new types of durable and easily cared-for fabrics.

III. Textile Production

Production and distribution of textiles are relatively complicated. Depending on the type of fabric, the raw material, which consists of both farm and chemical products, may be prepared as an independent operation or as a preliminary stage in the manufacture of the fabric. Thus, the number of separate processes involved in production varies with each textile product.

The initial stage of textile manufacturing involves the production of the raw material either by farmers who raise cotton, sheep, silkworms, or flax or by chemists who produce fiber from various basic substances by chemical processes. The fiber is spun into yarn, which is then processed into fabric in a weaving or knitting mill. After dyeing and finishing, the woven material is ready for delivery either directly to a manufacturer of textile products or to a retailer, who sells it to individuals for use in the making of clothes and such household articles as draperies, upholstery, and curtains.

A. Fiber Processing

The cotton fiber, the fleece from the sheep, and the flax must be processed to be made ready for the spinning plant. Raw cotton is put through the cotton gin, which removes seeds and other impurities, before the fiber is shipped in bales to the spinning mill. Various mechanical and chemical operations convert flax into spinnable linen fiber; wool must be sorted, graded, and scoured before it is ready for mill processing into yarn. Silk is unwound from cocoons after the silk gum is softened in warm water to permit ready separation without rupturing the fine fibers. The continuous filaments are gathered and twisted to form multifilament yarns, in a process known as throwing. Broken filaments and waste are converted to staple (short fibers) for manufacture into spun silk yarns, in a manner similar to that used for spinning cotton, wool, or linen fibers.

Synthetic fibers are supplied in either filament or staple form. The continuous filament fiber is processed into yarn in the same manner as silk. Synthetic staple fiber, which consists of short lengths of fiber, is processed as are raw cotton and wool before spinning.

B. Spinning

Only twisting is required to process filament fiber into yarn, but staple fibers must be carded to combine the fibers into a continuous ropelike form, combed to straighten the long fibers, and drawn out into continuous strands, which are then twisted to the desired degree. In general, the amount of twist given the yarns determines various characteristics. Light twisting yields soft-surfaced fabrics, whereas hard-twisted yarns produce hard-surfaced fabrics, which provide resistance to abrasion and are less inclined to retain dirt and wrinkles. Fabrics made from hard-twisted yarns, however, are subject to greater shrinkage. Hard-twisted yarns are used in producing hosiery and crepes.

C. Weaving

Two sets of yarns, called the warp and the woof (more commonly filling, or weft) are used in weaving, which is carried out on a mechanism known as a loom. Warp yarns run along the length of the loom; filling yarns run across it. The warp is wound on huge reels, called beams or creels, that are placed at the feet of the loom, and the warp yarns are threaded through the loom to form a series of parallel threads. The filling is fed from the side of the loom by bobbins, which are changed either automatically or manually when the yarn runs out. The loom shuttle carries the filling yarns across the loom, interlacing them at right angles with the warp yarns. Different patterns and textures are achieved by varying the number of warp yarns and by altering the sequence in which they are raised or lowered. A temporary protective coating known as sizing protects the warp yarns against damage during the weaving operation.

D. Knitting Machines

Knitting, which originated with the knotting of fishnets and snares by ancient peoples, is the craft of forming a fabric by the interlocking of yarn in a series of connected loops by means of hand or mechanized needles. The craft of knitting was introduced into continental Europe by the Arabs in the 5th century, and flourished in England and Scotland in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Scots have claimed both its invention and its introduction into France.

All knitting was done by hand until 1589, when the English clergyman William Lee invented a machine that could knit stockings. Queen Elizabeth I of England refused Lee a patent for his machine, considering the new invention a threat to many of the hand knitters in the country. The machine, however, was used in other countries, and paved the way for further improvements. The first addition came in 1758, when a British cotton spinner, Jedediah Strutt, invented an attachment to the stocking frame that could produce ribbed fabric. In the early 19th century the British engineer Marc Isambard Brunel invented a circular knitting frame, to which he gave the name tricoteur. The knitting of heavier yarns became possible when another British inventor, Matthew Townsend, introduced the latch needle, a needle having a latch-closed hook at one end, which he patented in 1858. In 1864 William Cotton, also in Britain, introduced an improvement in power machines that became known as Cotton's system. The improved machine was capable of shaping the heels and toes of hosiery, and it laid the foundation for the modern full-fashioned machines. Automatic knitting machines were first introduced in 1889. See Sewing Machine.

