A textile is anything that is made up of fibers, yarns, or fabrics. The basic building blocks of textile products are fibers. Fibers are usually long thin materials that have a length at least one hundred times their diameter. To be useful in textiles fibers must have some desirable properties such as strength, abrasion resistance, flexibility, or moisture absorption.
Textiles surround us every day of our life, but are usually not recognized as textiles.
When you wake up in the morning you climb out from under the sheets on your bed. You brush your teeth with a toothbrush, which uses nylon fibers. After your shower you dry off with a towel. You get dressed in textiles, as they make up the clothes and shoes that you put on.
As you go to school or work you are surrounded by textiles. In your car the tires contain filament fibers, the seats, seatbelts, carpeting on the floor, trunkliner (carpeting in the trunk), headliner (fabric on the ceiling of the car), floor mats, and kick panels (the panels on the inside of the door) are all probably made of textiles, whether they are leather, synthetic leather, or some type of woven, knitted, or nonwoven fabric. Additionally, there are textiles in other areas of your car: the sound insulation behind the dashboard and kick panels, the insulation beneath the hood of the car, the airbag in the steering wheel, and the filter for the heater, air conditioner, and vent. Additionally, the air filter for your engine may be a textile. The radiator hoses may have fiber reinforcement. The body of your car may be a textile. For example, the body of a Corvette® is made with glass fibers. The duct tape that you may use on your car to hold pieces of it together is textile based. The cover that you use to protect your car from the elements is a textile.
If you ride a motorcycle instead of driving a car you are probably using textiles for protective gear such as jackets, pants, and gloves. Additionally, several helmets contain textiles, not just to provide comfort, but also to provide impact protection. The shell of some helmets contain high performance fibers such as glass.
Textile products are often used in protective materials. For example, bullet proof vests consist of woven fabrics containing high strength filament yarns. Some newer designs incorporate nonwoven fabrics containing high strength fibers for extra protection. Helmets worn by soldiers in the military consist of layers of woven high strength filament yarns. Butchers and those who work around sharp knives may wear cut resistant gloves in order to protect their hands. Wood cutters may wear cut resistant pants to protect their legs in case the chain saw slips while cutting wood.
At work or school there are textiles in plain view and out of sight. The carpeting on the floor is a textile. There may be textiles on the wall, as sound absorption, wall paper, or decoration. You may sit in a chair that has a fabric surface. The air filter for the air conditioning is a textile.
When you go home at the end of the day you use textiles. If you enjoy gardening or landscaping you may use a textile ground cover to control weeds and keep moisture in the ground. You may enjoy swinging in your textile based hammock. If you live in a hot environment without much shade or you want to protect your garden you may use shade cloth to provide artificial shade. If you go rock climbing you will use ropes to keep from falling. As a hiker you will use textiles in your backpack, tent, and sleeping bag. If you enjoy golfing you may use a golf club with a carbon fiber shaft. You may have a tennis racket whose handle is textile based. Your fishing pole may be a textile while your fishing line is a monofilament, an extremely long continuous fiber. You may have a boat made with glass or other high performance fibers.
If you happen to go to the hospital you will see many textiles in use. The gowns, headwear, and footwear worn by doctors and nurses in the operating room, the wraps used to hold sterilized instruments, the drape used to cover the patient, the swabs used to absorb fluids are all textiles. The gowns the patients wear, the sheets on the bed, the drapes used to provide privacy are textiles. Bandages, casts, and sutures are also textiles. Artificial arteries are textile based, as are some experimental heart valves.
If you are building your dream house you will use textiles. You may mix fibers with the cement used in the foundation. The fibers will prevent cracks in the cement from growing, which in turn means the foundation of your house will last longer. You may use Tyvek® fabric underneath the siding or brick exterior of the house to increase the heat retention. You will use fiberglass insulation in the walls to also increase heat retention. The shingles that you put on the roof may have a textile base. The painting that you hang on the wall of your dream house is painted on canvas, a textile.
The drapes, shades, or blinds that you close at night are textile based. The couch or chair that you sit on has a textile covering. The lamp shade covering your favorite lamp is probably a textile.
As you can see, textiles are more than apparel, they are used in a wide variety of products, sometimes hidden from view, but always an integral part of the product. The average American uses approximately 84 pounds of textiles per year, and that number is increasing (ATMI: http://www.atmi.org/EconTradeData/Spring2003.pdf).
As you climb back into your bed and under the sheets at the end of the day you realize just how essential textiles are.