Textiles are woven and knit fibers and yarns that are twisted up in order to produce materials that are used every day. Human society produces numerous objects from the technology of textiles, for example, towels, sheets, carpet, clothing, toothbrushes, and upholstery. Also included are objects that use textiles to reinforce structures such as vehicle tires, bridges, and buildings. Textiles are created by the accumulation and combining of textile fibers. Different fibers are more suitable for certain textile material use than others. Carbon fibers, for example, are not suitable for products such as clothing, but are suitable for use in high-technology products and sports materials. Specific fibers may be used depending on their characteristics and advantages. Nylon, silk, and rayon were used in dress hosiery because they contained characteristics of elasticity and comfort against the human body.
Yarns are constructed through the assembly and twisting of fibers, forming a continuous strand. Again, there are many types of yarns that can be created depending on the twisting and quantity of yarns being used. They may be thin or thick, soft or rough to the touch, strong or more delicate, depending on the fibers being used in the process. The transformation of textile into material involves the use of knitting needles, a crochet hook, or a hand loom, or from modern technology, machines that knit or stitch to produce extravagant textile materials.
The next step in textile production is the finishing and coloring of the material that has been created. There are numerous techniques that can be used to create the desired qualities. These include processes such as flame retardants, stain-resistance applications, applications that reduce static cling, and so on. Color may be added through dye and decorations or patterns may be printed directly on the material.
The History of Textiles
There are several suggestions about the point at which textile production began. Most people agree that there is no concrete evidence that signifies the origin of textile creation. However, remnants of woven material have been found on clay pots dating back 27,000 years. It was previously believed that the history of textiles began with the discovery and use of the needle among the European Gravettian, mammoth-hunting peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia around 26,000 to 20,000 BC. The needle allowed cultures to bind objects, such as animal hides, together while attaching other objects, such as stones, shells, and teeth. Small bones were often substitutes for needles among hunters and gatherers. During the Stone Age, vines, guts, and sinew were used to string beads, stones, and teeth. The oldest fragment of cloth was found in Cayonu, southern Turkey, dating back to around 70,000 BC. Given that domestication of plants and animals would not have existed, early textile production used materials found in nature. The process of felting is believed to be a prehistoric method of producing textiles. It does not require any stitching or weaving; instead, fibers such as wool are molded into shape using a combination of moisture, heat, and pressure.
Nomadic herding, fishing, and farming people frequently used bast fibers and twisted gut in manufacturing ropes, reins, meshes, and nets. These, combined with reeds, grasses, and sampling rods, are thought to be the earliest forms of the manipulation of materials in the textile creation process.
Methods of dyeing material were present during the Bronze and Iron ages (between 3000 BC and 400 BC). Evidence of dyeing practices has been found in Egypt, Switzerland, and Peru. The Paleolithic people were among the first people to use dye (ochre) to decorate parts of the body and bones of the dead. Other dyeing methods followed such as murex shellfish dyes, indigo, and woad. Later, metallic manipulation was used to tint colors. This is evident among the Persians, who used copper and cast iron boiling vats during the dyeing process. In southern Asia and the East Indies, turmeric and safflower were also used to dye cotton, linen, and silk.
Art was integrated into the production of textiles by the use of ornamentation to add aesthetically pleasing elements and patterns. Beads, tassels, loops, and embroidery began to decorate textile material, allowing for more intricate designs and unique expressions. In Turkey, beads were found among textile instruments dating as early as 2300 BC. Beads have also been discovered in other parts of the world including Egypt (dating from 1800 BC) and sites belonging to the Mycenaean Crete (dating from 1450-1300 BC).
The Maoris, Peruvians, Mesoamericans, and the North American Natives used complex twining techniques to attach feathers to objects. In Spain, baskets, sandals, bags, and caps have been found that date from 3000 BC and were manufactured using twining, plaiting, and weaving techniques. Subsequently, between 1200-800 BC, there was an emergence of fine and regular weaving, which suggests the invention of the heddle rod.
The exchange of textiles, mainly cloth, dates back to sometime after 1500 BC, when workers would trade textiles within their groups or communities. Thus began the trade movement that would increase as populations expanded and villages grew into towns. Before 750 BC, due to the benefits of trading textiles, a large portion of fabrication was produced for commercial trade and not for necessity. Textiles were desirable possessions, especially Chinese silk. There is evidence of Chinese silk in Egypt as early as 1000 BC. Chinese silk and cotton were also favored by the Romans.