E. Dyeing and Printing

Textiles may be dyed in a number of ways: The fabrics can be dyed after weaving or knitting is completed (piece-dyed), the loose fibers can be dyed in a vat (stock-dyed), or the yarn or filament can be dyed before weaving or knitting is begun (yarn-dyed). Synthetic yarns can also be precolored by incorporating color pigments in the spinning solution before the filaments are extruded through the spinneret (solution- or dope-dyed).

The principal method of printing designs on textiles is intaglio roller printing. In this process, the design is etched on copper rolls, a separate roll for each color in the design, the depressions are filled with printing paste, and the fabric then passes through the rolls. Another method of printing fabrics is relief roller printing. In this process, the design is raised away from the surface of the roll, and the raised portions are covered with ink. This is also called surface, peg, block, or kiss printing. Screen printing is accomplished with a design stenciled on a flat or roller screen. The screen is placed over the fabric and color is applied by squeegeeing it through the openings in the stencil. Hand-screen printing is being replaced by automatic machines. See Printing Techniques.

F. Other Finishing Processes

In addition to coloring and printing, other finishes applied to the fabric to improve its appearance and service include treatment to promote crease resistance in such textiles as cotton, linen, and spun rayons, which do not have the elasticity of silk and wool. The latest developments in crease-resistant finishes are the so-called durable press, or permanent press, finishes. In addition to wrinkle resistance, these finishes impart permanent creases where desired, as in slacks. Resistance to shrinking, staining, and soiling also may be provided by various chemical treatments. Other finishing processes protect against slipping of threads or damage by mildew, moths, or flame.

IV. Types of Textiles

Many woven fabrics are produced by variations in the weaving pattern.

A. Plain, or Taffeta, Weaves

The basic weaving pattern, in which each thread of the warp is interlaced with filling thread, or woof, is called the plain, or taffeta, weave. The word taffeta probably originated from the Persian taftah, meaning "twist." Familiar names for fabrics in the plain weave are batiste, broadcloth, calico, cambric, crepe, challis, cheesecloth, chintz, muslin, organdy, percale, seersucker, voile, and tweed.

Variations of the plain weave are the basket and the ribbed weave. Monk's cloth, oxford shirting, and plaids are examples of the basket weave; poplins, bengalines, and piques are ribbed weaves.

B. Twill-Weave Fabrics

The twill weave is characterized by marked diagonal lines produced by the interlacing of two warp threads with one filling thread in alternate rows. This wale, or cord, effect may be observed in such twills as herringbone, serge, worsted cheviot, jersey, foulard, surah, covert cloth, gabardine, ticking, jean, and drill. The twill weave provides the cloth with superior strength, desirable for work clothes and suits.

C. Satin Weave

Although satins are heavier in texture than twills, the principal characteristic of the satin weave is its smoothness, which is achieved at the cost of strength. The smooth surface of the satin weave is produced by passing the warp yarns over a number of filling yarns, keeping the interlacing to a minimum. The reflection of light by the exposed yarns gives the satin weave its sheen. In a filling satin, the filling yarns are passed over a succession of warp yarns. Because the filling yarns are weaker than the warp, satin weaves are subject to more abrasion but are popular, nevertheless, for their beauty. The best-known satin weaves are the crepe satin, peau de soie, sateen, and damasks. The word satin is derived from the name of the Chinese seaport Chüanchow, formerly called Zaytun, from which this type of fabric was first exported in the Middle Ages.

D. Dobby and Jacquard Weaves

These two weaves are used to produce patterned fabrics. Small, repetitive motifs, such as the bird's eye, a small diamond with a dot at the center, used in shirting and dress fabrics are dobby weaves.

Intricate patterns are produced on the Jacquard loom, named for its French inventor, Joseph Marie Jacquard. Jacquard weaves are used extensively for upholstery and drapery materials, such as brocades, brocatelles, tapestries, and matelassés.

