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What Is a Textile?

by Kerry Cordy


More than just the clothes we wear, textiles are used for everything from furniture such as couches and mattresses to shelter such as tents and awnings.  Everywhere you look you will find things made from textiles.  But what exactly IS a textile?  Earn your Textiles badge to find out!

A textile is any type of cloth that is woven, knitted, or felted into a solid piece.  Each textile is made of fibers that have been turned into threads or cords and either woven or knitted together.  There are two main categories of textiles, natural and manmade.  Natural textiles come from fibers that are either plant based such as cotton, linen, ramie, or hemp, or from animal sources such as rabbit fur, alpaca fur, or even horsehair.  Manmade fibers, also known as synthetic, are made from various chemical compounds.

To Do:  Go through your home and closet and identify as many different textiles as you can.   Look not only at your clothing, but furniture, linens, accessories and more.  Keep a tally next to each type you find.  Are most of your textiles animal or manmade?  Do you have a wide variety or mostly things made from the same few fabrics?

How Is a Textile Made?

Ever wonder how a textile is made from start to finish?  Watch the video below, From Sheep to Cloth, to watch wool from the shearing of the sheep all the way through a finished textile.

(This is a Youtube video)


In today’s modern world, textiles like the one in the previous video are too expensive to produce by hand in large quantities.  For mass produced textiles, factories are automated with machines to do most of the work.  Watch the video below to see raw wool to finished fabric on an industrial level.

(This is a Youtube video)




As you can see from the videos above, textiles all begin as various fibers.  A fiber is a thin long hair like substance which has the suitable properties to spin it into a yarn. Combine several fibers twisted together to create yarn which can them be used to weave or knit a fabric.  Learn how to make your own yarn using a drop spindle.  The Hello Wonderful website has simple instructions to follow for making your own drop spindle and spinning your own yarn.  If possible, visit a farm or a fair to see the animals or plants from which natural fibers are made and see if you can purchase some to bring home to spin yourself.



Woven vs Knits

Warp and Weft

Every woven textile is made from thread that goes two different directions.  The threads that usually run vertically are called the warp while those going horizontally are called the weft.  The warp are the threads strung across a loom while the weft are the threads that pass over or under the warp to create the weaving pattern.

Find  a fabric sample of each of the following types of weave.

  • A plain weave such as a muslin.  A plain weave is creating using an alternating over/under pattern that results in a checkerboard look.
  • A twill weave such as denim.  A twill weaving pattern is used to create stronger heavier textiles and uses an over under pattern that results in a diagonal look.
  • A satin weave such as damask or satin.  A satin weaving pattern is used to create very smooth soft textiles

To learn more about different weaving patterns, visit the Heddels website.

To do: Learn to weave or knit and make a small project (potholder, placemat, wall hanging, etc.)

Weaving with Kids

Knit Textiles

Instead of weaving threads using a warp and weft, some fabrics are made by knitting a single long thread together using a series of interlocking loops.  Find a sample of a knit fabric  and see how it compares to a simple weave.  Learn how to finger knit to create a small piece of knitted textile.  Flax and Twine has an easy to follow tutorial for kids.

Identifying Textiles

There is a wide variety of textiles available, each with their own use and design.  Visit a fabric store and explore the different types of textiles for sale.  Find out what the following commonly used textiles look and feel like.  Which are soft and which are scratchy?  Which are light and which are heavy?  Read the label on the bolts of cloth to see what they are made of.   If you are teaching this badge as part of a class, bring in a wide variety of textile samples for the kids to touch.

  • brocade
  • burlap
  • calico
  • canvas
  • corduroy
  • crepe
  • denim
  • eyelet
  • fake fur
  • felt
  • flannel
  • gingham
  • herringbone
  • lycra/spandex
  • muslin
  • organza
  • paisley
  • poplin
  • polyester
  • satin
  • seersucker
  • taffeta
  • tartan
  • terrycloth
  • velvet


Textile Designs

There are variety of ways to create designs in or on your textile.  Some designs are woven in to the fabric using different colored threads or yarn, others are imprinted onto the surfaced or dyed into the yarn after the textile is already created. Designs can even be added to a textile by bleaching areas and removing any dye from the threads.  Try creating your own textile design.  Start with a simple white fabric, then use techniques such as tie dying or fabric markers to create your own design.  If you made a cardboard loom, try using different colored yarn to create a design within the weave itself.




Textile Vocabulary Game

Write the following textile terms on index cards with their corresponding definition on a separate card.  Go over all the vocabulary words until everyone knows what they mean.  Then hide all the cards around the room.  Challenge the kids to find all the cards and match them to their correct definition a quickly as possible.  For extra challenge, set a time limit and see if they can beat it.

  • warp: the threads on a loom over and under which other threads (the weft) are passed to make cloth.
  • weft: the crosswise threads on a loom that pass over and under threads (the warp)  to make cloth.
  • polymer: is a useful chemical made of many repeating units.
  • denier: a unit of density based on the length and weight of a yarn or fiber
  • spinneret:  a cap or plate with a number of small holes through which a fiber-forming solution is forced in order to produce man-made fibers.
  • wicking: A r strand of loosely woven, twisted, braided fibers
  • cotton bolls: The round, fluffy clumps in which form cotton grows on a cotton plant.
  • combing: method for preparing carded fiber for spinning
  • spinning:  the action or process of converting fibers into thread or yarn.
  • worsted yarns: a fine smooth yarn spun from combed long-staple wool.
  • sericulture: the production of silk and the rearing of silkworms for this purpose.
  • extrude: shape (a material such as metal or plastic) by forcing it through a die.
  • spindle: a slender rounded rod with tapered ends used in hand spinning to twist and wind thread from a mass of wool or flax
  • fiber: a thread or filament from which a vegetable tissue, mineral substance, or textile is formed.
  • yarn: spun thread used for knitting, weaving, or sewing.
  • rovings: a sliver of cotton, wool, or other fiber, drawn out and slightly twisted, especially preparatory to spinning.


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