It has been suggested that America was discovered as a result of the desire to import and export spices and textiles to and from the Orient more rapidly. Once America became established, it too joined the textile trade. With interests increasing on an international level, there was a high demand for new and improved techniques in textile production. Textile production was the first area to undergo industrialization during the Industrial Revolution. Inventions such as spinning machines, automatic looms, and the cotton gin were of great importance in upgrading the quality of textile production. The early 19th century brought even more new ideas and innovation to the creation of textiles. Synthetic fibers and dyes were introduced and rayon was created. The year 1910 marked a new era; this was the year nylon began to be manufactured in mass quantity. The first manufacturing plant was in the United States.
The History of Clothing
The evolution of textiles had a tremendous effect on cultures worldwide. As the textile industry grew, so did the significance of clothing. Clothing is believed to be a means of expressing a people’s identity, or at least fragments of their lives. Clothing has different meanings to different cultures. It is impossible to fully understand a culture through clothing, but it is possible to get a glimpse into certain aspects of people’s lives through the textiles they used and the clothing they wore. Some believe that by examining the changes in clothing worn by a culture, one can understand the culture’s social transformations.
Clothing is defined as items or substances that cover the body from head to toe for decoration or protection from the elements. It is apparent that clothing has a unique function in each society, as evidenced by the particular outfits and dress that are worn for different events during a person’s life. Most societies have specific clothing that is worn during special ceremonies, such as initiations, or spiritual and religious events, such as marriage and burial ceremonies.
There are several theories concerning why societies wear certain clothing and how clothing originated. Ruth Benedict explains that there is not any one reason why clothing becomes a part of a culture’s practice; in fact, there are probably several acceptable explanations. Explanations are bound to differ depending on the location and the characteristics of the culture and geographic conditions. She does, however, discard the theory that cultures began to wear clothes due to their modesty. Benedict stresses her belief that covering up revealing areas alone, or areas of a sexual nature, would in fact bring more attention to them, therefore the theory seems to be inaccurate.
Some speculate that clothing originated out of superstition and ideas of magic, to conceal a body part from evil or prevent spells being cast upon it. Others suggest that clothing originated out of necessity, to battle the severity of the climate and environmental conditions. In colder climates, there is evidence that tribes used animal skins to survive the harsh conditions. Clothing had much more to do with utility than style and fashion.
There are other theories concerning the origin of the use of clothing. Ornaments and amulets such as shells, teeth, and skins eventually were of economic importance and reflected wealth and power. There is an ornamentation hypothesis that proposes that ornamentation led to the use of clothing. Ornaments were popular among Brazilians and the central Australians. They did not possess a great deal of clothing but did, however, acquire a great number of ornaments. There would be more ornaments worn during ceremonies or on special occasions. In the Andamans, the natives decorated the body with scarification and painting as well as ornaments. Ornaments are objects that convey aspects of an identity, including sexual attractiveness, power, and social, religious, or political status.
Clothing may be used at times to distinguish an individual’s origin. Fernand Braudel states that clothing or dress can be used to decipher concepts of time consisting of enduring time, social time, and social history. An example of this is the Mayan dress called the traje. The traje remained unchanged for quite a long period, and it could be identified with a specific region. To wear a traje was to indicate that one was Mayan.
Sometimes it is not the everyday clothing that indicates a difference within a culture but the clothing worn during special ceremonies. For example, the Bunnu Yoruba people may wear the same everyday clothing as other Yoruba groups, but will wear different clothing for special occasions or ceremonies such as marriages or funerals. For the Yoruba, clothing also specifies gender and power relations. White clothing is usually worn by men, whereas black clothing is worn by women. This cultural distinction in the style of clothing is currently more difficult and unreliable due to globalization and the rate at which trade has allowed the exchange of clothing and textiles. Dress or clothing is now available in a variety of areas and has no boundaries or limitation.
Clothing is not static. There has been an evolution of clothing from the moment of its existence. Some suggest that missionaries in colonial times influenced the change of dress within indigenous cultures. The missionaries not only brought with them the message of God but also clothing and other objects, in hopes of converting those cultures. This did not always work. Some cultures changed their clothing while others continued to wear their traditional dress.
Clothing has evolved due to the continuous technological advances in the textile industry that provide ever more fabrics, textures, colors, and styles to choose from. Since the Industrial Revolution it has been easy to obtain material and clothing from all over the world, and today’s fashion trends integrate many multicultural characteristics. Although clothing has dramatically evolved, in many parts of the world cultures continue to follow their customs of wearing specific clothing for special ceremonies.
- Collier, B. J., & Tortora, P. G. (1997). Understanding textiles (5th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Eicher, J. B., Johnson, K. K. P., & Torntore, S. J. (Eds.). (2003) Fashion foundations: Early writings on fashion and dress. New York: Oxford International.
- Scheoser, M. (2003). World textiles: A concise history. London: Thames & Hudson.