E. Pile Weaves

Some pile weaves, including velvets, plushes, corduroys, and Turkish toweling, are produced by a combination of the plain weave and the use of wires to draw from the cloth additional warp or filling yarn, forming loops that create the pile. Turkish toweling has uncut loops, in contrast to velvets in which the loops are cut. Pile fabrics may be produced also by weaving two pile fabrics face to face and then cutting them apart. This process is more economical than the cutting of loops, required in the production of velvets. Woven carpets and rugs are pile fabrics.

F. Choice of Fibers

The names of the weaves indicate a method of interlacing threads rather than fiber content. Any fiber or combination of fibers may be used for any type of weave. Some weaves initially were associated only with one particular fiber, as in the case of taffeta and satin, which were made of silk; serge, a twill weave formerly restricted to wool; and denim, a twill originally made only of cotton. Present-day production includes nylon taffetas, cotton satins, silk serge, and denims of blended fiber yarns.

The introduction of synthetic fibers has led to research to determine the most desirable fiber content for specific applications. Required characteristics are achieved by use of various combinations and blends of fibers, methods of weaving, and dyeing and finishing processes.

G. Nonwoven Textiles

The textile structure of a nonwoven fabric is produced by bonding or interlocking the fibers. This is accomplished by mechanical, chemical, thermal, or solvent methods, or by a combination of these methods.

The principal bonding methods are resin bonding and thermoplastic fiber bonding. In resin bonding, the resin is sprayed or applied as a foam directly onto the web of fibers as it emerges from the web-forming equipment. The web is then dried, heat cured, and, in some instances, pressed. In thermoplastic bonding, a thermoplastic (heat-setting) fiber, with a lower melting point than a base fiber, is blended with the base fiber in the form of a web. The web is pressed between heated rollers, bonding the plastic fibers to the base fibers.

The chief mechanical method of producing nonwoven fabrics is with a needle-punch machine, which was designed primarily to produce blankets. The machine uses small hooked needles to interlace and interlock the fibers.

H. Uses of Textiles

In addition to clothing and home furnishings, textiles are used for such industrial products as filters for air conditioners, life rafts, conveyor belts, tents, automobile tires, swimming pools, safety helmets, and mine ventilators. In many applications, textiles with protective plastic coatings provide greater suppleness, lighter weight, and better performance than metals. Although all types of fiber are used for such products, many industrial products use a combination of synthetic fibers on a backing of cotton. The synthetic fibers provide the fabric with mildew-proof, quick-drying properties, and the less expensive cotton backing provides bulk and stability. For the artistic use of textiles, see Clothing; Folk Art; Furniture; Lace; Needlework; Quilting; Rugs and Carpets; Sampler; Tapestry.

V. Government Regulations

Some countries have enacted legislation to compel the identification of fiber content, irrespective of the fabric quality. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires the identification of the fiber content of all fabrics. In woolens and worsteds, the percentage of wool fiber must be identified, and the label must state whether it is virgin, reprocessed, or reused wool. The term virgin wool is applied to wool that has never before been processed; reprocessed wool, to fiber recovered from the processing of virgin wool; and reused wool, to fiber recovered from used wool products such as carpets and clothing. Another requirement is that the terms mohair and cashmere be restricted to fibers obtained respectively from the hair of the Angora goat and of the Kashmir goat. The term linen may be applied only to flax fiber.

Other regulations of the FTC govern textile finishes, that is, shrink-proofing, flameproofing, and weighting, which consists of adding metallic salts to delicate fabrics, such as silks, to provide more body. In textiles labeled shrink-proof, nonshrinkable, or preshrunk, the percentage of maximum shrinkage, as determined by government-sponsored tests, must be designated on the label. The Flammable Fabrics Act of 1953 established safety standards with respect to the flammability of fabrics used for wearing apparel. The act was broadened in 1967 to include fabrics used in interior furnishings. Only very sheer or loosely woven pile fabrics were found to exhibit rapid and intense burning. In 1973 administration of the act was transferred to the newly created Consumer Product Safety Commission. See Consumer Protection.


"Textiles," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000

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